He read me stories. He encouraged me to write and illustrate my own tales. He drew pictures with me and my siblings. He left each morning for work as an elementary school principal. He took us on trips. He bar-b-qued. My dad was just like everyone else’s dad- or so I thought. People seemed to love my dad. The neighborhood parents spoke highly of him. They’d remark, your dad’s such a wonderful man. I knew that- but how did they know?
My dad was just like everyone else’s dad- or so I thought.
Some time later, a neighbor kid asked the same thing; “What’s wrong with your dad’s face?” This time when I studied Dad’s face across the dinner table, I noticed something different. He had a huge, oval-shaped scar on his forehead. And behind his large glasses, severe indentations on both cheeks just below his eyes. When I asked him what the marks were, he replied, ”Oh, that’s just a scar”. Dad seemed like he didn’t want to talk about his face. But after endless prodding from me, he finally explained that doctors had removed skin from his forehead to cover the holes in his cheeks. Hmmm…
It took me years to learn and fully understand the details of why my dad’s face looked so different to others. The two holes in his face were the result of a Japanese soldier’s bullet ripping through one cheek and out the other. It was an injury that had forever changed the the young Marine’s life on his 19th birthday. The blast destroyed his sinuses, deafened him in one ear and blinded one eye. Dad miraculously survived the infamous World War II invasions of Guatalcanal, Tarawa and this near-fatal wounding on the beach of Saipan. His face told a story. But he wrote it’s happy ending.
As children, we love our parents unconditionally. My relationship with my dad wasn’t impacted by the “difference” the rest of the world saw when they looked at him. Dad’s war wounds didn’t stop him from living his dream of being an educator. He retired as Deputy Superintendent of a major public school district. Dad may not have “fit in” but he certainly stood out.
I’m thinking of Dad this Father’s Day, and what I see when I close my eyes isn’t his scarred face, but his warm smile, and the children and grandchildren who will continue his legacy. That’s what I will always see when I think of my dad. Happy Father’s Day.
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