June is a month of celebration. For families, it's a time to celebrate weddings and graduations. For school kids, it marks the beginning of summer vacation. And for us dads, we get to enjoy our favorite holiday of the year -- Father's Day.
But June is also a time of remembrance. On June 6, we commemorate D-Day, the day in 1944 when the U.S. and its allies stormed the Normandy beaches held by Hitler's armies. On those beaches, Allied soldiers fought and died to push back the German defenders and liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation.
For me, D-Day will forever be linked with Father's Day, and not simply because they're both observed in June, but because of a movie I saw as a young father.
The movie was Saving Private Ryan, which depicts a unit of Army rangers in World War II tasked with finding and bringing back from the front lines the last surviving brother of four. In the movie's unforgettable opening, the unit lands on Omaha Beach, the scene of some of the most desperate fighting in the Battle of Normandy. For one unused to seeing war depicted in such stark and realistic terms, the movie came as both a shock and a reminder of the horrors of battle.
I saw Saving Private Ryan twice, once three weeks before my oldest son's birth, and again shortly after. Though I'd read the reviews and considered myself well versed in the history of World War II, I was unprepared for the film's raw, uncensored scenes. A few minutes in, I stuck my uneaten bag of popcorn on the floor. The movie was so gut-wrenching, I'd lost my appetite.
When I saw Saving Private Ryan the second time, I'd been through several weeks of changing diapers and soothing a crying baby at three in the morning. This time I found the movie even more poignant and memorable. It seemed different, or maybe I had changed. I was no longer watching anonymous soldiers with no connection to me. I was now a dad myself, watching the sons of other fathers die in combat. I suddenly realized what it might be like to send a child off to war.
As proud as any parent is who has a son or daughter serving their country, I now understood that this pride is accompanied by endless hours of waiting and worry. Waiting to hear that they're safe, and worrying that they're not.
In my neighborhood, I'm known as the "Story Dad," because I've been creating stories with my boys since they were little. I often use stories to explain problems or events that trouble my kids. Several times my sons have asked me to explain why people have wars, and I've found that the morality and justification for taking human life is a difficult question for adults to answer and for children to understand.
Hopefully I've done a good job explaining to my sons why some wars have to be fought, why others must be avoided, and why we all must work toward building a more peaceful world based on understanding and compassion. Especially now, as my teenage boys move toward adulthood, I'm grateful for having had the time to examine these questions together.
Whatever happens, I say, have faith in the power of the human spirit to endure even in the midst of suffering, fear and grief.
On this Father's Day, I want to enjoy the precious gift of having my sons around me to celebrate. I want to acknowledge the young father I used to be who first took on the responsibilities of parenthood. And I want to honor and remember those parents who worry about a child serving in harm's way, or who forever carry the sorrow of not having that child return home.
John McCormick and his sons William and Connor are the authors of "Dad, Tell Me A Story," How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2010). For more information about family storytelling, visit the authors' website and blog at http://DadTellMeAStory.com, or read their regular posts on The Parent Network at http://ptvn.org.
Follow John McCormick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DadTellMeAStory