Military families are strong. I always admired my mother’s strength. While in college, she married a Soldier, accepting the fact he would not be around every day.
She held my family up by one hand and used the other to accomplish her own nursing career while managing a couple of rowdy young girls running rampantly around the house while Barney played loudly on the television.
Most people not raised in a military home do not understand the responsibility military children hold on their shoulders, not to mention the stress they experience throughout their childhood.
Since birth I have moved six times, lived in nine houses, attended three high schools, and had nine birthdays without my father. When I was younger, I hated him for leaving and missing my birthdays.
When the Twin Towers were hit I was in the first grade. During lunch, the principal of my private school announced that anyone who lived on Fort Bragg had to be sent home immediately.
Later that day, my father came home from work and sat down with my sisters and me. He handed us a picture of New York, and told us the two tall buildings in the center were destroyed that morning. He said that this was going to change everything. A few months later my dad was deployed. He was gone 13 months.
My sisters and I would receive letters and gifts from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or wherever he was at that time. Sometimes they were small, like local money, and some were extravagant gifts — jewelry, pillows, handcrafted chests, jewelry boxes and carpets.
It was different when he would come back home from war. I wasn’t used to him being around. It was almost like a stranger was living in my house, eating dinner with my family and sleeping in the bedroom next to mine.
My father and I were so different from each other I believed we would never get along, especially when I became a teenager. During my sophomore year, he announced we were leaving Fort Bragg, N.C., and moving to Carlisle, Pa.
I begged to stay in the Carolinas, to graduate from the same school I had attended since kindergarten. My parents said no — I had to go with them. I did not understand then why they were making me do what I did not want to do. But my sisters had graduated, I was the last daughter in the house, and our family had to stick together.
My senior year, we moved to Fort Benning — more unfamiliar territory. Looking back on my childhood without my father, I realize he went overseas for a purpose, one I didn’t understand when I was younger. Now I understand why we moved so many times and why my dad was gone constantly throughout my life. Now I’m excited when my dad comes home from work so that we can be our dorky selves and watch Cops, laughing at all the dumb people who make it onto the show.
Being Col. Bruce Parker’s youngest daughter, I have learned how to be tough, how to deal with anything thrown at me, and to be proud of who I am.
And that no matter where he is, whether it’s a couple miles or thousands of miles away in a different country, he will never give up on our family because we’re Army strong.