Father’s Day and brothers in arms

June 17, 2012

We’re the last generation that will ever sit with a box of old, faded photographs, my husband pointed out when he saw me poring over old family snapshots and portraits the other day.

When our grandchildren want to see old photos, they’ll need access to our computers, our phones, our cloud, where photos will sit in the same clear, pristine condition as the day they were taken. That is, if they don’t completely disappear into the ether.

It’s a shame, really, because the historical character of old photos– fading, cloudy, bent at the edges–adds to their allure. And since it’s Father’s Day….here’s mine:

My handsome father was a Lt. Commander in the navy.

I’ve been spending time with boxes of old family photographs, tenderly picking up 80-year old photographs of my mother as a child, gazing with astonishment at an even older photo of my paternal grandfather, and wondering about their lives back then.

Then I found a handful of snapshots taken when my father was in the Navy. He went in right after medical school, just as World War II was ending, and also got called back during the Korean War.

I’m pretty sure the photos here were taken in the mid-1940s. And most interesting were some photos of some of his fellow servicemen. Black servicemen.

What were these photos? Did he take them because black military men were a curiosity, I wondered? Or were they friendly colleagues? One clue would be whether or not he posed with them in any of the photos.  I kept looking.

Sure enough, I found this:

There’s my father, second from the right. 😉 (Ok, yeah, he’s the white guy.) He labeled all the photos of his Navy buddies, so this wasn’t out of the ordinary, and always with their last names. So, he knew these guys. Maybe they were corpsmen who worked in the hospital with him.

Clearly, though, my father saw them as brothers in arms.

One thing for sure: my father wasn’t a bigot of any kind. He had some of the same curmudgeon characteristics of TV character Archie Bunker, but he was not sexist, not racist, not when it mattered. Probably because as the son of an Italian immigrant, he saw his share of bigotry aimed at him and his family.

I remember one of his colleagues, a female physician came to dinner when I was maybe five or six years old. She was from India.  My father introduced us, I sized her up and then asked, “Where’s your suit and tie?”  Because already, I had absorbed from the culture that only men were doctors.

But it wasn’t because my father taught that to me. He taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

He believed in a meritocracy. It didn’t matter if you were black, Asian, female–you had to earn your place in the world whatever it was, just like he had. And when you did, he accepted you. Respected you. 

These photos of my father and his black colleagues reinforced what I already knew about my father, even though it was sometimes overshadowed by his conservative politics.

He was a good man and by those standards, a fair man. A man who defined brotherhood his own way.

And then again, the  military can be a great leveler.
video below

Mark Knopfler’s stunning song, Brothers in Arms came to mind when I saw them. It’s his best, I think.

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Someday you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn to be Brothers in arms

 Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

 There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

 Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm

We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms.

“Brothers in Arms” as written by Mark Knopfler

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