My father served in the US Navy as a Machinist Mate 1st Class (MM1). He first enlisted on July 1st, 1980 and started recruit training in San Diego, CA. In the early 1980s, he attended Air Conditioning and Refrigeration School, which, from my understanding, meant learning technical and mechanical services regarding heating, cooling, and related systems for navy ships. In reconnecting with one of his shipmates, he described how difficult my father’s work was, often working at the bottom of the ship.
When I was born in 1987, my father was entering the second half of his military career. I recall us moving to different duty stations every 2-3 years, often from California to Japan. Throughout my father’s 18.5 years in the Navy, he served on the USS Midway, USS Enterprise, Commander Fleet Activities Yokohama, USS Cape Cod, Recruit Training Command San Diego, USS Independence, and the USS Kitty Hawk. He also was involved with the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
Despite the countless deployments, I never felt my father’s absence, only his presence. When he was home, he was very relaxed, attentive, and affectionate to our family. It was second nature for him to always make me feel special. He’d often carry me in his arms, lend me money when my mother wouldn’t, and sing lullabies as he’d bounce me on his ankles like a seesaw. I could never do wrong by my father, and even if there was any trouble, he’d often deflect to my older brother to take responsibility. I recall how normal it felt to always attend family parties, join him on his fishing trips, and simply be in community with loved ones.
Everything changed on October 17, 1998. My father’s last ship was the USS Kitty Hawk. They were traveling from Japan to South Korea when he had gone missing. They sent a search crew out for three days in the Pacific Ocean, and they continued the investigation for three months to no success.
The news spread around the military base. And being 10 years old at the time, all that mattered to me was, not necessarily the missing case of my father, but the attention I was getting. The friends that started to show up for me. The community that made me feel at home. Then of course, without my father there to sponsor us, we had to move one final time as a military family and catapult into the civilian world as a Gold Star family.
When I reflect on my father, I often remind myself of how I lost a parent. But as I comb through our old photos and videos, I realize now that I didn’t just lose my father, I lost a community. I lost my sense of security and protection within the military, my family, and ultimately within myself. I felt forgotten. I continue to spend my life filling in the void of my father and my mother’s emotional absence as she focused on survival for the decades that followed after.
October 2021 marks 23 years since we lost dad. I discover new lessons every time I reflect on him, my childhood, and my current relationship with my mother. Today, I interpret my father’s legacy of paying the ultimate sacrifice as an act of love for your faith, your family and your country. I’m learning that the magnitude of my father’s absence reflects the incredible impact he made while he was alive. My mother’s physical presence for my entire life reflects the thankless sacrifices I’ll forever be indebted to.
Today, I’m reminded more than ever to live a life of intention and purpose in hopes that anyone I encounter will be gifted the lasting impact of the unconditional love I received from my parents.