Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

It is New Year’s Day! A time for making resolutions and a time to reflect on the past year. Like you, I have many resolutions, which I’m happy to share. After all, this blog was not created for me to be shy. But I also want to take some to reflect on this past year and see what I accomplished.

            At the beginning of 2013 I posted a picture on Facebook that read “Hey 2013, I’m going to kick your ass.” Sounded like a good thought at the time. Maybe I had too many beers while watching football. But, did I? After another year of battling PTSD and my own demons, did I finally do something worthy of writing about? Well maybe. I guess the answer is complicated.

            My biggest goal at the beginning of 2013 was to become a better father. I have 2 wonderful children. This year my daughter turned 7 and my son turned 4. For me, it is easy to say, that I have not always been a good dad. I can admit it. I hated going to the park. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch. That of course was before this year started. Why do I say that?

            Well a conversation I had with a very dear friend in February of this year changed that. This guy has never spent any time with my kids, never even met them. But he said something that will ring in my ears forever. He said: “I know your kids are happy. I can see it in their smiles from the pictures you post on Facebook. They didn’t always smile like that. You’re doing a great job, keep it up.”

            Is it possible for a stranger to my kids, but a friend of mine to see the difference? I think so. I know in my heart that this past year changed the way I spend time with my kids. It has changed the way “I father” for lack of a better term. I know that I appreciate my children more than I ever have.

            But today, I’m proud, extremely proud to say, that my parenting skills have never been stronger! I love my kids and treasure every moment with them. Some moments from this year will never be forgotten. For example a brief conversation Grace and I had while out to lunch. She said to me; “Dad, God made a lot of things.” And I replied; “Yes baby, that’s right.” And she never took her big blue eyes off of me and said; “But everything else is made in China.” Moments like that, I talk about every day. Moments like that make me smile on the darkest days I struggle with PTSD.

            But of course there is more to life than children. Unfortunately children cannot meet every need. Especially for a combat veteran with PTSD. What else is there? There is sense of belonging and accomplishment. But how do you get that?

            Another goal of mine was to do something with my life that makes a difference. I wanted to do something that serves a greater purpose than just me. This year I was blessed, fortunate, lucky, etc., enough to go to work for the organization that saved my life. And yes, it truly saved my life. And I hate to think about where I would be without it. I mean, this is what dreams are made of right?!?!   
            I have the honor and pleasure of sharing my story with the public and helping raise awareness for an incredible organization that directly impacts men and women that have served our country! I belong to something bigger than me! How incredible is that? Pretty damn amazing if you ask me! I'm finally making a difference!

            Hey, 2013? Did I kick your ass yet? I’m a better dad than I have ever been and have a job that makes a difference, that good enough for you?

            No, it’s not enough. Let me talk about my friends. The ones that, even though we live hundreds, and in some cases thousands of miles away from each other, never let me forget that I’m not alone. The ones that always call or send a text just to make me laugh. Before this year I didn’t realize how important my friends are to me. So, shame on me. But now, I don’t miss an opportunity to tell them how much I love them and appreciate them. You know who are!

            In late 2012, I had made a decision of trying to ease my survivor's guilt. This year I had the honor of meeting the family of PFC Jody W. Missildine, who was killed on April 8th, 2006 in Tal Afar, Iraq (I was only inured in the explosion). I’ve always felt guilty for his death. But his family let me know, that tis not the case. On Monday May 20th 2013, I did something I’ve waited over 7 years to do. I was able to visit the family of PFC Jody W. Missildine. Part of my guilt has come from not paying my final respects to him. In Iraq, there was a memorial service and of course I couldn’t attend because I was in a hospital bed in Germany. In Iraq, there was a memorial service, but I was already at a hospital in the states. I remember someone showing me an article in a local newspaper for our unit in Germany, and I just cried as I looked at his picture. Why had it taken me so long to come here?

            As I walked to Jody’s gravesite I was cold, nearly shivering. I stood, and saluted him while tears rolled down face. A few moments later I sat next to him. My first thought was that I I wished I was in the ground instead of him. At that instant I was overcome with a hot burning sensation and I realized Jody wouldn’t want me to think like that. Then the sensation faded. I told Jody I was proud of him and that he was a good soldier. I told him it was an honor to serve with him. I let him know that his family and friends miss him. I apologized to him for taking so long to pay my respects to him. I spoke to him for a while longer and said things I only wanted Jody to hear. I promised him that it wouldn’t be another 7 years before I came back. With that, I stood and saluted him one final time then walked away.

            I had decided to take Jody’s family to lunch on the day of my departure from Florida. I wanted to thank them for their hospitality. We sat and talked more about Jody and just life in general. As we were leaving, something very special happened. Jody’s grandfather reached into his pocket and pulled out a Gold Star pin. A Gold Star pin is given to the families of those that have lost a son or daughter in combat. I knew what it was instantly. I put up my hands up in protest and told him “I cannot accept that sir, it is only for families.” He replied, “You’re my family now and I want you to have it.” I looked down at the pin and held it in my hand and started to cry. He put his hand on my shoulder and said “Let it go son, it’s not your fault.” I felt a tremendous weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

            Love. Yeah, I found a girl. Notice I didn’t say “met.” Turns out we met in 2012 but were both too chicken to make a move. And she is pretty damn special! Everything happens for a reason right? Damn right it does! I made someone else happy. And she makes me happy!

            I still battle PTSD every day. But this year I learned that it is okay!  I have friends to lean on and talk with. I know you do too! As long as I’m moving forward, nothing else matters.

            Did I kick 2013’s ass? I’d say so. But there is much more to accomplish!

            Resolutions? For me, to blog more. In fact I plan to have my own Facebook page and website. Want to get motivated? Then keep following me. You will not regret it, I promise! I have big plans for 2014!!

            I want to continue building on my parenting skills. My children deserve it. I remain committed to serving others. It’s just the right thing to do with my life. I’m also very excited that I am in an extremely happy and healthy relationship and will do all I can to continue to make it great!

            But what about you? What is it going take for you to kick 2014’s ass? You are better than you think! People are depending on you! I believe in you! I’m depending on you! Here is a great quote for you heading into the New Year from Joel Osteen:

            “You must make a decision that you are going to move on. It won’t happen automatically. You will have to rise up and say ‘I don’t care how hard this is, I don’t care how disappointed I am, I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I’m moving on with my life.”

            What are doing this year to move on with your life?

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