A Lot Of What I Will Teach My Daughter About Men, I Learned At War
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My dearest Adelaide,
One day you will ask me “Daddy, what was the war like?” and I will freeze like a deer caught in the headlights. “How should I answer a question like that?” I wonder. Especially to a young girl, curious about what she’s learned in school.
“Daddy was in the war. Both of them. I see his medals in our hallway!” Perhaps this is what you’ll tell your teacher. But as you grow into a teenager you’ll have more questions, and I imagine I will be somewhat of an enigma at times.
So instead I will tell you about young men and honor.
When I was a young boy, I was told by other boys that nothing was better than getting one free hand up a girls shirt in the middle of a dark movie theater. It was a strange sentiment because I just wanted her to smile at me and hold my hand. But holding hands was for “fags” they said. Grow a pair and cop a feel.
There is a terrible thing that happens in a young boy’s head when confronted by other members of your pack. Like jackals running wild, you do not want to be left alone to hunt, for fear that the pack may turn and devour you. So when they ask you to take down the innocent gazelle, you shyly comply to prove that, you too, are a member of this pack. This tribe.
I cannot protect you from all the landmines and jackals running rampant. You will have to learn to face them on your own.
I wish I could tell you that your father was an honorable man when he was younger, but he was not. He ran with the pack and even became their leader at times. Hunting at night like a rabid wolf or an insatiable vampire. Feeding on those he deemed weak or easy prey. There were even the strong ones he simply viewed as a challenge, and like every vampire trick in the book, I was charming until I left you half dead and drained.
There is a certain swagger young men carry when they’re insecure. Perhaps it’s why we hunt women sometimes. My swagger disappeared in the wars. Some men will piss themselves. Others cry for their mothers. I begged and begged not to be sent to the front lines.
I will not lie, Adi. Men died, and I was afraid. But some men displayed honor until the moment of their death.
An entire platoon refused to shoot a little girl carrying ammunition to the enemy each day. That decision would cost some their lives. Other men would brave bullets and death to save an injured friend. One held the hand of a fellow soldier and told him over and over it “would be okay ” until he passed. It didn’t matter he was still being shot at. Some would share their meals with poor farmers.
After the war, I saw honor in different ways from other men who were not in the military. One evening, a group of us sat in a local pub nursing a beer, when one of the men began bragging about the sexual exploits of a friend who was getting away with infidelity. The jeering was reaching a crescendo when a voice boomed over the laughter.
“What a sad excuse for a husband.”
The laughter died, and the men stared blankly into their beers for a long moment, refusing to look at the man who had defied them, while he glared, daring them to challenge him.
Meekness is strength wrapped in humility. It is strength under control in a world where so many are out of control.
I do not know what the future of dating will look like for you many years from now or how men will treat you. And I know now, as much as I’d like to, I cannot protect you from all the landmines and jackals running rampant. You will have to learn to face them on your own.
But I can tell you what to look for. Look for honor.
Look for integrity, selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion. Find those who champion justice and fidelity. But above all, seek men who emulate humility and meekness. Do not, as so many others do, be deceived into thinking it is a weakness. Meekness is strength wrapped in humility, my dear daughter. It is strength under control in a world where so many are out of control.
Do not confuse velvet words and simply holding a door open as honor. Instead, observe how he treats others, your waiter, the homeless, and the marginalized. For if you see how he treats those at their highs and lows, you’ll understand how he will treat you during your high and low points. Heed this wisdom and do not become disillusioned, for honorable men will still break your heart. A dishonorable man will break up with you via text, SnapChat (if that still exists), or simply ignore you. But an honorable man will break your heart face-to-face.
Do not despair, my daughter, for as you read this, you may be tempted to believe that honorable men disappeared in the years before you were born. They still exist. You must search to find them, and that may take many years. In your search, though, you will encounter many men without honor. Do not blame them. For they had fathers who didn’t know how to train their sons in the ways in which a man should walk. Many grew up without a male figure to explain what honor and integrity look like. Feel compassion for them, instead. Point them to other men you see acting in honorable ways.
I leave you with this in closing, Adi. When you were born, my heart was yours, and I wanted nothing more than to protect you, kiss your face, and watch you smile. One day, I hope to meet the man who feels the same way.
All my love,
Ben Sledge is a wounded combat veteran with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions overseas. He now travels, speaks, and writes on behalf of HeartSupport, a non-profit dedicated to helping others overcome the struggles they face in life.