He came to live with us from another state when he was eight. Up until his departure, raising a stepson was the hardest thing I had ever done.
Through his pre-teen and teenage angst years, his ears were granite. He ignored us or paid lip service to our parenting; believe me, we tried. He especially resisted me at every turn, sabotaged and plotted, although maybe not consciously, to get his dad and mom back together. Sadly, many of our experiences together, events, celebrations, travel, and home life were disrupted by his defiance and rebellion.
When he decided to join the Navy, it was our hope that his experiences in the military would reinforce the things that we demonstrated, but he ignored. As he left for basic training, we shared mixed emotions about his departure. There was a sense of relief and sorrow; relief for the decline in family tension, and sorrow that we had not developed a better relationship in those ten years.
His first assignment was to a nuclear sub. My motherly instincts ramped up several notches, way beyond worrying whether he came home on time or IF he came home at all during high school. He was a brilliant kid, but to me, no match for the potential of radiation. I know what you’re thinking: “You’re over-reacting,” right? (Pun intended!) Probably, but my personal radar was on red alert.
As my luck would have it, he was transferred to a cruiser and I felt a different kind of relief; in my mind, he’d be safer now.
We wrote many letters back and forth and he revealed the difficult transition he had to make to get along with people from different cultures, values and places. Getting along with others is often challenging, but when you live in such close proximity, with maybe 16 inches between you and your bunk mates, stacked three high, a body width away from another stack of three, with hallways and columns of these stacks, it presents even more challenges. Our family toured the USS Truxton and observed this for ourselves. Six men or women getting ready for work in that small space would make most of us pull our hair out, or worse.
Fast forward about seven months.
I have his letters somewhere in storage, but trust me, I can remember this one. Surprisingly, it started with, “Dear Mom and Dad.”
“Mom?” I thought, “Is he confused?” It turned out that he was at his most real, vulnerable and honest self.
Thank you for living your values and holding the line when I was such a jerk. I’m sorry I put you through all the grief that I did. I’ve learned a lot since joining the Navy. You never gave up on me when you probably wanted to. Thank you. Love, your son.
He was stationed in Guam and other places here and there, was in the Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm, Desert Shield and retired from the Navy after 23 years. He’s a wonderful son, father and husband who now writes specific training manuals for use on Naval vessels. We couldn’t be more proud of his dedication to our country and to the integrity demonstrated by his work ethic and devotion to his family.
After all the times I pleaded inwardly for patience and cried buckets, I realized that sometimes the challenges we face are not resolved during the time frame we want or need, but evolve and resolve in their own time, beautifully.
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!