Friday, June 17, 2011

I solemnly do retire


--Vice Admiral Harold M. Koenig USN (Ret), M.D.

My dad joined the Marine Corps in 1967 and served a tour in Chu Lai, Vietnam. After the war, he was honorably discharged and apparently felt mentally and physically prepared enough to have children. What followed is now more commonly referred to as Christine and Steve, whose constant screaming, fighting and bickering may or may not have influenced his decision in 1977 to return to the military. I will say that this time around, he chose a branch that guaranteed long, tranquil months at sea on big metal thingies that float. That's right - my dad became a United States squid and the adventure began.

Today, my dad ended one job and embarked on another adventure that involves suspenders, hobbies and cereal rich in fiber, but more on the melancholy retiree-type later. For now, he was still in his element.

'Ah, Dad - are you sure you want to eat breakfast with Angie's children wearing your dress whites?'

'Good point, son. Maybe I'll just check if the surprise has pulled up yet.'

'Surprise? What surprise?'

Nobody tells me anything.

Vena had apparently discovered Dad's surprise and picked up the bat phone to announce the news to someone from the 50's who still had a landline.

'Holy shit! There's a limo in our driveway! Tweet you later - bye!'

The limo driver obviously moonlights as a photographer specializing in capturing the essence of masculinity. I mean, come on - just check out my shoulders. That's not photo shop, baby.

The limo driver's skills did not stop with being able to photograph pure manliness; he could also drive limos. Dude, this guy totally ROCKS!

We felt the need to keep up with the guy rocking the steering wheel, so I showed the boys 'the wet bar'. This consisted of three root beers in a champagne bucket of ice. What a freakin' waste!

Angie was apparently irritated at something or someone, but this happens on a bi-minute basis, so I chose to ignore her, even though this tends to irritate her further. Welcome to my vicious circle.

When we finally got to the retirement hangar, something, and I still don't know what, made me think that David was hungry.

'Holy shit! Davey's trying to eat Patrick!'

Luckily Christine, A.K.A. 'Snack Attack' had packed 500 sandwiches. It was kinda like Famine Day, just without the Irish pub full of people laughing and pointing fingers at the gullible Asian guy. Sorry Johnny.

After a rather disgusting grape jelly frenzy, the boys found my dad's auxiliary gear.

Before David could try on the hand-shaped napkins and the paper-towel hat, we were summoned to be seated.

As the ceremony began, I tried to get a nice shot of Angie's forehead. No reason, really; it's just been a personal challenge of mine for years, kinda like those people who spend decades trying to photograph the elusive Big Foot. For a change, I was successful. Jackpot!

Holy crap! Check that out! God surely broke the mold after crafting that noggin. I'm just glad that Angie finds my sense of humor sexy enough to overlook minor and temporary lapses in mental judgment when it comes to publishing photographic content of what I now lovingly refer to as her cranial landing surface. Hi sofa, long time no see.

Speaking of landing surfaces, check out Davey. Then check out the pilot's name engraved on the side.

I can only hope that the taxpayers did not really buy my dad a jet as a retirement gift. My dad wisely chose to ignore Goose and proceeded to get awards from people like the president. Yes, You Can. Retire.

Gee, thanks, but did you get anything from the Mayor of Philadelphia?

See, my dad grew up on the streets of Philly and when he was asked if he would like a letter of recognition from anyone special, my dad mentioned the Mayor of Philadelphia. Unless a 'thanks, but screw you' counts, the closest to brotherly appreciation for my dad's 40 years of service was a soft pretzel and a pack of cream cheese. Yo, thanks, Nutter.

The ceremony was great. After the speeches came the gifts. The first was an original Marine footlocker that was standard issue at Parris Island.

The inside was covered with patches, stickers and memorabilia from my dad's various units over the decades. Hurrah!

Next was a shadow box that took two grown men to hold. That should say it all.

The next scheduled event was more of a walk down memory lane. Growing up, I was forced to watch the Godfather trilogy at least 240 times. Don't ask me why - even my therapist can't figure it out. At least my dad's odd bond with dead horses and cannoli was not limited to his immediate family. No, over the years he has obviously imposed his odd infatuations with his extended military family. As soon as Vena and Jerrell started playing the Godfather theme, the collective crowd laughed and roared all too knowingly.

Vena and Jerrell nailed it. Really. Marlon Brando would have been proud. He probably would have still boycotted the ceremony, but I think that was just his thing. Kinda like my dad and his weird quirk to fall backwards while cutting retirement cakes.

The after-retirement ceremony was a class act. The wild thing was, the class included Peter, David, Tom, Patrick and Stephanie and trust me, their acts were worthy of retirement. If not high treason.

As with any party, there is always an end and I was proud to see that my father walked the green mile in stride.

I can only imagine the emotions that were going through his head as he made his final departure in dress whites. Not so hard to imagine, let alone visualize, smell or hear was the departure of three liberty hounds on their way to the next party.

As we headed to the second party, the boys wanted to goof a mile in Pop-Pop's hat. Considering that he no longer needs to have a presentable cover, he felt no reason to object.

At one point, we hit traffic. The boys didn't mind, but I think our limo driver did. See, to put it discreetly, Tommy had crapped his pants and we (Angie) had stupidly forgotten to pack spare diapers.

Yeah, he was really heart-broken about the whole 'stinky limo' thing. So was my dad, who jumped out of the limo before it came to a full stop and asked for the bar. Come on, Jack's waiting.

The good thing about hiring a limo driver is that they are pretty much at your beck and mercy, even if it involves driving a forgetful mother back home to change her stinky son. Ba-bye!

Inside, the Johnson brothers proved their bloodline by immediately pounding drinks.

I love that Angie is in the background, bellying up to the bar after returning from operation poop-sack. She's not a Johnson by blood, but for some strange reason, her liver has been accepted as one of the family.

Tommy wasted no time in finding expensive shit to break.

As Vena taught clean-bottomed children how to annoy guests with sensitive ears, my cousin taught diaperless boys how to be silly. Um, yeah, thanks Nancy, but they don't really need help.

As everyone lined up for the buffet, Vena and Jerrell played the first encore rendition of The Godfather theme.

As soon as the tune started, Tommy took his cue and ran up to his God-Uncle and whispered 'I know it was you, Bob. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!'

Luckily Uncle Bob followed my approach and simply ignored weird children that quote The Godfather.

After dinner came the show. It started with a series of speeches, followed by songs, culminating with a rendition of Gunga Din that shook the room.

I was a little worried because speeches and poetry are not really their thing, but the boys seemed to be enjoying it. Kinda.

After the show, the manager in me felt compelled to whip out a flip chart and hold a presentation that highlighted the values that I have learned from my father.

It's important to teach kids the value of trust, but some fathers apparently find it equally as important to teach their gullible son not to be so trusting. It all began on 'Italian night'. Mom was in the kitchen dishing up meatballs and spaghetti, which left Dad alone with me. Enough foreshadowing? I was just a young punk and like David, I was a very curious creature. I asked my dad what the red flakes were in the glass jar on the table. He glanced casually to the kitchen to confirm my mom was still preoccupied. Then he leaned forward and whispered 'candy - you wanna smell?'. Well, duh! Of course I wanted to. I snatched the shaker out of his hands, shoved it up to my nose, and gave it a snort that would make Marion Barry proud. Two seconds later, I was twitching on the ground with two fingers shoved up my nose, trying to liberate the crushed red pepper flakes that had lodged in my nasal canal. The only sound that could be heard above my snot-bubbling wailing and coughing was my dad's gleeful laughter. Thanks, Dad.

The night before Halloween is called 'Devils night'. It's when little kids are allowed and sometimes even encouraged by father figures to engage in petty mischief. So yeah, Dad was supposed to be babysitting, but this was apparently too boring. He came into the living room and dropped a duffel bag full of gear - camouflage paint, shoe polish, eggs, rice and soap. As Dad painted war faces on us, he explained that we were going to play a trick on his friend Ralph. Christine was charged with applying shoe polish underneath the door handle of Ralph's car and soaping up the windows. I was tasked with chucking an egg at his living room window, followed by fistfuls of rice. Move out! When we got to Ralph's, my dad parked the car down the street and informed us that he would wait in the car, in case a quick getaway was needed. Chris and I nervously tiptoed down the sidewalk to Ralph's house. As we approached his front door, a monster jumped out of the bushes and tried to eat us. Christine and I bolted towards the car and were completely baffled. My dad was standing by the car laughing his ass off. Um, hello DAD! There is a freakin' monster behind us. As it turned out, the monster was just Ralph in a cheap rubber mask. My dad had apparently called him in advance and convinced him to lurk in the bushes and attack innocent children. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Ralph.

Growing up with a complete lack of trust and an overabundance of fear played a big part in my early interest in weapons. My dad fueled this obsession by bringing back knives from ports around the world. He also supplied me with swords, BB guns and archery supplies that kept me entertained, even if it was often at the expense of my older sister. Thanks, Dad. Sorry, Chris.

Parents are normally accountable for their actions and try to instill that sense of responsibility in their offspring. I'm sure my dad was getting ready for that lesson, but apparently learning how to fish is a prerequisite. The first thing I learned was that one cannot go fishing without a beer. The second thing I learned was that mothers are not so amused when their underage son comes home from catching seafood and passes out on the sofa. Thanks Dad. Sorry, Mom. Buurrppp.

So now we jump forward to my junior year - the year I discovered house parties. We were living in Japan at the time and my parents would go to Tokyo every couple of weeks and spend the night. As every high schooler knows, if you are a junior with an empty house and you don't throw a party, you better get yourself a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and sign up for the math club. I hate math, so I began a short-lived series of house parties that rocked, unless you ask my older sister, who very strongly objected. She likes math. The first couple times, it worked like a charm. Mom and Dad would leave at 7:00 sharp and at 8:30 we would turn the party lamp on. I always taped big DO NOT DRINK signs in front of my dad's bar and his Fosters in the fridge. We would then fill the washing machine with ice and voilá - instant party. Just add liquid. What I did not count on was the one time my parents drove two hours to Tokyo, found out that their reservation had been cancelled, and then decided to drive back home. My mom opened the front door and let me just say, she was a few notches below amused. She disappeared and left my dad to deal with me. By this point, people had already dived out of windows and cleared the place. I watched nervously as my dad stepped over empty beer cans and pizza boxes as he made his way to his bar. He noted the sign I had placed there and continued to the fridge, where he saw the taped X placed in front of his beer. The whole time he had not said anything, which I took as a bad sign. He eventually sat down in his lazy chair and motioned for me to come over. 'When I was your age, I did the same thing and my parents beat the hell out of me. I swore to myself then that if I ever had a son, I would let him get away once.' Then he leaned in close and raised a single finger in front of my nose. 'Once.' With that he went to bed and we never spoke about it again. Thanks Dad. Sorry Mom.

After graduating from high school, I decided to go on an adventure of my own and joined the Navy. After boot camp, I flew back to Japan to visit. At the time, military personnel traveling on international flights had to wear their uniform. My dad knew this and even though he was picking me up on a Saturday, he showed up in his uniform. At first, I thought 'You bastard! You put on your uniform just so that I would have to salute you.' Okay, it was true - I was enlisted and required to salute an officer in uniform, but I realize now that the act was one of respect - mutual respect. Thanks, Dad.

Over the years, my dad has taught me to dream. To have a goal and work hard to achieve what you want in life. Work hard, play hard. Growing up, my dad has shared with me some of his personal dreams and a good majority of them have been fulfilled. For years, I've asked 'What do you want to do when you retire?'. The answer was inevitably 'move to Alaska, grow my hair long, smoke pot and ride motorcycles'. I've avoided the bubble-bursting reality check until now, but I think it's only fair to tell you, Dad - pot is still illegal under federal law, even in Alaska; you still haven't learned how to ride a motorcycle, which is what I would call 'a new trick'; and you're hair, well - good luck with the pony tail. Sorry, Dad.

Speaking of dreams, the boys visibly enjoyed my presentation.

Needless to say, there was no Ladder Talk tonight. Instead, I will close with a father-son note.
Hey Padre,

I know today was one hell of a day for you. I can't imagine how difficult it was to hang up a hat that you've worn for 40 years and I was proud to see that you made your exit in style and with dignity. I was glad to be there with my animals to share the moment - it will be cherished forever.

Your son, your friend, your shipmate,




--The Watch


  1. your dad sounds like a cool guy, great post.

  2. He is cool - kinda like his son, just not as muscular. :-) Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. I appreciate if you think I am cool but my son Stephen is the really cool one. The only thing to add is that old saying about the nut doesn't fall far from the tree. In Stephen's case, I think he hurt his head in the fall. :-) ......Passed on with Cheers/Beers and Smiles to my coconut Son and all his admirers. Love, Padre

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  6. Hopefully Angie brought some extra diapers back with her in case Tommy had another poopy diaper. Did you make her change Tommy's poopy diaper there too lol?

    1. I assume so, but I don't really know. My liver was too busy rocking it with the recently retired. For all I know, Angie convinced the limo driver that butt cleansing was on his duty roster.