The Diplomats, Dad and Me: The Blurring of the Lines


He's gone. It was sudden. He always had that quality about him: sudden-ness, fast moves or fast decisions, though he was a stable man, not given to wild leaps of judgment, at least in his older years. He was incredibly responsible.

I reflect back, in these several weeks since his death, at how tears came readily when he first died. That first few days, they seldom stopped. Now, however, I find no difficulty in not making them come forth. Nor do they impose themselves on me in the midst of other activities.

I've been surprised by this, because, of course, my heart is aching. There are, after all the years, many memories we've had together, all the special things I could share only with him. I simply cannot believe there isn't more grieving going on here.

He would have wanted it that way. "God grant you Peace," was one of his favorite sayings. We were close in a lot of ways. I could always go to dad--or, anyway, I always did. As a little boy I went to him for just about anything that was on my mind or troubling me. He was over-indulgent with me in a lot of ways, but sometimes there was a gap that I now can see was caused by the huge difference in the ways we were brought up. He was brought up in a home where he had to pay his own way and work unbelievably hard from the time he was tiny, a raggamuffin, tow-headed, squinty-eyed plowboy. He, as he said, "grew up on the end of a cross-cut saw."

He went out early in the morning, at the age of ten or perhaps even younger, to help his father cut timber. Schooling was something frivolous, something you did if you could work it in: making a living was the paramount thing. Even as a small boy, he never got to go to school as much as he wanted. When I was small he confessed to me that he always loved to read, study and learn and hadn't gotten to as much as he'd have liked. That wasn't his only area of frustration in life, however. Several of his childhood dreams were crushed and many secret hopes destroyed. His father was strict and cruel to him, killing his hopes and dreams in many areas, from school to career opportunities. His father even precluded his having a chance to play professional baseball.

Even now, the full realization that }{\plain \i\f1 he's gone}{\plain \f1 is sinks in only with difficulty. I hear myself saying those words sometimes and it doesn't sound real. It doesn't sound like I'm saying them. I've heard other people say them so much. It takes a few seconds, sometimes, for the full realization to hit--and even then, I'm not sure it really has. Somehow, for some strange feeling, at those times of what would be deep grief, I feel a Peace.

I wonder: When Dad was in his last days, he said he was praying to God to give me Peace and that he wanted God to look after me. Perhaps it is that Peace that is giving me this solace now. In return for that blessed, loving prayer of his for me, I can only ask that God please look after my daddy. I loved him.

One of the last memories I have of him is driving an old black Ford back up to Batesville after driving down with me in a little Omni, when he helped me get my license. That was in 1993. He'd helped me get the little Omni, then he'd driven that old Ford back up to Batesville, by himself. He was even then, white-headed.

Yet he was only--and just barely--73 when he died. He was, however, a very old 73. He had put a lot of miles on his little body and mind, a lot of stress and wear and tear, partly caused by the likes of me, spoiled as a little boy and virtually useless to him in his small business endeavors, as a grown man. If I'd been more help to him, his stress level might have been lower and maybe he'd still be around today.

He'd say to stop that, of course. I can't deny that he'd say that. I'm sure that he's looking over my shoulder now, at least every once in a while. But I can't help but wonder why he's been so silent. He hasn't contacted me in any way.

Unless he did in the dream I had the other night, when he came to me, still whiteheaded but now very robust, and said that he was much better now. He said that the tumor was gone, that "they had come just in time" and now he felt better than he'd felt in years.

Maybe that was just a dream, wishful thinking. Maybe it was based on my fantasy that, for a brief few seconds when we were out of the room right after he died, the nurses had come in and revived him and we hadn't been told for some reason.

Yet I'd known even at that point that he was dead: I'd seen him lying in state already. We'd already had the funeral at time the dream occurred. Why would I have thought that he'd come back and tell me the tumor had successfully been removed and he was still alive?

Also he was with a woman when he came to visit us--mom and at least a couple of my sisters were in the dream, too. I had never seen her before. I can't really picture her face very well, other than I recall that she looked a bit like my youngest sister Ann, only somewhat older. She wasn't very old, however. I never got a name. I'm tempted to wonder if it was a dead relative, someone who's passed on, one of those that he knew well when I was only little and don't remember.

I'd really like to believe that--that he was talking to me, since he passed on, from the Other Side. But there were many things about that dream that don't sound right.

For example, when the dream first started out, mom, my sisters and I were in a strange place. I'm not clear where exactly we were--in the hospital, in a hotel lobby or exactly where. I recall it wasn't the house in Batesville--at least, not right away. At a point later in the dream it was, however. Why and how we returned to that house in Batesville, I'm not clear. But in the final part of the dream, there we were.

Let me back up. The dream in question was in two parts. Part One was where dad came to see me and hugged me: real, close, warm--it felt so real, just like real life. He said he felt better than he'd felt in years, that they'd come for him just in time (that was the expression he used--"they came for me just in time"). He was bigger, more robust than he'd been in the past couple or three years. We'd watched him wither away. It had been so troubling. Now, he seemed to be saying, he was back to normal health again.

He didn't stay long, in the dream. He was gone. Then the dreamscape changed again and mom, my sisters and I were in the house in Batesville. Mystically, we all returned there. I don't know where we had been before.

This wasn't the only quality about the dream that makes me wonder if it was a Communication. There was also a feeling about what I was feeling, in that latter part in the dream. It was a feeling, not an event so much, that makes me wonder if dad was communicating with me. I'll try to describe what I mean.

Sometimes, when I was a little boy, Dad had sayings, little routine things he'd say all the time. When I first heard him say those things, I didn't always understand what he meant. I would interpret the images he was conveying in my own little way. Only years afterward, sometimes, would I really get an understanding of those things he had said. Then, I'd look back on some of my interpretations as a child and see how incorrect they were. It was something that happened on more than one occasion.

At those times, I'd speak with my mother or my aunts--women who were older than me and who, even when he'd said those things, had understood what they really meant. I tried to describe how I felt--at those times of realization--to those women. I tried to describe to them how I felt, now that I "understood as a grown-up" what dad's saying really meant. It had been commonly understood by the adults but not by me. Sometimes, I felt I should have understood it sooner than I did and felt awkward to be slow growing up.

There was a quality to how dad would act at those times that is also difficult to convey, but which caused a certain emotional reaction in me. That emotion is difficult to describe. It wasn't really pain at all, more a feeling of being in the presence of one who was much smarter than I'd thought. Dad didn't gloat or act rude at those times. Rather, there was a special father-son feeling, perhaps only unique to he and I.

It was a feeling of comfort, of knowing that dad had been patient. He may even have realized, known that I hadn't reallyunderstood what his saying had meant at the time. He'd simply bided his time and watched me grow up, patiently letting me learn for myself that, sometimes, fathers know best--or know more than we think they do. Or that there is a bigger world out there than a little boy can realize for awhile.

Of course, I knew already that daddy knew a lot of stuff that I didn't know. I just took that for granted. It was more that feeling --of having adjusted, of having gained that final bit of insight and knowledge as an adult, of being more on a par with dad in terms of maturity and understanding. That feeling came at those times, along with the realization he'd been patient with me without my even knowing it.

It was a feeling akin to that I experienced in Part II of the dream, the part wherein mom, my sisters and I were sitting in the house, first recalled as the house in Batesville, but gradually changing to the house in Pleasant Plains: the one my parents lived in when dad died. The one mom lives in now. The one we had just been in for the funeral. We were sitting on the couch in the living room, talking. I mentioned to them--for in this dream we were conversing }{\plain \i\f1 about}{\plain \f1 Part I of the selfsame dream--that dad had said "they had come just in time" and that the woman with him had looked a lot like Ann, only a little older.

Even then, though, there was a feeling that Mom and my sisters were saying to me that dad really was dead, that what I was recalling him saying wasn't doctors that had been the "they" who had come. And that the tumor had been "taken" away from him not by medicine but by death. In other words, as I, in the dream itself, reflected back on what dad had said to me, in that strange place he'd first come to me and hugged me, I came to feel that feeling again--the one where I finally understood what his "saying" meant.

He and the woman had not been alive, he seemed to have said. And, as I awakened from the dream, I had that feeling very powerfully. That peaceful and calm feeling, that feeling of appreciation of his knowledge as being even greater than I'd thought it had been, that I used to experience on first gaining a real understanding of what another of his sayings really meant.

In the dream conversation with my mom and my sisters, that realization only gradually came. That feeling, that realization, had come to me, although mild in nature. It made me realize, with a slowly building sense of alarm, that I'd learned something which was outside of myself during Part I of the dream. And this realization had a mildly startling quality to it. That was why I'd awakened. Dad had told me something, in Part I of the dream which, in Part II, I was endeavoring to understand. It was a "saying," for him to have said that "they came just in time." It was a "saying" for him to have said that "they got the tumor out just in time." And, just as the true meaning of his sayings in the past had taken a little while to sink in, to come to my awareness, so, what he'd said in Part I of the dream didn't begin to really "dawn" on me until late in Part II.

He had gestured to the woman with him, the woman who looked like Ann only older, and said, "she was one of the ones who came and got me." The woman had spoken to me or in some way had communicated with me--perhaps only a touch on the shoulder. But, between them, the two of them had said a "saying."

Dad wasn't telling me, in Part I, that the doctors had come to save him from the tumor. He was telling me that "they," the dead, had come for him. The woman with my dad, I'm fairly sure, is dead. I've never seen her before, yet she looked familiar. Perhaps she was only much older when I had actually seen her, and, like dad, she was much younger than she'd been the last time I'd seen her. That being the case, she could have been someone dad was familiar with, even if I wasn't. Or, she could have been Grandma, dad's mother, who had, after all, died less than two months before and who, incredibly, does look a great deal like my sister Ann in pictures when she was younger. Perhaps she had been waiting for Dad.

Dad had a certain irony that he spoke to me with and in, at those times when I'd come to those "realizations" about his "sayings." He'd generally say something to the effect that he'd been skeptical all along that I'd been able to adequately understand what he had been talking about. He frequently had a slight note of satire.

Thus, when he told me that "they came just in time," he meant that, contrary to all our futile attempts to use "book learning" to solve problems via medicine and doctors and their knowledge, his real salvation--the one he'd indicated early on that he'd wanted--had been the salvation of death. We were fighting so hard, he was saying, against something so good. You just didn't understand what we really meant, son--just like in the past, when you were little, and you just didn't understand at first what I meant by those sayings I'd say.

And, Part II of the dream was simply my first stirrings in the direction of conprehending what he had really said in Part I. As I got that first stirring of realization and mild feeling of being startled, I began moving back more in the direction of where I was.

Moving in that direction, I moved, in the dream, first from the strange place where he and the woman who looked like Ann had been. From there, the dream scenes changed to the house in Batesville, briefly: closer to where I was as I dreamed. The next scene was the house in Pleasant Plains. Then, finally, as that realization of his and the woman's "saying" fully dawned on me, I came back to full wakefulness in Little Rock: an awakened state that I arrived in, mildly startled at what I'd experienced.

I am reinforced in this idea a lot now at work, at Target. As I work on the sales floor, I frequently hear children being communicated with by their parents as they ride by in shopping carts or as they walk alongside shopping moms and dads. At those times, sometimes little questions are asked as little minds struggle to understand a grown-up world: mom why this, dad why that?

Sometimes, the child understands when they answer. But many times, even when the child repeats back what the parent has just told them, they still don't really understand. They just leave it to their parents to know what's best. Years from now, in some cases, they will really understand what they hear their parents saying in conversation with other adults. For now, their comprehension is limited. They form an intermediate level of understanding which will suffice for now, for a time.

In my case, in the dream, Dad and the woman who looked like Ann were telling me something, also, that at first I didn't comprehend. "They," including the woman, had come "just in time." (Irony, you see: that satirical irony, playing on words regarding the hopes we'd had that medical procedures might turn out to be "just in time.") Now, dad was saying, he "felt better than he had in years." In this case, it didn't take me several years to understand dad's "saying" with this other adult. It took me only a few minutes. I moved toward understanding it while still in the dream state, hence the change in scene. But only as the scene in Part II became more real world did I begin to understand--and with that understanding had come full, startled wakefulness.

Dad was telling me he was in a better place, that the suffering of this life and of his physical body, was gone now. He was telling me not to worry, nor to be sad, that he was fine and that he was alive, on the Other Side. That's what the woman who looked like Ann had been saying, too.

Now, when I hear those little kids in the store asking their parents Those Questions, I can feel a sense of comfort. I also feel comforted by the lack of tears, the feeling of Peace I keep having, as if a gift from someone else. I know dad is sending me Peace.

Peace. It is a word that can have many meanings. Peace can refer to that sense of inner peace. However, there is also the Peace that can come between people, between groups of people or between nations.

Peace, in the latter sense, is the work of diplomats. And it is ironic that, in their work as peacemakers, diplomats have often accomplished acts of military significance, without awareness or consciousness that they were doing so, many times, at the time.

Diplomats are civilians. In that regard, in the book that follows we will see a blurring of the lines between "civilian" and "military" in modern wars--especially the war my dad fought in, World War II. There were many "civlians" in that conflict who were, in reality, soldiers, or, at the very least, did the "work" of soldiers in taking actions that had military consequences.

Bulgarian, Rumanian and Yugoslav diplomats played for time with Hitler's war machine in the early Spring of 1941, only half-inadvertantly stalling his Wehrmacht's invasion of Russia into the late summer. "Civilian" construction workers on Wake Island stood off a Japanese invasion force for two solid weeks. Greek "civilians" in the Dodecanese Islands, acting as inadvertant "coast watchers," spared Britain a gory commando landing in 1941.

A group of Free French under young Charles DeGaulle--only some of whom had been in the French military before the June 1940 fall of France--attempted to sally forth and capture Dakar from Vichy and Axis control in September 1940. The near-success of their "first try" carried the threat of a more successful second landing, putting pressure on Vichy to refuse German submarines a station at that Atlantic coastal port for forays against Allied convoys. Though not successful in its immediate tactical result, their mission had a vast strategic impact on the conduct and even outcome of the War--with few shots fired.

We will read the story of American guerrilla pilots on Mindanao, still bombing Japanese targets on Formosa at Christmas 1942--long after Corregidor had fallen. We will read the story of several other Americans who maintained a constant battle against Japan from those islands, effectively as soldiers, even though they were "only" civilians officially.

We will see how partisan "civilians" in Warsaw, Paris and Yugoslavia carried the battle against Nazism to the very throats of the SS and the Gestapo, forcing many of its top leaders to watch their step in even revealing their whereabouts. We will see how, in the very earliest days of the war, in September 1939, a lone Polish cavalryman invaded Germany, battling behind the German lines even after his army--and his army status--had been dissolved.

We'll also read the adventures of a Pacific-based newsman as he covers Malaya, then Singapore, then the Dutch East Indies and, finally, Australia. An unarmed "civilian," he was, nevertheless, seldom not under fire from the Japanese for more than a few hours from December 1941 until March of 1942.

And, not to be forgotten, we'll see how the men who worked alongside my father--my dear, late, beloved father--in the "civilian" work of the "Seabees" (US Navy Construction Battalions) carried the fight to the heart of enemy territory. Even in areas not completely freed of enemy troops, they acted as if those troops weren't there anymore, forcing Japan to retreat just that much further, that much faster, from its recently-captured Pacific possessions. They sometimes built barracks for troops who hadn't even arrived yet, sending a powerful psychological message to bewildered Japanese commanders that forced them to realize that their "defending troops" were, in reality, only snipers.\par

--Max Standridge Little Rock, 1999

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