Daddy came back from the war a spiritually wounded man. His joyful eyes no longer sparkled. His big, booming voice also changed. Words came out slower and softer, meek almost, barely more than a whisper, while often looking down when speaking. He avoided windows and flinched at the slightest sounds. And occasionally, at night, you could hear him pacing around our small living room, holding a glass of whiskey and talking to himself.
Daddy never wanted to become a soldier. His pacifist nature didn’t lend well to a soldier’s life. His happy place was in the outdoors, where he often took us on weekends for hikes in the mountains. He’d point out the names of bushes and trees and recite stories from memory or tell jokes. But then Pearl Harbor happened. Tears streaming down his soft cheeks as he sat alone reading the morning paper the next day told stories we’d never seen of him before. Daddy never cried, at least not in front of us. I walked over and hugged him, sat on his lap, and said, “everything will be ok.”
Events change motivations, the why’s of life. And for daddy, that morning led him to enlist in the Army. “A man must defend his nation,” I could overhear him telling my mother. Daddy always lived guided by principles.
He left with a tight hug, a soft, generous smile, and his head up high. I remember mother crying that night. She sat in the kitchen alone, drinking hot tea, with tissues littering our wooden table. We tried comforting her, but she smiled, and one of the few times in life asked us to leave her alone.
After two years abroad, he came home on a sunny summer day, walking up the driveway with the help of a cane in his right hand. He told us a bullet shattered some bone in his leg, and though healed, the injury left him with a permanent limp. He was discharged as doctors said he could no longer serve.
We were all excited the day he walked back into the house. He greeted us with a big smile and open arms. But it didn’t take long for us to understand daddy wasn’t the same. Burdens weigh heavy on a soul. War changed him. There were no stories from his soldier life during dinner time, none the day after either. With time we learned not to pry. Some nights when neither of us could sleep, I’d come sit on his lap as he sat quietly on his old musty reading chair. We didn’t talk much, yet his eyes would soften and even light up some.
The years passed, I married, Daddy walked me down the aisle. His cane and a hollow emptiness in his gaze were still present, yet that didn’t matter; he was there. When kids came, he and mother would come over to help us raise them. On good days, he’d take the kids on a light walk into the mountains. And he’d tell them about the bushes and trees they’d walk past.
Shortly before he passed, Daddy wrote me a note. “Thank you for letting me be me. Your warmth helped me heal. Love, Dad.”
Note: “A New Normal” is a historical fiction short story about a father who returns home after life as a U.S. Army soldier in World War II. While based on real events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.