This week we find ourselves caught between two seemingly unrelated commemorations: the 75th anniversary of D Day, and Father’s Day.
As I’ve watched the coverage of the D Day anniversary, I’ve been moved by how frail and fragile our remaining World War II veterans are. According to US Department of Veterans Affairs, fewer than 500,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2018. Those who survive are in their 80s and 90s. As days go by, more and more veterans slip away, and we lose something so special and so precious.
And as Father’s Day approaches, I’m reminded that many of the very same veterans who stormed the beaches at Normandy and fought across Europe, Africa and Asia returned home to lead America through perhaps her greatest period of growth and prosperity. Many of the men became the fathers and uncles and grandfathers and other men who joined forces with mothers, aunts and grandmothers to create the strong, safe communities that nurtured my parents, me and my peers, and our children. When we talk about “the good old days” we’re talking about the world they created.
It takes moxie to save the world, and even more moxie to create a world worthy of the sacrifice. The men and women of D Day had that moxie. As a father, I have a lot to learn from them. Here’s how:
Perhaps one of the most fascinating elements of D Day to me was the subterfuge. Germany was well on its way to conquering Europe and held a strong advantage. The Allies had to push Germany back, or all would be lost.
The Allies gathered in England and planned a cross-channel invasion. The Germans anticipated the point of attack would be at Calais, France, which lies just across the narrowest part of the English Channel. The Allies did everything they could to encourage that notion, including sending false messages, setting up a fake command center in southern England, and even setting up fleets of fake decoy tanks.
Meanwhile, troops were preparing to invade the beaches of Normandy, far to the north. Germany leadership was caught so off guard that Rommel, commander of the German forces, was away on leave when the attack occurred. Without that element of surprise, the Allied attack might have died on those beaches, and the world might be a much different place today.
It takes moxie to read an opponent and know where to feint and where to parry in a fight. The same is true of parenting. As a husband and father, I want to protect and nurture my family. Sometimes that means I have to “fake it ’til I make it.”
I remember vividly a video shot during the California wildfires last season. The video was shot as a father was driving through a hellscape of flames with his young child asking questions from the back seat. The father remained calm and reassuring, even as flames surrounded them on all sides. He could not possibly have felt as calm as he seemed, but he kept that tone because he knew if he lost it and gave voice to his fears, neither he nor his child would make it out alive.
Sometimes moxie means being much braver, wiser and stronger than you feel.
On June 6, 1944, after months of careful planning and a weather delay, the time finally came. More than 156,000 troops swarmed over the beaches of northern France. Within a week, the beach was secured and more than 326,000 Allied troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment had landed and were ready to push forward and crush the Germans. Less than a year later, the Germans surrendered.
Moxie moves strategically, strongly and decisively when the time is right.
While much of parenting requires quick decisions in the moment, it also requires having a vision and a plan and working hard to make sure you have the resources to execute on the plan when the time comes. Purchasing life insurance and paying deductibles and squirreling money away in a college savings account aren’t glamorous and don’t end up being glorified in Facebook posts or snapshots in a scrapbook, but they matter greatly. It takes moxie to take action for your family, and parents must have it.
Moxie is missed.
Among the most iconic images of the D Day invasion are pictures of American troops aboard landing craft making their way through choppy seas toward the beach. The images are the likely the last glimpse of the lives of many of these young lads, some of them barely old enough to shave.
Each of those lives dimmed and extinguished on that grim, gray day represent the loss to and of generations to come. Many died with young children at home. Those children would grow up without their fathers to love, nurture, provide and protect. The losses would be felt deeply, decades later. Others died before they had a chance to fall in love, marry and have children of their own. We lost not only those men, but all the generations that would have followed them.
Still others survived the war but came back very different men. They returned with broken hearts and spirits, unable to overcome the horrors they endured. Their pain had a profound effect on all those who loved them, and it would be nearly impossible to trace the impact through those lives and the lives that followed.
Finally, there were others who survived and somehow returned stronger. They might have been reluctant to tell their stories, or they might have shared their experiences with the families they returned to build. They became pillars of their families and communities, the rocks upon which many lives were built. They went on to live lives worthy of the sacrifices they had made, and worthy of the sacrifices their fellow soldiers had made.
In this space between D Day and Father’s Day, I’m profoundly aware of how all these men made the world I live in possible. It takes moxie to face down evil and destroy it on the battlefield, and it takes moxie to nurture good and build it at home.
I hope I live every day with gratitude for their moxie, and the humility to imitate it in my own small way.