When I was a little boy, I remember my dad polishing his black army boots each time before he would head off for a weekend of training or an important military meeting. I always thought he looked impressive in his well-kept uniform. He eventually retired as a colonel in the US Army Corps of Engineers after nearly 30 years of military service. He was very proud to be a US soldier.
My father’s example of being a soldier left a huge impression on me, eventually influencing me to join the US Army myself as an officer. Although my dad was far from perfect, he lived a life of sacrifice and service to His country that mattered, and he loved our family the best he knew how. He passed away in 2010 after a terrible battle with dementia. To this day I continue to honor him for his life of hard work, dedication and focus. He, along with my mom, gave me and my three brothers a lot to be thankful for.
On the 75 anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the unforgettable invasion of Europe by the Allied armed forces, I would like to reflect a little on my dad’s life. He lived through the traumatic days of the second world war, and his life was marked by those incredible years.
My father, Salvador “Buddy” Camacho, was born in the small US territory island of Guam in October 1932. He grew up in a time where life was simple, the Catholic church was central, and family was everything. . . until Dec 8, 1941. On that day, the day after the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese army invaded Guam and forcefully took possession of the island. That day began several years of violence, indoctrination and language training to make the Chomorro people into newly acquired Japanese citizens. My dad was nine on that day.
For nearly three years, until the island was liberated by the US Navy and Marines on July 21, 1944, my dad experienced hunger, trauma and violence on an unbelievable scale. He saw the dead bodies of Marines stacked higher than his head, and was even shot in the arm by a frightened Japanese soldier. The experiences of those years stayed with him throughout his life. He rarely spoke of it, but when he did a flood of pain and emotions rose up from some deep place where they lay buried in his soul. He told me and my brothers stories from the war, like the day they rode on the back of a shark that got stuck in a bomb crater on the beach when the tied went out. A kind of dangerous merry-go-round!
He told us stories of our grandfather, Ignacio Camacho, a skilled diesel mechanic, who was captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the engines of their naval ships. For three years, my dad didn’t know if his dad was even alive. Then one day, after the war ended, he told us he was walking down the street and heard his dad call his name, and father and son were wonderfully reunited. I always felt like that was like something from a movie.
Despite all that trauma, my dad went on to study engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and became a junior scientist during the famed Apollo space program of the 1960’s. While he worked in the rocket propulsion lab at the Ames Research Center in Palo Alto, CA, he earned his masters and doctorate in Aeronautical Engineering at Stanford University. I was born while he worked for NASA. He and my mom raised four boys, sent them all to college and were blessed with 12 grandchildren.
As I reflect on this Father’s Day, I think we can learn some things from people like my dad and the men of that WWII generation. Here are four things that stand out to me:
- Your past doesn’t define your future: The trauma of your childhood doesn’t have to cripple you for life. We knew my dad carried around a ton of pain and memories from those awful war years. Despite that baggage, he went on to live a life of faith, family and contribution. He faithfully attended his church and looked to God for hope and mercy through the years. He surprised everyone with what he became and accomplished. We can move beyond our pain.
- Do something with what you’ve been given: We do not get to choose the cards we are dealt, but we have a choice as to what we do with the hand we got. The trauma my dad experienced makes my life seem like a Disney movie. I learned from him that each man has a choice to make with his time, energy and gifts. Give of yourself to something larger than yourself.
- It is not about perfection as a father, it is more about showing up:My dad struggled with a lot of things, but he hung in there and did the best he knew how. My brothers and I affectionately called him “The General.” Despite his faults, he gave what he had. We loved that imperfect man, because he was OUR dad. In his faltering way, he gave us the gift of his example: we saw what a hard-working dad does with his life. All four of us now have our own families and kids. Be a dad, whether you feel confident or not.
- Your example is powerful: We watched our dad work hard, fight through tough times, get up after setbacks and strive to develop himself throughout his life. He was not handed a lot of privileges, but he modeled for us a life of pursuing goals with sweat and determination. Words are important, but your example endures. Be the type of Christian you would like your kids to become. Actions are louder than words.
When I became a father myself, I became aware of the awesome privilege and burden of being a dad. I felt all the different feelings many dads face:
- the recurrent feelings of inadequacy,
- the lack of mentorship for my own fathering, and
- the daily burdens of working, providing and trying to teach four kids about life and God.
Thankfully God gave me an incredible wife to help me make sense of family and fathering. She has been an incredible gift and partner in my parenting journey. And God gave me the example of a hard-working dad.
At our church, we will honor our dads on Father’s Day, June 16. As we do, I think it would be right to look back to the fathers of the WWII generation who walked through some extremely difficult times and went on to rebuild their world after the war. And then raised the families we come from.
Only God is a perfect Father. He loves us, heals us and develops us throughout our lives. As fathers, may our fathering increasingly reflect His perfect fatherhood. Jesus’ said that his greatest desire was to reveal to us His Father, and help us find a home in His love.Dads, your lives matter. As a fellow dad, I salute you.