From childhood to manhood

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Dealing with the emotions as my son joins the U.S. Army

By Kevin Smith
Guest column

Kelly sat down on the couch, crying. She had just started the last cigarette her doctor allowed her.
“I’m pregnant.”
We weren’t married. We had been together for the better part of a year, but that’s still not married in 1998 in Matthews, N.C.

The south.
Kelly was from a respectable family of professionals who very much expected that her second marriage wouldn’t be to some 27 year-old unemployed guy from Pageland – much less the father of their latest grandchild.
Kelly finished her cigarette on the front steps.
We stood there for what was either one minute or twenty. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to say.
Most of the belongings I had in the world were still in a backpack and I’m standing on the steps trying to figure out what “I’m pregnant” means for the rest of my life.
Kelly wiped the tears from her face and walked inside. The next few months were filled with ultrasounds, doctor visits, Lamaze classes and a wedding in Key Largo, Fla. when we were seven months pregnant.

Considering Kelly had a very solid career and I could work a modified schedule in retail, we decided that I would be an at-home dad. My mornings consisted of waking up with Parker and watching “Bear in the Big Blue House” and then “Rolie Polie Olie” before Parker’s morning nap.

He wouldn’t go to sleep without me. I made the first-time parent mistake of being in the room with him while he fell asleep until he was around two years old. He would hold my ear the entire time while he sucked his thumb and would protest if I left the bed.

Military Police Battalion.
Once I was fairly sure he was asleep, I would take about five minutes to crawl quietly from his bed, hoping I didn’t wake him because that meant I would be back in the bed for another 30 minutes (I broke this habit with my daughter Lexie. The most she got was a kiss on the cheek before the door closed.)

Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
I look down at my baby boy sleeping in my arms as I flip from “Bear in the Big Blue House” to “Blue’s Clues” in 1998. I look back to the text message on my phone in 2017.
“Could you loan me fifty dollars for the airport?” reads the June 23 text from Parker. He has to stay in Charlotte the night before he gets on the plane to Missouri.
We are allowed to visit and take him out to eat. Over the years Parker has generally chosen Chinese buffet as a special occasion meal. But he alerted us that he is at the Army maximum weight of 190 pounds so he says “no buffet.”
Parker’s non-blood “uncle” Craig Oliver suggests a German-place near the airport where Parker eats his meal, half of mine, and some of his girlfriend’s.
After years of ROTC and leadership school, and all sorts of high school stuff related to the military, my son is now heading into his third week in the U.S. Army.
According to the Army’s website, his third week will consist of “…you will have to rely on your teammate and dig deep inside yourself, it is time to start the physical and mental challenges of the simulated combat scenarios.”

I look over to Parker standing at the end table. He looks up, smiles, and then goes back to singing after popping a Cheerio in his mouth.

Marksmanship: The M16A2.
The M16A2 is the standard issue weapon of the U.S. Army. You will be taught everything there is to know about this weapon.
Learning to shoot a rifle is more than pulling the trigger. Marksmanship courses will teach you not only the proper way to hold a weapon, but also how to breathe and shoot from many different positions.”

He will serve nearly ten weeks in basic training before heading to Fort Lee, Va. for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for eleven weeks. He will learn to be a petroleum supply specialist. He will be responsible for supervising and managing the reception, storage and shipping of bulk, or packaged, petroleum-based products.

“You want some more Cheerios?”
I lift my head off the cushion. Parker shakes his head “no” and runs around to the front of the couch. He puts a hand on my face and leans in for a kiss before jumping up and down in a circle. I reach out and snag a sleeve of his pajamas and pull him to me to cuddle. He giggles then pops right back up to continue jumping.
We will travel to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. sometime in October for Parker’s graduation. I’ll give a hug to the little boy eating Cheerios and dancing around the living room, but I’ll shake the hand of grown man and the solider he will be: Private Smith, Parker L; F Company, 701st Military Police Battalion; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.