I was spending one of my last summer weekends before pre-season at my family’s cottage on Holland Lake in Massachusetts, relaxing and enjoying their company. The cottage: my home away from home. From water sports to hot chocolate on chilly summer nights as the wind blows off the water, most of my favorite memories are made there. I was at my favorite place when I heard the news that would leave a forever lasting impact on my life.
That Sunday morning in August, as my little sister Allie and I stumbled out of our bunk beds and into the living room, something felt wrong. I could see in my mom’s face that something was bothering her. As we sat down to eat our donuts, the traditional Sunday morning breakfast at the cottage, my dad broke the news. He would be deploying to Kosovo in January for 14 months.
Everything came crashing down as many different emotions took over. I can’t even remember which came first. As the tears began to fall, I was afraid, nervous, confused and angry. Most of all I was shocked. How could this be happening? I kept praying my dad wouldn’t have to go. After all, if he hadn’t been deployed yet, why should he now? I needed him home with me. My family needed him home. Kosovo didn’t need him.
My family is, and always has been, the center of my world. My dad was never one of those dads that came home from work too busy or sidetracked to care. He has been a part of every aspect of my entire life since I was born. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve waited and waited for ESPN’s top 10 worst plays for an ultimate laugh fest. My family has supported me through everything. Now, I know my dad didn’t enjoy every choir concert or dance recital, but you can bet he was always one of the first people in when the doors opened to get front row seats. Always with the camera.
My parents never missed a beat. I’ve been playing field hockey for nine years and they travel to every game. In high school, the neighboring town wasn’t such a feat, but today they are proud parents of the Southern field hockey team. Traveling all over New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, not just on weekends, but weeknights too. When my sister has a field hockey game they tag team so one parent is at each game and take turns in who has to miss what. Sure, my family has our issues and may fight, but we are one of the strongest units I have ever seen. At the end of the day when I look at my life with them, I tend to tear up thinking about how fortunate I am to have such amazing people in my life.
But this January, everything is going to change. Next summer I’ll prepare for the last college field hockey season of my life, without one of my biggest supporters. I think about how different things will be all the time. Who is going to tell me to step it up and train harder when I’m slacking in June because the season is two months away? I thought about my dad every single time the starters were announced this past season as the fans cheered and wondered who would cheer me up on days I don’t start next year?
I thought about my dad every single time the national anthem played before a game and wondered how I’m going to keep from crying next year. I’ve worried about my mom making the drive to far away games alone when my little sister has her own extra-curriculars that night. I can’t even describe the way I feel when thinking about next year’s senior game. I know he would never dream of missing it, but now will.
My little sister will celebrate her sweet 16 and get her license without my dad around. The first time I drove I hit the brake of my dad’s truck so hard he cut his head on the sunglasses hanging from the passenger visor. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt because were still in the driveway. Looking back, I always laugh at little things like that and can’t wait to make more memories when he comes home.
My unit, the four of us, have spent the last few months preparing for his departure by taking advantage of every opportunity to spend time together. We’ve done the normal things, but it just feels different. The conversation is even different. I want things to be easier on everyone so I’m trying to take in as much as possible to help my mom manage everything next year, but furnaces and car engines are proving tougher than expected. Thankfully, my dad is writing a manual, complete with pictures of course, for us to fall back on.
I feel like I have to preserve every memory lately and lock them up for next year’s holiday season when the three of us go cut down a Christmas tree. While I wonder how we’ll get the usual 12-foot tree in the house and in the tree stand without him, I have confidence in my mom. She’s an amazingly strong woman but for the first time in nearly 30 years, she is about to be separated from my dad for a long period of time. I know she must be scared too, but is a supermom, and I’m just thankful this is the first time he is being deployed.
Military families have already sacrificed so much and I’m overwhelmingly thankful. I now understand why Kosovo needs him right now. He has the chance to do something amazing, to help people I know nothing about and that is truly remarkable. I couldn’t be prouder of my dad, and hope that others learn to thank our country’s veterans more often. Since middle school, my dad has encouraged my sister and I to participate in the Connecticut Family Program.
We’ve helped families with a father or mother overseas and bought presents at Christmas time. I’ve seen the difference a small act of kindness like raking the leaves for a mother with three little kids and a husband overseas can make. I hope to step up and become an officer for the family program of my dad’s deploying unit so I can help as many others as possible. Now, more than ever, I want to help other families like myself and pray that others get more involved to make a difference as well.
I’ll be able to e-mail my dad while he is gone, a luxury not all families have. I know we’ll speak often and I’ll be counting down the days until he returns. My senior year at Southern will fly by and he’ll make it home just in time for graduation and will be seated in the front row, with the rest of my unit, holding the camera and probably shedding a tear because he is that great of a dad.