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If wisdom lies in learning from the experiences of others, then I am not particularly wise. My M.O. is more of a barely-learns-from-his-own-repeated-mistakes sort of thing.
But let’s start with the piece of advice I did take when my wife and I were expecting our first children: twins. We were talking to an older co-worker of mine whose twin boys were already on the other side of college. “Let me give you the most important advice about raising twins we learned early on.”
My wife and I had by then stopped blinking, and were probably both leaning toward him, E.F. Hutton commercial-style, waiting for the nugget of sagacity soon to anoint us both.
“Don’t try to be fair,” he said.
What? That’s it? What does that mean? Luckily for us, he elaborated. “Look, you will not always be able to do the same thing with each one, or give each one the same thing or attention all the time. So, from as soon as they understand what you’re saying, tell them, “yes, your sibling got it this time, but you’ll someday get something he/she doesn’t get, and it will all work out in the end, we promise.”
That not much sounding bit of counsel turned out to be genius. While it wasn’t bulletproof (because they were kids and they still complained), when they saw that what we said was true, it saved us what is surely an incalculable amount of grief.
Now, let us flash back to 12 years or so previous to that anecdote, to a time when I was still in my teens, in that golden and idyllic time where the vast, vast majority of young men my age are what scientists call morons. Not to brag or anything, but I’d like to think that I was just a bit dumber than that.
At 18, having just come from a meeting with a Marine recruiter, I told my father that I was going to pass on the contract to be a helicopter mechanic that I’d been on the verge of signing, and that instead I would bet on a device known as an “open contract:” a magical (as it was explained to me) document allowing me to choose from a veritable plethora of military occupational specialties (M.O.S.es), and–here came the best part–I didn’t even have to choose one until I was almost all the way through recruit training! Imagine the possibilities: Marine Force Recon; Marine Super Ultra Force Recon (I’d be in the inaugural platoon); Marine Sniper; Marine Tanker; Marine Aide-de-Camp To the Commandant; Marine Guy Who Loads Tough Looking Ordinance On Attack Aircraft, But Gets To Use A Forklift So It’s Not That Hard A Job; Marine Marine (something to do with yachts, I was given to believe); and lastly, Marine Action Film Star. This last M.O.S. required an extra dose of youthful delusion, as I don’t even have a face for radio, as the old joke goes. Mine is more of a face for print.
My father, without even looking up from his dinner, said: “never trust a recruiter.”
But dad, I said, the Marines wouldn’t lie to me! The Few, the Proud, and I’m pretty sure I heard “trustworthy” in there somewhere.
“Don’t trust ’em.”
Months later, at the end of recruit training, the Senior Drill Instructor was finally announcing everyone’s M.O.S.es, and we were all giddy with anticipation. Those recruits who were guaranteed contracts were a lot less giddy, though. Those chumps came in knowing already what their stupid jobs were to be. Even though my last name begins with a “C”, it seemed to take forever for them to get to me, since they were going by groups of occupations, rather than in alphabetical order. But some of the jobs sounded pretty good. One open contract guy got cartography, which probably surprised him more than the rest of us, since when I talked to him later, he said he didn’t even know the Corps had cartographers. And then they began reading off who got to be the 0311s, the Marine Infantry Riflemen, Backbone of the Corps. Well, it wasn’t Marine Action Film Star, but I’d be happy to be an 03, I thought. But they finished reading the names out, and mine wasn’t among them. Finally, my moment came.
“Campbell!”, Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Gaither said. “3381.” Ooh, that number is higher than 0311–much higher. Why it’s over three thousand higher! It must be something super exotic and exciting and involving a lot of John Rambo-style killing with large caliber weapons carried impractically on the hip! Awesome. Old Blood-n-Guts Campbell, they’ll call me. The bastard child somehow of Dan Daly and Chesty Puller, with Archibald Henderson as my godfather. I’ll be a legend. Just let me at those filthy enemies of America.
But then came disaster: “I like my eggs over-easy, Campbell. Food Service,” and he flipped the paperwork at me with some combination of boredom and contempt. The final count for the 20 of us who were open contract was something like 16 grunts, one (surprised) cartographer, and three cooks-to-be.
Fortunately for me, the denouement of this story was pretty good. I found I really liked being a cook, and even earned a meritorious promotion in my service school. Plus, when I got to that veritable cornucopia of single ladies, the Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I even got to be on a crew-served weapons team for the year. .50 caliber machine guns are really, really fun, folks. Still, the whole drama would’ve been avoided had I listened to my dad. Having had a choice in my fate would’ve been better than letting the personnel-assignment propellerheads of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children choose for me. Fathers: sometimes, they know things. Who’d have thought it?Published in