My dad was Newton Fitzhugh Widener, Jr., the son of Newton F. Widener, Sr. and Martha “Mattie Newt” Widener. (No, I haven’t a clue about that nickname; but the reader now has a clue about the “N word” that’s my middle name.) Dad spent his entire working life in the enterprise of defending our country, first in the military, then in the intelligence service. He was gone a lot, although no more perhaps than most military service personnel in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The way we regarded service of this kind was different then, I suspect, in two significant ways. First, a military career was understood to be a profession similar in some respects to many others – it was a career choice men (pre-gender equality thinking) made. Military service was understood to be a distinguished and worthy endeavor, not a temporary adventure or a “necessary evil.” Second, friends and neighbors gathered around in small but effective shows of support periodically, letting the families of the service men know they were remembered and their sacrifices at home appreciated as well. (The toll on the families’ mental hygiene is pretty well understood today.) But those were times when American society was less transient; in fact, ironically, military families easily were the most mobile groups, typically “rotating” to a new posting every 30 to 36 months. Neighbors of military families actually understood the deprivation suffered by the rest of the family in having the father figure’s separation for a while. My family was luckier than most, perhaps. I knew others living near us, friends and family members both, took a real interest in my mother’s welfare and checked in on my sister and me now and then.
Lately, our citizens have swung back (from Vietnam era civilian attitudes, at least) in the direction of expressing appreciation for the sacrifices of military personnel, men and women alike. I’m not so sure we fully fathom the loneliness borne by the families (and the individual children and spouses) that cannot go to the theaters of war where the service personnel are dispatched. So, here’s a little wish for your family on this Father’s Day. If you know another family with kids whose mom or dad is abroad in Afghanistan, on a ship in the ocean or someplace else far afield trying to keep the rest of us safer, ask that family’s kids to come to a ball game or a movie, round of golf, picnic or another sort of outing with you. It may sound creepy to you at first – but it may be greatly appreciated by the kid or that child’s local parent or guardian. And at least you’ve asked. (But ask more than once, for maximum impact.) Happy Father’s Day, all around!