Dear Dad

I don’t know every detail of the full story. Just the important ones.

Sitting in some room somewhere, no idea where home was or wasn’t for having travelled too far from it to know, and almost done with your time in the United States Army, they asked you to join an elite tactical division of Special Forces. The Cold War was beginning to thaw, your time serving a country to which you did not officially belong was coming to a close, and I imagine what they offered you was tempting.

I always pictured you, a still-young man, sitting in a plastic chair in a room with flourescent lights and suspended ceilings, perhaps somewhere in Germany where you served most of your time, a Sergeant telling you from across a table that they wanted you. Telling you all that could mean for your future. I always pictured it as a short conversation because of the way you told the story: short, sweet, and to the point — “in, out, done, gone” as you would say in my childhood as we ran to the grocery store or similar errand, as though this decision of yours was nothing to dwell on.

I don’t know how long you deliberated over that decision.

But I know why you chose “no, thank you”, snapping a photo of your dirty, worn-out standard issue boots in the bin on your last day as you packed your single suitcase up from your years of service and headed instead for college.

You decided that no man has ever seen enough of life to act on high-tier, morally-complicated orders without a second thought, and that decision was respected.

I think you knew, ultimately, that entering Special Forces meant that you would have to carry out whichever high-tier, high-stakes orders you were given indiscriminately of your view of right and wrong. You weighed this in light of the worst possible scenario and the best: knowing that while you had already demonstrated the ability to do take orders, but that, had your superior required it in a special operations task force, you would have had no choice but to kill, to drive, to do.

I have seen your choice follow you as the shadows I watch flicker on your face peel away at your stoicism — the way you looked at the television screen, unblinking, as CNN replayed the falling towers in September of 2001 — again. And again. And again, like bullets every time. Mom, preparing me on the drive home from my middle school’s resulting early-dismissal “Just letting you know. Today, your Dad wishes he were still in the army. Be quiet when we get home, understand? He’s hurtin’, boy”.

These days, I see the contempt which underlies your countenance as you watch poison gas take the lives of children, as refugees die senselessly, as world leaders bandy about with their fingers on the button, disgracing the two folded flags already lining the shelves of our home.

Many days I wished I would grow up to have served, just like you, but saw that you had chosen a different path for a better reason. I by no means think you dwell on what it would have been like if you had said yes. But for the moments when you do, know this.

Thank you for your service to our country and for your service to represent what that truly means: standing behind the nation for the role you are committed to without following blindly. Thank you for saying ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ held strong potential for compromise of the right thing to do.

Thank you for saying no.

And thank you for being my Dad.



The Parlance of the Brave: “Of Course I Believe In Fairies”

I grew up with the fervent admonishment of ghosts, werewolves, and vampires — but my Father frequently and vehemently reinforced the absolute validity of the existence of fairies, or as they are commonly called in the United Kingdom, “Faeries”. He explained that they were good, but playful and sometimes naughty, and were present in places they found to be suitable homes. It was implied as well, heavily, that they were most comfortably present, in his view, in the presence of kindness and peaceful respect of nature.

Ronald Abbott Jr. and Caroline Evans Abbott (Dad and I), c. 1994

The connection between the Scottish culture and the ‘wee folk’ is a well-documented element of our myth structure, and of course, each has their own interpretation of the mischievous creatures. But my Father’s interpretation of this particular element was made entirely his own by his creative drive — it seemed almost that the rationalism with which he conducted other elements of my tutelage so beneficially would abate with absolute certainly for this topic and few others.

Ron Abbott Jr. and Sydney Gilchrist Abbott, Grandson and Grandfather enjoying the water
Ron Abbott Jr. and Sydney Gilchrist Abbott, Grandson and Grandfather enjoying the water

The setting sun on a calm evening in the home I grew up, in which bells from the church in which my parents were married could be heard as the sun set against a backdrop of my Mother’s gardens and cobblestone walk indicated the approach of bedtime and always provided an air of magical beauty, but on this particular evening, my Father hurriedly gathered me in hushed tones from the interior of the house. As we crouched along the south wall of the house, he quickly explained in whispered words which I recognized to be of critical importance:

“There are fairies outside under the forsythia hedge. I saw and heard them, and you can see them too but we must be very quiet. If they hear you, you won’t see them. And as soon as they hear you, they’ll go away.”

His tone implored my remembrance of this occasion, and with all of the might of my four-year-old mind, I did my best to engrave all of what followed in my consciousness as though a future, adult version of myself had provided a guiding hand through the fog of childhood.

We crouched against the west wall just past the old and rusted oil tank, his arms encircling me to keep me from approaching the delicate creatures. In silence, I barely breathed as I stared at the piled leaf litter beneath the thick forsythia hedge. My commitment to the task of watching was so intense that time seemed to dissolve as it passed. I was mercenary in my attention as time was lacking both the ability to tire me and to sway my focus. Moments passed and I heard the motion of leaves in the thicket.

Gradually but with fairly consistent progress, I saw leaves within these piles moving, lifting individually, one by one, but not as if by wind. It looked as though a dozen tiny trap doors were slowly being opened, and I could almost see the tiny hands forcing them upward. As if by magic I began to hear their trill and windy little voices, chattering softly and in ever-increasing quantities, lyrical and melodious but concerned; seemingly consorting with their neighbors as to whether or not the cover of twilight had provided the requisite conditions to at last emerge.

Losing the maturity with which I had reserved my excitement in moments prior, I lost myself, exclaiming with glee and in that moment, I witnessed each leaf fall — each trap door in a flash descended in unison with a hushed and rapidly-stifled exclamation of surprise and fear from the little voices. My father was neither upset nor surprised, and in his typical fashion took the consequence of my excitement as part of life but was sad to see them go, encouraging me that the take-away value from the encounter had been that there would always be proof for their presence for the rest of my life: he had afforded my own analytical nature the ability to believe in magic. We walked back to the house and I am certain I had sweet dreams that night by virtue of the excellent imaginative fodder.

Ronald Abbott Jr. Fishing
Ronald Abbott Jr. Fishing

In the days and weeks to come, I frequently left offerings under the forsythia hedge, putting my china tea set out in all weather filled with honey and milk and cookies. Often the offerings remained after having put them down, but many times they vanished in the night. I kept open eyes for them at every possible occasion. On every walk in nature to this day, the corner of my eye is devoted to scanning the leaf litter in hopes of again finding them there.

Many years later, the day before Father’s Day and just after my graduation from college, I was preparing for my departure from the pastoral beauty of my childhood home. I walked the edges of my driveway alone in the fading sunset light, tracing the leaf litter along the sides of the pavement with my eyes and expecting nothing unusual when something caught my attention. There, a few feet away, a leaf lifted and a solitary green light grew brighter in the fading light every moment. As I approached, it sank, and the light faded. Upon examination of the area, I could find no natural source — neither insect, nor wind, nor Father to be seen. I scanned the area in the darkness one last time before returning to the house.

He bestowed upon me for the duration of my childhood and life (among other critical things) the existence of a love of nature and belief in magic therein for which I can never repay him. In the revelation of that suggested magic, I sought it through childhood and adulthood through my worship of it — walking in nature silently, taking nothing away which belonged to it, and demonstrating the attention to detail which the forest so thoughtfully puts in to making certain that each leaf is just as beautiful as its sister. One shared memory had, in this way, incentivized my pursuit of experiencing nature for the rest of my life, revealing magic and providing an eternal appeal to the absolute truth that all is not known. On weekends, I can be found climbing waterfalls in the Sierra Nevada or fishing outside of Lake Berryessa, always remembering to silently respect the leaves upon which I walk for fear of disturbing someone’s home.

Caroline Evans Abbott, Sierra Nevadas, 2016
Caroline Evans Abbott, Sierra Nevadas, 2016

A true gift of a father is one who highlights the magic of the world, encouraging its experience, in hopes of imparting upon the child the importance of not losing sight of these wondrous qualities when they reach adulthood, such that they are both better armed for the world’s bad days, and better served to contribute to the world’s good days.

His dedication to communicating the wonder of childhood which he had never lost the ability to see himself created the person I am. Childhood is the parlance of the brave, and thusly is spoken in adult rhetoric by only the bravest.

I seek to be the bravest in the image of my Father, and so I can state in patented Ronald Abbott Jr. fashion,

Of course they’re real, child, we’ve seen them. I’ve already told you this. Of course I believe in Fairies“.