What Ranks Our Value
In a sea of blue, he was the green dot, packed in the rows with everyone else. He hissed, "You didn't tell me I had to wear my dress blues." I hissed back, "I didn't know that."
I can't remember the details of the event or why he needed to be there, but I remember that my father showed up. He sat with me, stone-faced with embarrassment and giving me a bit of the cold shoulder, but he stayed.
I was never not proud of my dad being a mechanic in the Air Force. Mostly because I didn't know him in any other way, but also because, as a child, your parents are larger than what you can imagine about the world.
I was proud when I watched him cross-train and specialize in hydraulics. He traveled to different bases for weeks and months and sometimes worked 16 to 18 hours a day. He would smell like oil and chemicals when he came home.
He told me I could make the boys like me if I put hydraulics to lift my 1987 Chevy Caprice Classic skyward. I told him no, but later, I did talk him up on the offer to put the best stereo system with a fancy revolving faceplate. That didn't bring all the boys to the yard, but it let me play Nine Inch Nails incredibly loud and gave him a way to play his tunes when I schlepped home a smoking, noisy car that needed some sort of fix.
He always did fix it, even though my mom and I would gauge how well the repair was going by the severity of his cursing.
Even if he worked late into the night, I remember watching my dad lacing up his boots and putting on that green uniform. I didn't understand what it meant, or where he fell on the hierarchy, until I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis.
While we were stationed in Germany, we discovered that I had scoliosis. My parents went to the base doctor to discuss the options for my treatment. They told them the military would only allow one parent to go with me to Walter Reed for surgery. My father told him about bull excrement. The officer replied that my father shouldn't forget the rank they each held.
That summed up the military for me for a long time. And, as much as the patches on arms denoted people's worth there, I saw this replicated in the metaphorical colored collars I saw people don in the civilian world.
During a parent-teacher conference with my son's teacher, he mentioned discussing future professions with the class. Many kids wanted to be doctors and lawyers, but the teacher reminded them there were other options, like construction workers. The kids weren't impressed.
"Who built this building?" he asked them. "And when I started talking about construction workers and how my dad was a plumber, some of the kids slowly raised their hands to tell about their construction worker dads too."
I wanted to tell him about my dad, who fixed planes, but I didn't. He's been gone for 16 years, but I still think about what showing up meant to me. But truthfully, I wish I could ask him now how he felt about where those planes flew and what they did.
The ranks built by those with inflated bank accounts or those who harness the power of military cudgels do not reflect the country's value, or our individual value. Our value comes from how we demonstrate our integrity to those around us. It comes from showing up -- and maybe cursing just a bit -- as we try to fix what we can.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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