Editor’s Note: With Memorial Day approaching, we thought the time was right to address war and our children. NYC Dads Group member Mike Julianelle presents his point of view here. Please leave yours in the comments.
Recently Saturday Night Live ran a parody of the earnest and sentimental “my kid is joining the military!” commercials. Only instead of the man’s daughter joining the army, she joined ISIS. The target of the bit, to these eyes, was the commercials themselves, not the war and not even ISIS, but some people got upset.
War is a highly politicized topic, especially a war as amorphous and infinite as the one in which we’re currently embroiled. Which probably makes this post a bad idea.
First things first: I support the troops; I love America and Ford and apple pie and Credence Clearwater Revival; I take my hat off during the national anthem; I pledge allegiance to the flag and so on; and I hate terrorism and ISIS and think they must be stopped, somehow.
Just not by my son.
I don’t want my son near a military recruiting office. Not in a million years.
He’s not even five. He’s too young to express an interest in joining the army, nor do I have any reason to believe he ever will. I don’t care how horrible ISIS is. I don’t care if Hitler is unfrozen and building a zombie brigade. I don’t care if the creatures from Independence Day return to finish the job. I’ll sooner freeze my son in carbonite before I let him suit up and join a war. I won’t let my son join the military.
This is pure selfishness on my part. My stance doesn’t take into account his desires. Right now, he’s still young enough that I don’t need to; I still have control over him. And so I’m allowed to exercise my most selfish qualities, long before any potentially selfless qualities he may develop – selfless qualities that Mom and Buried and I are trying to develop – get in the way.
In 10 years or so, my son might be a stalwart American patriot. He might want to join the armed forces. He might want to serve the country, he might want to be a part of whatever fight we’re inevitably a part of when he’s a young man (maybe even this same one). Maybe, God forbid, there will be an inciting incident that awakens his patriotism, or maybe he’ll grow up under the spell of movies like American Sniper and ads like the ones in which a Marine vanquishes a dragon (for some reason), and he’ll want to join up to protect the American way of life, or defend the world from terrorists or dictators. I have no idea.
But I f*cking hope not.
And even if he does want to, if he feels compelled, feels that joining the military is his calling, I’ll do my best to talk him out of it. I might even break his legs to keep him from going. That may sound gross to many of you, but again: I don’t care. I’m more than willing to be the bad guy here, in your eyes and in his.
I don’t care if he’s brave and I’m a coward. I don’t care if he’s selfless and I’m selfish. I don’t care what positive learning experiences he’d be losing out on, what an amazing man he’d escape being shaped into by not suiting up. I don’t care even care how proud it might make me to see him develop into the kind of person who would willingly put himself in harm’s way in the cause of a greater good.
I’m totally cool with sacrificing some pride so long as it means not sacrificing my son.
This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, or the worthiness of the fight, or with which side is right or wrong. Only an asshole would blame soldiers for the politics of war, and only an asshole overlooks the contributions our troops make every day toward keeping all of us safe, and allowing people like me to write selfish posts like this. I respect those people for putting their country ahead of themselves, even more so because I don’t know how they manage to do it. This is in no way intended as a slight toward anyone who currently serves, or wants to serve, or wants their children to serve.
This is merely one parent, wanting to protect and keep his child out of harm’s way for as long as possible. For the same reason I won’t let him play with guns, or ride a bike without a helmet or use heroin. There’s just too much risk. It’s ridiculous and unfair to compare those activities to joining the military; I know some great people who are who they are because of their service, and I am well aware of the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that separate it from the things I mentioned above. But, again, I can live with my son missing out on those benefits, so long as my son is living.
This whole thing is moot, anyway. I know it will eventually be out of my hands, and my efforts will be irrelevant, and this post will be meaningless. Even now there are countless things I’m powerless to guard him against, and when he’s older, I will hardly have the option. I’m not a helicopter parent, I won’t be accompanying my son to college, I can’t be looking over his shoulder forever.
I’ll be proud of my son no matter what he does, whether he opts to join the military one day or not.
But I’ll also move to Canada tomorrow if that’s what it takes to keep him out of a war.
A version of this first appeared on Dad and Buried.