My father served in the US Navy for 20 years, reaching the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Some of my most enjoyable moments experienced as a child took place while my father served. I enjoyed the adventure of moving to new places. Learning new things and experiencing new people thrilled me.
After he retired, things fell apart: I found myself stuck in rural Arkansas. Dad wanted to settle down after several countries, states, and duty stations, he yearned for something steady and tangible. As a young man in my teens and after growing up in multi-cultural environments of great diversity, I found myself stifled by not having six or seven friends born in different countries and not experience various cultural identities whenever I went over to their homes.
I acted out. I lashed out. Though I was rather small for my age (weighing only 125 pounds and standing 5’6″ when I joined the Navy myself on my 17th birthday), my tenure as a miltary brat taught me to stand up for myself. Being so small, I was often bullied by other children that didn’t know better. They learned.
The movie Highlander has a quote in it that perfectly illustrates my feelings about growing up a navy brat. Russell Nash/Connor MacLeod is being held by the police and one officer asks him, “You talk funny, Nash. Where are you from?” To which the protagonist replies, “Lots of different places.” I may have an origin story. What I do not have is a place of origin. No one place I can definitively say, I am from here.
My wife and I have lived in the same house for seventeen years. I do not say this is where I am from. I have lived the majority of my life in Arkansas. I do not say this is my home state. My perfect idea for retirement is packing everything we own in an RV and hitting the road as aging gypsies.
By the time I was thirteen, I had lived in four states and three countries. I need more than two hands to count the number of addresses where I lived. That also included eight different schools. That is one for every school year to my teenage years.
I recently read this article about military brats. One thing really struck me as being incorrect: “If we get bullied at school, we hesitate to do much about it.” Remember what I said about my bullies earlier? They learned quickly not to bully me. Rather than avoiding my bullies, I confronted them. I challenged them. I learned quickly that if I didn’t “nip this in the bud,” it would fester, and I would never have any peace.
Adaptability. That is one thing I learned as a navy brat. I have preferences. Whenever my wife asks me what I want for dinner, I say I’m fine with whatever you fix. Whenever I am cooking dinner, I make do with what we have. Actually, I must say I am pretty good at it.
Empathy. This is another trait I picked up as a navy brat. Moving around all the time, you never know who is going to be there next week or next month. You form relationships quickly. How do you do this? You learn to read people and notice things about them and how they react to certain words and situations. For many, this is unconscious. These are just two of the things being a military brat teaches you.
For example, I was at a meeting this morning with some other writers in…get this…a coffee shop. I noticed this woman had a pile of folders on her table and was visited by more than one individual. They came. They had coffee. They talkd, and they left to soon be replaced by another. Between visitors, I asked her if she was conducting interview.
Turns out she was a women’s boutique manager and every quarter took her employees to a coffee shop for a one-on-one visit. We quickly learned her name, where she was from (back East), that she had only been in Arkansas five years after re-marrying, and that after the lockdowns of 2020, she really wanted to get out of the house. My writing partners and I all received her business card and 50% off coupons (I gave mine to my wife first thing).
I miss my life as a wanderer. I relish my military brat life. It made me who I am today. I hear the road and adventure calling out to me constantly. Though I have lived in the same house for the last 17 years, I will still say, “Hey…we’ve never been down this road/path/river before. Let’s see where it takes us.”