The following excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story shows how war and PTSD symptoms can create a lifetime struggle for a father and son to bond and experience a loving relationship.
“My oldest sibling suffered the most of all of us. Dad was not home from the war when he was born in September 1941. I believe Dad was steaming toward Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the USS West Virginia at that time and was not able to get leave to see his first son born. When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941, Mother was scared and worried that her son would never see his Dad. She didn’t know for some time whether Dad survived or not. I can imagine what she was going through at the time. Constant worry and distress, trying to keep her head up, and take care of her son during a very scary time in American history. Dad was in the middle of it, the beginning of WWII.
Thousands of babies during WWII became toddlers while their fathers were away fighting for our country. Although often too young to understand completely, kids feel and they are a lot smarter than parents think. I believe my older sibling was exceptionally intelligent and highly strung as well. Mother and son probably developed a co-dependency that served them well while Dad was away. Dad came home briefly one time during the war when his son was almost 2 years old. This represents a significant period of time for a child not to know his father. There would be virtually no memory of this first visit for a small toddler.
When Dad finally came home to stay after a 2 year absence, following his USS Belle Grove War Cruise in the Asiatic Pacific Theater, his son could have been scared and suspicious of this big man who he knew only from pictures and talk about things he didn’t really understand. He was also jealous, as any child would be, that this strange man was taking time away from the attention he was getting from his Mother; undivided attention. Alcohol was a big part of life at that time as well, but not a healthy component in a family damaged by war and separation. I believe my older sibling never felt comfortable or close to his dad since there was not an opportunity to bond until age 4 or 5. It is my opinion that a child experiencing a long separation could have a difficult time developing a healthy lifetime relationship with a father they don’t bond with early in life. Each experience like this is not always the same, but in my own family and from my research, it is clear that long separations are difficult to overcome, especially if a parent is a suffering from symptoms of PTSD or “battle fatigue” as it was called during WWII.”
In my book, Reconciliation A Son’s Story the subject of “homemaking” is compared and contrasted with contemporary realities.
“In the context of contemporary life, “homemaking” in the traditional way, although highly honorable, is not a generally realistic choice for the long term for either partner in a relationship where children’s needs must be met every step of the way. The total emotional, nurturing, and financial needs of a family are difficult to achieve if one’s spouse is not fully engaged in a professional or vocational career. It is realistic, however, to plan for mom or dad to stay home for a couple of years to provide the close care and bonding needed for a new child. This goal is only possible if both parents achieve an adequate education beyond K-12, either academic or a vocational institution. Our country just can’t afford to support a one income family anymore. This reality started to kick-in during the 1950’s and was especially apparent as boomers became adults. A huge “war chest” is necessary to minimize family debt and to provide for the education of each child. Even with good financial support, college bound kids still need to be resourceful by getting their own loans and working along the way.
With the good education and success of both parents, dreams of family security, happiness, and a strong partnership in marriage are realistic to achieve. Still, the challenges of raising a family in a chaotic and media driven 21st century world are many. Technology affords us all a more efficient path forward, but requires education and funding as well. The demands of work and school put big pressures on families, especially those who join the military and are sent off to war. It is even more essential to plan smart as a young women or man to avoid early pregnancies and premature responsibilities in raising a family. It is hard, very hard to get this done, and the risk of failure increases if partners do not practice a little discipline in making education a priority at the outset. I discuss this with my kids and others whenever given the opportunity. Be patient, be safe, and get educated or pay the price later, and a higher price at that. Think about your choices and how they affect others in your life before making a move. Life happens and the challenges are enormous. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Be smart and enjoy the journey while minimizing risk. It’s not an easy journey, but doing the right things right make a huge difference. Avoid mistakes!”
On this Mother’s Day, I will honor my mother with the following excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks. Marcella C. Sparks is now 92, still tough as nails, living comfortably in Reno, Nevada surrounded by loving family members.
Marcella and Vernon Sparks
“Growing up during the “Great Depression” years was a huge disadvantage for women during my mother’s time. Most women had to quit school at an early age like my mother. They needed to get to work early on and try and find a husband to start a family as a way to survive. Women today are lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to look past a 7th grade education and hold off getting married and starting a family too early with often disastrous consequences. In the case of my Mother, Marcella, she made it through the 7th grade then started working to help her family during these challenging years. Yes, she had dreams has a young women, most did at that time. But those dreams gave way to the realities of the times. Women were not considered productive in the broader economy and assumed to be homemakers at best, with little or no opportunities for even completing high school let alone entering college and pursuing a career in a male dominated world.
Mother met Dad not too long after he entered the US Navy in 1936. Of course, he was rarely home between the time they started courting each other and the time they were married in 1940. Mother was good friends with Dad’s sister Junith during that time, so this became the connection to my mother’s chances of succeeding in finding a husband and having a family as the ideal way to survive during this time. Not too long after they were married Dad was off to sea duty again right after she became pregnant with my older brother Jerry. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 created an impossible situation for a new marriage to thrive and grow.
My Dad was gone, really gone, and Mother was not sure he would even come back. Consequently, many women of that time ended up being single parents, without an education, alone without a husband or friends or even a job. Pile on the depression years growing up and the trauma of WWII and you get an awful case of PTSD that starts to affect the kids before “battle fatigued” Dad arrives home from the war. Mother was a basket case by the end of WWII as were no doubt many thousands of women in the same position at that time. Newly married, small children, no husband, no money, lonely, and uneducated; a very negative combination of challenges and hardly anyone cared or even thought about it. These wives and mothers had to tough it out on their own since their war hero husbands were sacrificing their lives in Europe and in the Pacific. As a kid during the war my brother Jerry carried the most burden of living with Mother during that time. My guess is Jerry had to grow up really fast. And his story will come later.”
Following is an excerpt from Reconciliation, A Son’s Story
“I probably could have been more understanding if had known more about “battle fatigue” now referred to as PTSD, and it was a terrible problem. I also recognize that a mental disorder of this type is not likely clear in the minds of victims of abuse, especially young children. The men at sea fighting in WWII had only alcohol on liberty and a structured life style on the ship; both serving as a non-clinical and less than effective treatment plan. Not to excuse Dad’s abusive behavior at times, however. But the more one understands about mental disorders the easier it is to avoid hate. Hate, from my experience, is a killer of a healthy mental disposition and peace of mind. Dad needed help but at that time it wasn’t very macho to whine or to seek out support. Those sailors who survived the war felt guilty for living, a typical human reaction among survivors of traumatic events where close friends or loved ones are killed. The only things that held them together after all that time at war were thinking of their families and the buddies they fought with. It was really hard for them emotionally when a close buddy was killed. Otherwise, they held together pretty good while at war using a “dead already” mindset. Kind of like the “dead man walking” idea. Once they got home all hell broke loose in very visible and uncontrolled ways. Families did not understand, nor did they feel comfortable spilling the beans about their illness that might keep them from working. It was a vicious circle at that time and very sad to say the least. Our heroes from WWII had to live with PTSD or “battle fatigue” without adequate diagnosis and treatment. PTSD is consequently an invisible war wound that does not heal nor go away easily.”
Following is an excerpt from Reconciliation – A Son’s Story. My Dad, Vernon’s, first experience in the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of WWII changed him forever.
“The Japanese used 354 planes to torpedo, dive bomb, horizontal bomb, and strafe ships, and air bases. All but 28 returned safely to their aircraft carriers and were available to participate in the Battle of Midway five months later. According to Navy reports of the event, it was a complete and total surprise, a surreal experience. No one could believe that any country in the world would even think of attacking the United States of America’s Naval Fleet.
It gives me pause to think about this “surreal” event in the minds of men who were mentally unprepared for the attack. I can imagine when the first explosions were heard that one would not make a connection to torpedoes or bombs being delivered precisely to their targets with the intent to surprise, destroy, and kill in what was considered a “safe harbor.” Looking out “open portholes” during an attack or even having the portholes open was neither an acceptable practice nor how sailors were trained to respond. Watching a fellow seaman get his head literally blown off his shoulders would create a shock to the body and mind that would forever be implanted in a person’s psyche. This surprise attack had to be an “Armageddon” for those either with religious or non-religious beliefs. How would any of them who survived get the experience rationalized to the extent that they could go on to fight another day? How would their lives be affected, and how could they even discuss the event with family members who would not understand? Would they decide not to discuss it at all? We now know the answer and subsequently became victims as family members and paid a price ourselves, but not even close to price our dear heroes and my father paid.”
Following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks
“I owe my success in part to my Dad but not without a high price. I call this “collateral damage” from living in a family culture affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At that time, men at war and coming home from war were too proud to share their stories and admit that anything in the way of mental illness was on the table for discussion. My Dad was no different than 1000’s of veterans with similar symptoms, especially those who were battle weary and emotionally damaged. The children and wives and others close to these men would have to experiment and learn on how to navigate our way through a terrible circumstance. We did it well, but not without scars that often show. WWII has been in our past for well over a half century, and most of the “Greatest Generation” passed on, but the effects of “PTSD” carry forward just like bad genes. We are still feeling the effects of WWII when PTSD was not studied and treatment was minimal. As a result, we are just beginning to address the realities of PTSD, including diagnosis and treatment, along with complete recovery from this unfortunate mental illness, is now possible. “MEN WERE EXPECTED NOT TO DISPLAY EMOTIONS DURING THAT ERA.”
I was angry at my parents until recent years. What changed my thinking about Mom and Dad? I started doing some long overdue research for my book, “Reconciliation” – A Son’s Story. Discovering the history of my Dad’s experience in WWII was the starting point. I ordered his Naval records and started talking to my siblings and other family members. I became instantly regretful and sad that it took so long to know my parents more. I didn’t know them at all, and never took the time to learn. My life up to the point of starting research on my book was about me and my own life challenges along with immediate family and career.
I wonder how many kids do not take the time to know their parents well enough along the way? My experience suggests that it was mostly the negatives that are recalled; all the abuse and struggles, and the feeling of not being loved by Mom and Dad. Parents typically grow up in a different kind of culture and are not necessarily educated in the same way. The way parents show love and caring is often the only way they know and is not the way they feel. Your parents do love you, but often don’t know how to show it. As an example, parents of the “Great Depression” and “World War II” had huge challenges growing up and in surviving as adults, especially when spouses were sent off to fight a war and were gone for long periods or killed in action.
It is never too late to know your parents, even if they have passed away. Start now to know your parents better for it is healing and if you reconcile your past and relationships, you will find peace.
My next posting will be an excerpt my my book that relates to the research on my story and getting to know my parents better.
This is my first attempt to start a blog. I’m taking this step to begin the process of educating the 10’s of thousands of family members who live with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Families acquire PTSD from experiencing a traumatic event. In my case, I grew up in a toxic home culture where my father, Vernon, suffered from the symptoms of PTSD following being diagnosed with “battle fatigue” during WWII. Dad was a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was aboard the battleship USS West Virginia on that terrible Sunday morning. He watched in horror as one of his shipmates fell back without his head attached after looking out a porthole below deck. Dad had to abandon ship and swim to Ford Island to be taken to a medical center or safe house by Marines.
Dad came home a different person following the war, so we children along with our Mother, Marcella, became legacies of WWII and inter generational PTSD. This means Dad transferred his mental health sickness to all of us because treatment was not available at the time. About 10% of battle weary veterans acquire PTSD and potentially become highly abusive to family members over a long period of time. This is how the inter generational transfer of PTSD takes place. Most of us did not know until later, or still don’t know we have PTSD. Mitigating or managing the symptoms through experimentation or trial and error is not very effective. Those of us who survive without dangering others and becoming relatively productive in our lives are lucky.
I’m now writing a book entitled “Reconciliation” – A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks. My story, about 80% complete, provides a background of my Father, Vernon’s war years and family history dealing with life in a toxic culture. The second part of the book gets into a specific discussion of the symptoms of PTSD and some practical ideas of mitigating and managing the emotional challenges. My goal is to help my peers with similar challenges to stay ahead of the curve as early as possible by becoming more aware and educated, including seeking professional help.
I will be offering excerpts from the book in this blog in the days and weeks to come, sharing specifics and creating a dialogue with readers. I’ll even attempt to answer questions regarding your experiences, and may ask for more information, including using your stories in my research while writing the book.
My hope is this Blog will become a good introduction to my book before it is published as an e-book. More importantly, my goal is to help the many thousands of folks who suffer from the troubling symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I wish I had known 40 years earlier what was wrong with me because my life could have been managed so much better and with significantly less stress.
Thank you for your interest in this topic. I’m looking forward to getting to know my readers and discussing this subject in much more detail. I am especially excited about publishing my book, primarily for my family, but with the hope it will help many others as a bonus.