The VigilanceVoice

Sunday -- June 16, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 277

The Greatest Father's Day Gift--
The Love Of A Child

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

(If you answer yes to these questions, you don't need to read the following story.)

1.  Do your children know your most secret Fears?
2.  Do they know what your are Intimidated by?
3.  Do they know the source of your Complacencies?
4.  Do you know your children's "secret" Fears?
5.  Do you know what or whom they are Intimidated by?
6.  Do you know what they are Complacent about?

GROUND ZERO, New York City, June 16-- Father's Day is Terror Day for guys like me who had two fathers by name, but none I would claim. 
       My biological father was at best a "sperm donor."  My mother divorced him when I was nine-months old.   My step-father was my enemy from the first day I laid eyes on him at age five.
      Father's Day for me has always been about remembering I didn't have one--and envying those who did.
      So, over the years, unbeknownst to them, I "adopted" various men in my life to represent certain qualities I would like in a father.  I sort of created a "father statue" quilt comprised of various traits taken from many men I've known personally and those I've admired in history.

 Thomas Paine is one of my father quiltwork patches.   He was a terrible drunk, sickly and unhappy--those parts I discarded.   But he had a passionate vision and a powerful pen.   He single handedly incited a nation to revolution through his Common Sense Pamphlets, the most widely read prose that sparked the common folk to revolt against the British.  Some say without his stirring the people out of Complacency into Right Action, George Washington and his troops would have found the populace their enemy rather than ally, and would have never been able to sustain a fight for Freedom.
      Paine's famous book, The Rights Of Man, became my bible for many years--representing the qualities of a man's passion to reverse a people's thinking from being "Victims of Government" to being "Masters Of Their Destiny" in a Land of Opportunity.
      Winston Churchill was another sort of "Thomas Paine" father-figure in my life.   I adopted him also--at least parts of him.   His quote:  "Stand For Something Or Be Nothing," still rings in my head as his legacy to me.   It reminds me the measure of a man's character is his ability to represent some force of justice, some ideal upon which he stand with firm feet and trumpet to the world despite all the critics who might denigrate his right to do so.  Churchill was a "bastard son of

England."  His mother was an American, his father an English Lord.   He was looked upon as a half-breed by English society, and fought for his right to stand among them on equal footing.    I admired his resolve to withstand the pressures against him, and tried to pattern my beliefs in alignment with his.  I practiced oration as he did, and used his ability to rise up from defeat to do battle again and again as a symbol of paternal purpose created just for me.
      Colonel Leon Utter, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines in Vietnam, was also a powerful father figure.   He led his men into battle without flinching for his own life.  He would stand when .50 caliber bullets slammed next to his ears and sliced trees in half next to him, barking orders and fearlessly driving his men to glory against the enemy. 

  Prior to battle, he would take us to the chapel and tell us why, if we died that day, our blood would courageously mix with the blood of our comrades throughout history and flow through the weave of the American Flag forever.  He was my "Warrior Father."
      Doctor John Flood was also my father.   He was born in America to an American father and an Irish mother.  His father divorced his mother and John moved with his family back to Ireland where, as a child of a divorced woman, he was castigated and treated as a second-class citizen.  As a young boy he was excluded from Catholic school, denied future education because of the "shame" of his divorced mother.   He became a shepherd to support his mother and family, and studied on his own, practicing giving lectures to the sheep.  He wanted to be a teacher and became self-taught.   When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, lying about his age.  He was sixteen at the time.  He became a paratrooper and parachuted with 101st Airborne behind enemy lines on the Eve of D-Day, 1944.   After the war he used the G.I. bill to acquire an education and became the dean of a major college in California. He was instrumental in the formation of the community college system to help educate over 40,000 students.   

 He was my close friend and mentor on the principles of life for years during one of the most difficult periods of my life.    I called him every day for a decade and spent hours with him listening to his philosophies of life.
      While I am not a religious man by some standards, I do have faith in those who are.   Two Catholic priests became part of my father-image quilt work.   One was Father Vince Capadonno.   He was a Maryknoll priest I met in Vietnam.  He was one of  the only chaplains who went into combat with us.  He wore no weapon, and his only arsenal was a cross on his lapel.  He crawled into the hail of enemy fire to help wounded Marines, to give solace to the wounded, fearful, the dying.   I wrote stories about him, admiring his courage and dedication.  

      After a horrible torture of a woman during which I was asked to help brutalize her and refused, my guts wrenched and ran to Father Capadonno for spiritual comfort, torn by the ugliness of war and far too much bloodshed.   I asked him to preside at the wedding of my wife and me upon his return from Vietnam.  He agreed.  But he never returned.   He was killed pulling dying Marines from enemy fire and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valiant selflessness.
       The other priest was an "old white-haired man" who had been a terrible alcoholic and has been sober for many years.  He was a Jesuit priest who told me after he had been sober for eight years he didn't believe in God. He ultimately  found belief and shared his search with others.   His honesty was powerful.  I had never heard a man admit his faults so openly.   He taught me that one can be a non-believer in spiritual things, and one day open his eyes and see what he had missed.   I made Father Don my "spiritual father," and often called him to give me "blessings" in times of critical self need.  Other times I would go and sit with him in silence and gather from him the strength of one who had finally decided to stop being alone in the world.
      My next-to-final father was Mayor Giuliani.   During the agony of attack, and the horrible fallout of pain and suffering from the Terrorists, I watched the man go to funeral after funeral offering to the wounded souls of Nine Eleven a fraternal hand of Vigilance that comforted not just those directly affected by the disaster, but to those seeking a rudder in the middle of a storm.

       I took his courage and convictions to be "human" in a time when inhumanity ran rampant and hoisted it up my Father's Flag Pole, to fly with all the other "fathers" I had known.  
      Now, let me share my final father.   He comprises the souls of all the fathers who died on September 11, 2001, those who were fathers, and those who could have been, but whose fatherhood was struck short at 8:46a.m., September 11, 2001 when the first Terrorist plane hit the World Trade Center. He is the thread connecting all the father patches of my 'father quilt' together.
      Each of the souls of the "fathers" who died that day have come to form one father-figure for me--The Father Of Vigilance.  They stand next to the souls of all the women who died that day as Mothers Of Vigilance.
      My Father Of Vigilance stands guardian with the Mother Of Vigilance over all the children of America, and of their children's children's children.
      My Father Of Vigilance carries the Shield of Vigilance in one hand.  It is emblazed with the logo SV, and around its triangular shape are embossed three words:  Courage! Conviction! Right Action!   My Father Of Vigilance keeps his right hand poised over the hilt of the  Sword Of Vigilance, constantly ready to defend his children from Terrorism's three great weapons of destruction--Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
        As a "fatherless" child, I have had to manufacture my "manhood" from bits and pieces of historical and real male figures in my life.  I also am aware that one can have a "biological" father at home, and still be "fatherless."  There can be no communication between the two that shapes the character of the child into a man of "dignity and honor."   I also realize that a father's role is also critical to help shape his daughters into "women of dignity and honor."   I was fortunate to have two daughters, both of whom I believe today stand as "women of honor and dignity."  One of them, a mother of three children (one of the three currently resides in her womb and is scheduled to be born any moment), recently completed her Masters of Divinity at Union Theological in New York City, and works with the homeless and disenfranchised of the community.   My other daughter is a federal law enforcement agent who carries two 9mm Glocks, and daily puts her life at risk so her nephews and nieces can live a safer life.   Both followed the beat of their own drummer.
       I have struggled to be a Father Of Vigilance for my children, making many mistakes along the way, but always picking myself up from the dust and debris--urged to do so by the "father figures" I adopted along my journey--the Thomas Paine's, Winston Churchill's, Leon Utters, Vince Capadonno's, the Father Dons, and the Fathers of Vigilance who currently guide me.
       Today, there are 100 million households in America.  Of these, 70% are called "family households," and half of these family households, about 35 million, include children 18 or younger under their roofs.   Half of these households are ripped apart by divorce.  Father figures blur as stepfathers appear and real fathers stand in the wings.
      There is a great Terror among children when their lives are confused by who their "real father" is.   Who does a child look to for "honor and dignity?"
      I wish I had a quick answer.
      I know that in countless household where a "biological father" exists, there is a rift between the "father and son," a lack of communication, a lack of respect, a lack of endearing love between man and child.   
      This saddens me.
      As a man, I have always wished I had a "father"--a Father of Vigilance.   I wished I had a father who would have recognized in me my Fears, my Intimidations, my Complacencies.   Instead, I battled my own Terrors in lonely combat, winning some, losing others.    I grew into manhood by trial and error, following no path except from those figures I "adopted."

      Someone once told me I shouldn't be harsh regarding my fathers--my biological and step ones--because "they did the best they could with the tools they had."   This, to me, is a Complacent answer.
      Fatherhood is work.
      One can chose to be a father.  He can chose to respect what he didn't have, and learn how to be what his father wasn't.   If he wasn't loved and respected, he can learn how to love and respect his children--to honor them--to provide them the Emotional love and encouragement he was denied.   He does not have to pass on the Terrorism.
      A real man to me is Father first, and a man second.
      A real man shows his sons and daughters he is fallible.  He opens up his humanness for inspection.   He admits to his defects.   And he tries his best to correct them so that his children can see that a man never stops growing, or a woman never ceases to evolve into the being she can be.
      The figures I picked in my life were all men who struggled to overcome their own foibles.   Vigilance is not about being perfect, it is, however, about seeking perfection through constant improvement, through constant reevaluation of one's primary duty on earth--and that is to protect the children from Terrorism--from Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
      We think that Terrorism is about planes smashing into World Trade Centers, or anthrax attacks, or blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge, or dirty nuclear bombs set off in metropolitan areas.
       But Terrorism is far more insidious and virulent than that.   Terrorism is when a child's body stiffens as he or she hears his or her father's footsteps approaching the door night after night and he enters to violate the child while other household members sleep or ignore the Terrorist.  Terrorism is a child fearful of a father's wrath or lack of interest and absence of showing any love or care.   Terrorism is overhearing ugly comments being spoken between fathers and mothers as they filter under a child's door and crash into his or her ears in the dark.   Terrorism is waiting for your father to show up at a school event and never seeing him appear.   Terrorism is meeting your new "daddy" and looking at him with Fear and Resentment that your own father is now gone--however bad he was--and this "stranger" now is in charge of your life.
      Terrorism is being unable to feel any trust between your soul and your father's soul, and stuffing your tears so he will not see you are not "man enough" to handle your own pain.
      Our nation, to fight Terrorism, must rethink through the roles of Fatherhood and Motherhood.   If we are to build a nation of Vigilant children who will protect this land from future Terrorism, then we must cut out the heart of Terrorism in our own lives.
       Even if we lived under a "father's Terrorism," we do not have to continue that legacy.   We do not have to keep the Path of Vigilance overgrown with the briars and brambles of Terrorism.  
       We can become a Father of Vigilance.  We can become a Mother of Vigilance.
       It begins with the Pledge of Vigilance.
       It begins by making a Vow of Vigilance that we must destroy our own Terrorism by exposing it.  We must fight the forces of selfishness for the sake of our children.  We must learn to "change," and to evolve into men and women of dignity or we risk leaving our children "orphans of parenthood."
       I am not a special man.  I did it.   I fought hard to learn to become the best father I could be to my children.  I still do.   Now, I am a Grandfather of Vigilance.   I am learning how to become one of those.  I am learning to love my grandchildren more than myself--a hard challenge indeed, but a worthy one.   "What will my grandchildren think?   What can I do to be a better G-Pa of Vigilance?"  
       These questions don't come with quick answers.  
       But the search for those answers is what the Sentinels of Vigilance who died on September 11 left for us to answer.
       They do not just stand above the site of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, or a lonely field in Pennsylvania simply to alert us from Terrorism abroad, but also to remind us of the Terrorism within our society, and the need for Vigilance to keep it at bay.

      One of my greatest Fathers Day presents came to me the other day in a forty-pound package.   I opened the door to my daughter's apartment and her three and a half-year-old daughter, Sarah, dropped what she was doing and ran screaming across the room with her arms open and her eyes shining.
       "I love you G-Pa," she exclaimed, and jumped into my arms.
       That was my great present.   At that moment, I knew the definition of a Parent of Vigilance.   No words could describe it.
       And anyone can have that feeling--if they chose Vigilance over Terrorism.