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There Is No End To A Father's Love (TINE TAFL)

There Is No End To A Father's Love (TINE TAFL)

Posted by Jonathan Sharp, Son of Chaplain Larry Sharp, United States Army (Retired) on 14th Jun 2014

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There Is No End To A Father’s Love (TINE TAFL)

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An incredible story of a 12 year old boy recounting the days leading up to his father's Combat Deployment.  Jonathan Sharp's words paint a word picture of the courage, uncertainty, fear, pain, honor, sense of duty, and impact military families experience when a Father goes to war.  Jonathan was 12 years old when his father, Chaplain Larry Sharp, deployed to Iraq.  In his early 20's, Jonathan wrestled with the impact of his dad's first deployment to Iraq.  In amazing detail and without embellishment, Jonathan recreated his memories from that time.  Jonathan speaks for millions of children who sacrificed days, months, and years of their childhood waiting for, and worrying about, their Soldier Parent. These children are patriots, unsung heroes, and selfless servants who know first hand that Freedom is not Free. 

Chaplain Larry Sharp and Kenny Vaughan designed the "There Is No End To A Father's Love (TINE TAFL) Shield of Strength. Thousands of fathers, and their children, wear TINE TAFL Shields of Strength necklaces, and thousands have TINE TAFL Shields of Strength on their car key chains. It was Larry Sharp's love that strengthened his family to endure the separation. Chaplian Sharp's love for his children is a mere reflection of the unconditional and endless love God has for for each of us...a love that never ends.

TINE TAFL Shields of Strength are a physical reminder of the Father's Love.  In spite of our sin, selfishness, and disregard for God's love, he sacrificed his one and only Son so that all who place their faith in Jesus Christ will have eternal life.  How do we know this is true?  We know it is true because Jesus told us so.  Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:1  Chaplian Sharp's love for his children is a mere reflection of the unconditional and endless love God has for for each of us...a love that never ends.  

All Just Memories

My mom often said, “We’re making a memory!” whenever we did something she thought we’d remember later. It might be seeing a movie for a birth day (like when we saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for my 10th birthday), or visiting a family member (the last time we saw uncle C, dying in the hospital, suffocating to death because he had emphysema). She said it so much that I still encounter situations and think, “I’m going to remember this when I’m 80.” These are memories I have from the first Iraq war. I think I’ll carry most of them until I die.

My father was all powerful, perfect, and sometimes took me to movies on school nights.  He distributed dollar bills at arcades.  He played dodge ball in the street with me and my friends.  He taught me to play chess. He battled a street full of water-balloon-wielding-children with a garden hose.  He was stoic and sensitive.  He played 1 on 1 basketball.  He sometimes lost.  I sometimes believed it.  He shot a Kareem-style sky hook that no one in my neighborhood could defend.  He understood and listened.  He smelled like sawdust at night.  He was often lost in thought.  He served in the U.S. Army as a Chaplain during the first Iraq war, when I was 12.

I wanted to write down a story that would cover the events of the first Iraq war, as told by a 12 year old narrator.  I finished large parts of it.  I paid very careful attention to staying outside of my emotions and trying to be as objective as possible.  The story was concrete. It flowed well.  It was built on fact.  It had emotional progression.  The characters sometimes seemed real.  It made sense.  I read it.  I hated it.

Memories don’t fit together in story form.  I don’t think they’re meant to.  They flow in and out of one another.

They shift.

They move.

They grow, they expand.

They talk to one another.

They sit up at night in darkened corners of buildings, plotting their escape.

They help me find reasons to get up on mornings after.

They’re fleeting.

They’re violent and loving and painful and mirrored.

They bestow meaning on sunsets and full moons.

They’re lies, distorted by emotions.

They’re universal.

They’re unique.

They keep me up at night.

They’re one brain stroke removed from the abyss.

They’re the most real thing left from my childhood.

They’re constantly fading.

They’re always fighting to be re-lived.

They’re heavy, double-bolted doors that keep demons safe.

They make me who I am.

I decided to write down my memories instead.  I’m not sure they’ll make sense.  I’m not sure they’ll flow together very well.  They’ll seem to be out of order.   They may be confusing.  I’ll need to embellish in order to make them seem real.  I may need to fill in gaps with things that might have happened, but never did.  I’ll remember who was there, but forget what we were doing.  I’ll remember things happening, and forget who was there.  I’ll change an ending multiple times because I can’t recall what really happened.  I’ll find myself unable to recall a friend’s name, but remember he always smelled of bubble gum and had a hard time tying his left shoe.  I’ll need to cut things out that were important at the time.

My hope is that in doing so, I won’t have to tell you what it was like.  I won’t have to explain my feelings.  I won’t need to give chapters background and meaning.  My hope is that I won’t have to tell you what it was like to be a frightened 12-year-old sending his father off to war.  My hope is that you’ll just know.

Sitting on the floor of my room, playing Nintendo

I was in my room playing Nintendo after dinner. Mom came into my room, crossed her arms and leaned against the door.

“Jonathan, we’re doing a family meeting, we need you in the living room.”

“Hold on I’m almost at a place where I can save.”

“Jonathan.” Her voice was serious.

“Ok, just a sec.”

She stood there and waited for me. I saved my game and then turned off the Nintendo. Then we walked together to the front room.

We were all sitting in the front room on the two couches.  The couches made an L, with the big couch, the big part of the L, sitting against the wall, and the little couch stuck out into the middle of the room.   Both couches could see the TV, which was in the corner of the room next to the kitchen.  Dad was sitting in the middle of the big couch with Jamie, and Jeremy was on the small couch.  Mom went and sat down by Jeremy and I sat down on the end of the big couch with dad and Jamie.  Dad was between us and had one of his arms wrapped around each of us.

Well, Jeremy wasn’t really sitting. He was lying down on the couch, with his legs sitting straight up against the back of the couch.  His head was hanging off the front of the couch where your legs usually go.  Mom told him to sit up straight or she would spank him.

“I can’t hear you, everything you say is upside down!” Jeremy was the youngest.  He was in the second grade.

Jamie and I laughed.  She was younger than me by two years.  She was in the forth grade.  I was the oldest, and in the sixth grade.

“Jeremy.” Mom said. “Sit up now.”  She used her serious voice and he sat up next to her.  She put her arm around him. Then she looked at dad and he started talking.

“You guys know how sometimes I have to go away to California to play war right?”  We all nodded.  “Well there may be a reason for me to go away for a long time soon, to do the things we’ve been training for.”

“Like what?” Jamie asked.

“Well, some bad things are happening in a country far from here, and me and some of the other mommies and daddies in the army might have to go and help to take care of it.  I may be gone for a very long time.”

“How long?” Jeremy asked.

“I don’t know, it could be a very long time, but I hope not.”

“When do you go?” I asked.

“We’re not sure yet.” He looked at me with a serious face.  “We don’t have deployment orders yet.”

Mom said, “So, we thought it might be fun to go to some place that is very fun and very magical.  Can you guys think of anywhere you want to go?”

“Mc Donald’s!” Jeremy yelled. He stood up on the couch and touched mom’s shoulder with his pointing finger.  “It has a playland!”

“Jeremy, sit down.” She said.

He sat back down and put his hands between his legs.  His eyebrows were raised and his eyes were excited.

“OK,” Mom said. She put her arm around Jeremy again, “we can go to McDonald’s tonight maybe, but I mean a vacation. Is there somewhere you guys might want to go for a trip?  We were thinking maybe we’d take a vacation to Disney World.”

“Ooooohhhhh,” Jamie said. “That’s where Mickey Mouse lives and Snow White and Cinderella and there is a castle and that’s where all the Disney princesses live.”  Dad had his arm around Jamie and he rubbed her shoulder.

“Is there a play land there?” Jeremy asked.  “If there’s no play land can we go to McDonald’s instead?”

“Yes, I’m sure they do Jeremy.” Mom said. “So Disney World sounds good to you guys?  We’ll do it as a family and make a memory of going there ok?”  Then she looked at me. “Jonathan?”

“How come we don’t usually go on vacation when dad goes to train in California?”

“Well this will be our special trip as a family….since we need to do something special before I’m not able to take leave.” Dad said.


Jeremy stood up on the couch and touched mom on the shoulder with one finger again. “Mom.”

“What Jeremy?”

“If we go to Disney World can we still go to McDonald’s or do we have to pick just one?”

“No, we can do both, but please don’t stand on the couch.”

“Ok.” He sat back down and put his hands between his legs again.  “I’m getting chiggren nugget happy meal!”

Jamie looked at him while pointing to herself,  “I’m getting cheeseburger happy meal.”

Dad looked over at me. “Ok. So sounds good? Disney World? And for dinner tonight we’ll go celebrate at McDonald’s? Everyone get ready to go.”

We got our shoes on and went to dinner.

Night. Standing outside a hotel room at Disney World

When we got back to the hotel room it was dark.  We spent the whole day at Disney World.  We all had hats and balloons and Jamie had a little princess toy and Jeremy and I had Star Wars figures.  Dad gave Jeremy the door key for the hotel.  Jeremy tried it once and it didn’t work. Jamie tried to take it from him so she could try, but Jeremy told her, “No let me do it!”

“Guys be nice or I won’t give you guys turns opening it anymore.”  Dad said.

Jamie backed up and waited and Jeremy finally got it open.  We went inside and the room was completely dark, except for a red light blinking on the phone.

We all got in and we closed the door.  Jamie and Jeremy fought over the T.V. control for a few seconds before mom told them, “Cut it out or we’ll turn it off.”  Dad looked at the phone. He looked at mom.  Neither of them said anything out loud, but they were having a silent conversation with their eyes.  He sat on their bed and put the phone to his ear.  He pushed a button on the phone.  He didn’t say anything.  It wasn’t a very long call.  After he was done, he hung up the phone and said, “Susan, we need to talk.”

Mom looked worried.

Dad said, “Guys I need to talk to mom real fast in private, we’ll go in the bathroom so you guys can watch T.V.”

Then they went into the bathroom to talk.  And then after dad said a few things mom started yelling.

Jamie and Jeremy were watching T.V., so I went and sat on the bed near the bathroom.  I couldn’t hear everything, but I could still hear parts.  Mom was pretty mad, so I could hear her more easily than dad, but I still couldn’t hear everything they said.

“…Susan….have…. go back….”

“We just GOT here! It’s a full WEEK vacation!”


“…already paid…full week…Larry…memory….kids”

“…ready for deployment….have to….moment’s notice…knew this when…”



“.U.S Army….war tomorrow… this week…. month….important…kids.. NOW?”


Then mom got so loud that all of us could hear what she said.

“But we just GOT here! One day! It’s our FIRST day of our vacation and they want you to GO BACK?”

After that it was easier to hear everything mom said.  But I couldn’t hear dad very well anymore.  I don’t even know if he was talking.

“So go back to WAIT. Miss out on a family vaca….sit….wait… Ft. Hood Texas and WAIT to go to war.”

Then mom stopped talking for a long time.  Dad didn’t talk either.  Then I could hear mom crying.   Dad spoke very softly and sounded very comforting and I couldn’t hear what he said.  Mom didn’t talk anymore.  She just cried.

After a while they came out of the bathroom, and dad was rubbing mom’s back.  Dad said, “Guys, we need to have a family meeting.”  Mom took the control from Jeremy and turned off the T.V.  She sat down next to him on the bed. Jeremy got in her lap.  I was sitting at the foot of the bed. Jamie sat next to dad against the headboard of the other bed.

“I have to go back early guys.”

“Why?” Jamie asked.

“Remember when we talked about the bad place and how I might have to go to another country to help people?  Well it looks like that really might happen.”

“How long will you be gone?” Jeremy asked.

“As long as I need to be. If we do go to war, I have no idea how long it will last.”

“How long was Vietnam?” I asked.

Dad looked at me.

“It was very long.  I don’t think this war will be as long, but people might get hurt, and that’s why I need to go – to take care of the soldiers.  That’s what chaplains do.”

Mom was sniffing a little bit.  She cleared her throat before talking.

“So we need to talk guys.  If dad goes back early, do you want to go with him, or stay here and finish our vacation?  Daddy won’t be going for a while, so he’ll be there when we get back.”

Dad talked next. “We want you guys to enjoy Disney World ok.   Are you guys ok staying here with Mom while I go back?   You guys can still ride all the rides and see everything, and that way you can have a great memory with mom ok?  I’ll be there waiting for you when you get back home.  We’ll still have time together.  But I have to go back now.  Do you guys want to stay?”

We all took turns saying yes.

“Ok. Well let’s spend tonight with daddy ok?  Do you guys want to go to dinner?”

“Ya!” Jeremy said.

“Ok. Get your shoes on and we’ll go.”

We went to dinner at a restaurant.  Mom and dad didn’t say very much.  When they did talk it was to tell us how much they loved us and how much they wanted us to enjoy Disney World.

Lying in my bed at night

Dad pulled the sheets up and sat down on the bed next to me.

“Will you scratch my back?”

“Turn over.” He said.

I turned over. As he was scratching my back, he said, “You know the song about how daddy’s don’t just love their children every now and then?”

“Yeah. George Straight.“

“How does it go?”

I spoke the lyrics, “…father’s don’t just love their children every now and then, it’s a love without end, amen.”

“Yep. I want you to always remember that ok?”


He kept scratching my back. Then he told me to turn back over. I rolled back onto my back.

“I want you to always remember that I love you, so I thought of a special thing we can say to each other.  If I say T.I.N.E. T.A.F.L., that’s what I mean.”

“Tine what?”

“T.I.N.E., T – I – N - E. T.A.F.L., T – A – F - L.  It means there is no end to a father’s love.“


“I want you to know that my love for you has no end.”


“It’s just like God. Do you know where God is?”

“In heaven.”

“Yes. He’s in heaven, but he’s all around us too.  Do you know what that means?”

“He’s in the trees and rocks and in birds and in me and you.”

“Yeah, he’s everywhere. And that means his love is everywhere.”


“And that’s how my love is for you.  I want you to always know that ok?  Even after I leave, I can love you from all the way across the ocean.  No matter how far away I go, I will always love you.  No matter what separates us, nothing in this world can keep me from loving you. Ok?”


“What is T.I.N.E. T.A.F.L.?” He asked.

“It’s that you always love me.”

“Yes, but what do the letters mean.”

“Oh. Um…there is no…”

“Yep, just say it out. With me, T.I.N.E., like wine, but with a T.”


“T.A.F.L. Like, a raffle ticket.”


“There you go. You got it. Let’s say it together. Repeat it after me.”














“Father’s love.”

“Father’s love.”

He smiled.

“I will always love you ok.  No matter how far away I go.  I love you and God loves you and we’ll always love you and mom and Jamie and Jeremy ok?  And God’s love reaches down from Heaven right?”


“Well that’s how my love is too.  It can reach across the ocean to help you, and it can even reach down from Heaven if it needs to.”


“Tell yourself that every time you get lonely or you think about me being here with you once I leave ok?  I will always love you.  No matter what happens to me while I’m gone, my love for you will keep going. T.I.N.E. T.A.F.L. will be our secret, only our family knows about it.”

“Like a secret code?”

“Yep, like a secret code.  And we’re the only ones who know about it. It’ll be our secret.”


“Have a good night, sleep tight.”

He got up to leave.  As he got to the door, I asked, “Dad?”

“What time do you have to leave tomorrow?”

“Very early.”

“How early?”

“O Dark Hundred.”

“What is that?”

He came back and sat on the bed.

“Remember your military times?”


“What’s zero, four, zero, zero?”

“4 am.”

“Well when it’s early in the morning, we say O-three-hundred hours instead of 03:00 a.m., or O-four-hundred hours instead of 04:00 a.m.  But when it’s really early, sometimes we just say O dark hundred as a way of saying, it’s so early, you can’t even use numbers.  It’s the time before the sun is even up, and it’s so dark that it still feels like night.  So we say O-dark-hundred.  Make sense?”


“OK, night.”

He started to leave again.



“I wish we could play basketball tomorrow instead of you going to Iraq.”

He smiled for a few seconds and didn’t say anything. He just looked at me.

“Me too. We’ll play when I get back, ok? I owe you a game of basketball when I get back. Hold me to it.”


“I love you Jonathan.”

“I love you too dad.”



As he got to the doorway he used his fingers to make a quick knocking sound on the door.  Then he stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.

O Dark Hundred

I was already awake when mom came to wake me.

No sound woke me up.  I just sort of woke up on my own and couldn’t go back to sleep.  When I first woke, I looked outside to see if it was still dark.  It was.  I tried to go back to sleep a few times, but I couldn’t.  I kept thinking that today was the day.  I laid in bed for a while and closed my eyes.

After a while the door to my parent’s room opened.  I heard footsteps up and down the hall and in the living room.  The drawers in the kitchen opened and closed.  The toaster was pressed down, and then after a minute it sprang back up.  My parent’s shower came on.

Then I heard someone walking towards my room.  Even though the floor had carpet on it I could hear their feet moving and the sound of their knees popping.

The door to my room opened and the lights came on.

“Jonathan, time to get up.” My mother said gently.

She looked in the room to see if I was awake and she could tell I had been awake for a while.  We looked at each other but didn’t say anything.  She turned back into the hall and I heard her walk down the hall to wake up my brother and my sister.

I took a breath and sat up in my bed.  I looked out my window.

It was still dark.

I got dressed and made sure to get my jacket and shoes when I left my room.  I went into the kitchen and put them on the floor next to the kitchen table.

I took some pop tarts from the pantry.  I put them in the toaster but I took them out before they were done because I like them warmed, but not cooked all the way.

I reached up and got a paper towel, and then I put the pop tarts on the paper towel and I sat them on the kitchen table.  Then I got a glass and poured some milk.  I sat at the table and ate my pop tarts.  Across the table were three big windows which looked out into our back yard.  I sat there eating and looking outside, but I couldn’t see much except the lights from other houses and the lights that go up and down the street.

After a while I looked over at the front door and saw my dad’s desert backpack leaning against the wall with his desert helmet on top of it.  I went over and put on his helmet and it didn’t fit me.  I tried hard to pick up his backpack but I couldn’t even get it off the ground.  I put the helmet back down and sat on the couch and looked out the window and waited to go. It was still dark.

Jamie, Jeremy and I were all in the van, waiting to go.   Jeremy was asleep in the back seat, and Jamie and I were sitting in the middle seats.  I was sitting in the seat closest to the sliding door.  Mom and dad were still inside the house.

The front door was open and I could see them standing inside the door.   They were hugging and I could see dad’s back.   Mom’s hands on his back.  He was wearing his desert uniform, and with his boots on, he was a lot taller than she was.

He was talking real quiet in her ear, and after he was finished talking, they kissed a long time.  He used his fingers and wiped the tears off her cheeks.  Then they hugged for a very long time and while her arms were wrapped around his back, she took some of his uniform in her clenched hands.  Like she was trying to keep him from falling.

It was quiet as we drove to the gym.  The only thing I could hear was the road going under the car, and every now and then I heard mom sniffle.  Mom was driving, and dad sat in the seat in front of me.  There was a box of tissues on the floor next to mom’s seat.  Dad used one of his hands to reach out and rub mom’s neck while she drove.  He looked straight ahead, out the front window.

Then after a while she reached up and took his hand off her shoulder, and they held hands the rest of the way to the gym.

We got to the gym and I saw a lot of buses and cars.  The lights for the parking lot were all on, and even though it was still dark, I could see really well.  There were cars, over a hundred probably, spread out all over the parking lot.  There were people inside most of them, and in all of the cars, there was a person wearing a desert uniform like my dad’s.

There were soldiers all over the parking lot too.  Maybe close to a thousand.  Some of them were standing in lines, waiting to get onto buses, some were already in buses, and there were also lines of soldiers marching.  There were also lines of soldiers, and there were people in front of the lines calling out names.  Then the soldier out in front of the line would say something, and all the soldiers would stand up straight at the same time.

Some soldiers were also standing with their families.  Most of them were men, but some of them were women too.  A lot of them had children, but as I looked out, I saw soldiers with their husbands or wives, girlfriends or boyfriends.  All they did was hold onto each other in one long hug.

Mom parked the car and turned to my dad.

“I need to check in.” He said.

“Ok.” Mom looked at me. “Jonathan?”

“Why don’t you go with him?”

Mom and dad sometimes asked me to do things because I was the oldest.

“Ok.” I said.

I got out and after I closed the van door, my dad came around the van.

“Do you need your helmet and backpack?”

“No, not yet.”

We went inside the gym.

Inside there were even more soldiers.   There were mixes of brown, black and tan everywhere I looked.  The soldiers lined the halls, filled the basketball bleachers, and formed lines that went across all three basketball courts.  At the end of each line was a table, and sitting at each table was a soldier with their helmet off.  They would write things down on different sheets of paper, and when they were done, they would point to a door.  Then the next soldier in line would step forward.

While we waited in line I could tell my dad was nervous.  I thought he was going to say something to me a few times, but he didn’t. I was looking away when I heard someone say, “Morning Sir.”  The man saluted my father.  My father did the same back to him.

“Morning sergeant.”

“You all set Chaplain?”

“I’m about to be.”

Then the other man looked at me.

“This is my son Jonathan.”

“Hello Jonathan.”

“Hello sir.”

“How you like being up this early?”

“I don’t mind it, I was already awake this morning before my mom came to wake me up.”

The man smiled and looked at my dad.  They nodded to each other.  Then dad patted the man on the shoulder and he walked off.We stood there for a while and kept waiting in line.

I was looking around in the bleachers at all the soldiers, when I heard my father say,


I turned around and looked up.

“Take care of your mom and brother and sister ok?”

I nodded.

“I will.”

“You don’t have to be the man of the house ok?  You’re too young. I don’t want you to worry about that.  But help your mom whenever she needs it ok?  And help Jamie and Jeremy.  Be the big brother ok?”

I nodded again.

“I will.”

I stood in front of him and he put his hands on my shoulders and we continued to wait in line.

We walked back to the van.  Mom was still sitting on the driver’s side and rolled the window down when we got closer.  Mom and dad looked at each other but they didn’t say anything.

“It’s time,” he said.

“Kids, it’s time to say goodbye to your dad. Let’s get out ok?” Mom said.

I followed dad as he went to the back of the van.  He got his backpack out, and placed it on the ground.  He put his helmet on and then closed the door.

Mom stood by the door and helped Jamie and Jeremy out.

“Give dad a good hug guys, it may be the last one for a while.”

Dad got on one knee and gave us all hugs, one at a time.  He said something to each one of us while he gave us a hug.

“Help your mother out.” He said to me.

I nodded.  Then he gave us all a big hug all at the same time and he made funny noises.  All three of us started smiling and laughing.  I stood back from hugging him and looked at my mom.  I stopped smiling.  She had one hand folded across her stomach, and rested her other hand close to her mouth.  Then she bit her bottom lip.  She closed her eyes and her eyebrows got real tight.  She turned her head away and wiped her eyes.

Jamie and Jeremy got in the middle seats, and I sat up front with my mom.  Dad was standing outside the driver’s side window, holding my mom’s hands.

“Come up here guys, and let’s say a prayer.”  She said.

They stood behind mom’s seat and dad said a prayer from outside the car.  I had my eyes closed.  He said a prayer. While he was praying, he stopped, and I could tell he was having a hard time speaking.

“...and Lord…just take care of my family…in case I don’t come back….”

His voice became very soft and weak.  He stopped praying.  Mom started to cry even harder when he stopped speaking.  You’re supposed to keep your eyes closed while you pray, but I opened my eyes.  I looked at mom.  She was holding his hand really tight through the car window.  Her face looked like she was hurt and she held a tissue in her other hand, and held that hand really close to her lips.  And then I looked at dad.   He was still trying to talk, but he kept crying. My heart started to beat really fast and my ears felt like they were very hot.

And that was when I understood.

He finished praying.

“Amen.” He said.

“Amen.” We all said.

Dad breathed really deep, wiped his eyes, and put his glasses back on.

“I love you guys.”

We told him we loved him too.

“I have to go.”

Mom was holding his hand, and then she let go.  They didn’t say anything but kept looking at each other.  She nodded.

“Be careful baby.” She said.

Dad looked in the window at us.

“T.I.N.E. T.A.F.L. guys.”

“We love you daddy”, said my sister from behind my mother.

“Can we stay until he gets on a bus mom?” Jeremy asked.

“Yes, we can.”

We watched him walk away.  After he boarded one of the buses, mom started the car and began to drive home.  It was still dark.

Ft. Hood, Texas. A crowded parking lot

I wasn’t afraid until I saw my father cry.

I was sitting in the passenger’s seat of our family van, and my mother was in the driver’s seat.  My younger sister and brother were crouching between the seats, leaning forward to listen to the prayer.  We were all holding hands.  My father wore his desert camouflage battle uniform.  His heavy backpack sat on the ground next to him, and he held his helmet under his left arm.  He was using his right hand to reach through the window and hold my mother’s hand.

He had been leading us in prayer.  At one point he asked God to watch over us, in case he didn’t come back.  And that was when he started to cry.

He finished praying.

“Amen.” He said.

“Amen.” We all said.

He took off his glasses, took a deep breath, wiped his eyes, and then put his glasses back on.  Then he put his helmet on.

“I love you guys.”

We told him we loved him too.

“It’s time. I have to go.”

Mom reached out and they held hands a little more, and then she let go.  They didn’t say anything but kept looking at each other. She nodded.

“Be careful baby.” She said.

Dad looked in the window at us.

“T.I.N.E. T.A.F.L. guys.”

“We love you daddy”, said my sister from behind my mother.

After he started to walk away Jeremy asked, “Can we stay until he gets on a bus mom?”

“Yes, we can.”

There were buses all over the parking lot, waiting to take soldiers to the planes.  The parking lot was filled with hundreds of soldiers.  Some were in buses waiting to go, some were standing with families near cars, and some were huddled in groups around the parking lot.

Dad walked away from us and up to one of the buses.  There was a soldier standing in front of the bus, with a pen and clipboard.  The soldier saluted my dad as he walked up to the bus.  Dad saluted back and said something.  The soldiers smiled.  Then he wrote something on the clipboard and said something to my dad.  Dad nodded.  Then he turned and looked at us, and put one hand up and waved.  We waved back.  He put his hand down and stood there for a few seconds looking at us.

Then he turned and got on the bus.

Mom started the car.

We drove home in the van.  The sky was still dark.  None of us talked.  Mom used one hand to drive and held a tissue in her other hand.  Every now and then she sniffed and wiped her nose.  The road sometimes made sounds as it moved under the van.

“Mom?” Jamie said.


“Why did daddy cry?”

She took so long to respond that I thought she might not have heard my sister.

“Because he’s sad he has to leave sweetie.”

“But he’s left before and he didn’t cry.”

Mom took a long time to answer again.

“This time he doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone.”


She leaned back in her chair and looked out the window.  I turned in my seat and looked out my window.  I had a question I wanted to ask, but didn’t.  None of us talked for a long time and I just looked out my window.   It was still dark.

After a while I decided to ask my question. I turned in my seat to talk to mom.


“Hmm?” She answered me, but I could tell she was thinking about something else.

“This isn’t the same is it?”

“Same as what?” She kept her eyes on the road.

“As when dad goes to California to train in the desert?”

She turned her head and looked at me.  Her face reminded me of when she talks to dad about grown-up stuff.  Then she looked back at the road.  She was still thinking.

She wiped her eyes and nose with her tissue.  Then she cleared her throat.

“No Jonathan.”  She said.  “This isn’t the same.”

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