My father and I were not terribly close. While we did find ways to move closer in the last ten years of his life, there were very few things we had in common. One of them was golf. And the other, was that we both served in the Navy during a war. He, in World War II in the Pacific, and me in Vietnam, in the South Pacific. But we never really talked about our experiences until one day, when we were on our way to play golf, we stopped to have breakfast.
All of a sudden the conversation became very serious. I told him something I had felt for a long time but had never said out loud. I said, "You are the lucky generation." He looked at me in kind of a very strange way. I went on to tell him that his was the last generation that grew up believing there was a man in the moon - I grew up knowing there had been a man on the moon; His was the last generation that grew up in rural communities untouched by modern technology, unknowing of all that is going on in the world. I grew up in the information age, knowing everything, seeing everything, watching history unfold in front of my well-worn TV eyes; his was the last generation that grew up having the full American dream intact; mine was the generation who saw the American dream tarnished by Watergate and other political corruption.
Finally, and this was when it got very serious, I said his was a generation who was able to come home after fighting in a war not only knowing what you did was necessary but everyone around you knew it too. My generation fought in a war we did not understand and when we came home, we were demonstrated against, spit on, yelled at, shunned, and left alone. We had no justification, no heroes, no protection of the heart, no treatment for the wound no one could see. We were left on our own to figure it out by ourselves, and many of us, unable to deal with the reality of what we did and what we saw, did the logical thing to survive-- the only thing we could do to survive-- we buried it. We buried it in the deep place inside where no one could see, no one could touch, no one could hurt. Some buried it so deep they withdrew from the world around us and have never been able to reenter.
It was one of the most interesting conversations I ever had with my father. He argued with me on every point except the last-- and when we got to that point, he looked at me and said, quietly, and simply, "You're right." And there was a very long pause after he said that - neither one of us said anything, and then we both had tears in our eyes. My father, because his son had been hurt and there was nothing he could do about it. And me, I had tears in my eyes because it was the first time I had admitted out loud to someone I had been wounded in 'Nam. It caught us both off guard. It was one of the few times I felt close to my father-- I am sure it was because we had shared a deep and significantly personal moment. We never talked about that conversation again, but I cherish that sharing only veterans can have, with one another. Especially when the veteran was my father.