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It’s still summer, but autumn felt close this past weekend. Daughter #2 has returned from camp. We were hosting a family barbecue as a sendoff for daughter #1, who will be spending the year in Israel before entering college. The crispness of fall has yet to set in, but the heat and humidity of summer were gone.
At the barbecue, we talked about my daughter’s classmates, and their plans. About half are going to Israel next year, the rest straight to college. What happened to the boy who applied to West Point? He discovered he had a disqualifying health problem. My parents expressed relief. Ilana, their friends’ daughter, was injured in Iraq, and years later she is still fighting to get proper care from the VA.
Ilana’s parents and their friends (my parents among them) could never really understand her decision to enlist after 9/11. They could follow it intellectually, but ultimately Ilana’s choice was a foreign one. My parents’ outlook was shaped by Vietnam and the draft and the idea that if only we would teach our kids to eschew violence, war would go away. My four-year-old self was over the moon when a distant cousin from Texas bought me a cowboy outfit, complete with six-shooters. He was crushed when the six-shooters mysteriously disappeared.
The cultural strangeness of Ilana’s enlistment was compounded by her marriage to another soldier, just before their respective six-month deployments. Ilana’s husband came from a family with a generations-long tradition of military service. She, a Jewish girl from New Jersey, came from a family with a tradition of rabbis and writers and teachers. No one my parents knew was surprised when the marriage broke up, though it was news to me at the barbecue.
“I’m glad I bought you GI Joe toys, so you could work out the urge to shoot things when you were younger,” my father said.
My wife and daughters broke into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” my mother asked.
I think my parents’ confusion only deepened when I confessed, “I went to the shooting range just last night. I’m applying for a carry permit.”
“Why would you ever do that?” It was more statement than question.
I paused before answering. “Shooting is the one physical thing I’ve ever done that I have a natural talent for.” The answer wasn’t the only reason, but it was a central one. And it allowed all of us to avoid discussing the other ones. My parents needed time to digest the news. I was acutely sensitive to how a parent feels when a child leaves home.