JJ & Me
Before we were officers, my wife Sue and I were parents to James John, whose nickname is JJ.
I remember us being at Camp Ladore in Pennsylvania. We were getting an orientation on cadetship when our 3–year–old started crying as he left the room. The camp workers were taking him to the south side of the camp. I can still hear him call for me. His little voice rang out all the way down the road and from across the lake. My heart ached and I wanted to go after him. But the calling to become a cadet seemed louder and more important. For that moment, I resisted the opportunity to be with my son.
After my wife and I completed our cadet training, our first appointment was in Milton, Pa. We lived next door to the corps and even though JJ had started preschool, it was easy to spend time with him. JJ and I were best friends. We referred to each other as “Auggie Doggie” and “Doggie Daddy,” names of popular cartoon characters in the early 60s “The Quick Draw McGraw Show.”
I made the area where the corps resided into our own playground. We played with his toy trucks and occasionally went fishing on a nearby lake.
One time while playing basketball, I wore a dark plastic sweat suit to help me lose a little weight. Unfortunately, the workout proved too intense due to the heat of the game, and I nearly passed out. So James, now 5 years old, took me by the hand and walked his tired dad back to the corps. We were regular pals who had just played basketball together.
However, my wife and I wondered about the future. How would we all adjust to the officer lifestyle of moving from appointment to appointment? Would JJ have the chance to grow up as a normal teenage boy?
In our 4th appointment in Johnstown, Pa., JJ started high school. He was finally able to have something that had been elusive in his younger years—a circle of friends who lived nearby and who went to the same school. They were good Christian young men who read the Bible together and discussed God as often as they played sports.
I let JJ and his friends have sleep overs at the corps on the weekends where they played basketball and shot pool late into the night. As in our first appointment, we had turned the corps building into a place that he could enjoy.
Around the end of his sophomore year, we received notice that we would be leaving Johnstown for our 5th appointment in Oil City, Pa. One day when we were practicing driving in the high school parking lot, I realized how hard this move affected my son.
JJ’s friend reached for the tassel on his graduation cap and gave it to JJ as a souvenir of their friendship. As his friend walked away, I could see my son try to hold back tears. Just as when he was 3 years old, it was devastating for me to once again feel as if I was at least part of the reason for his pain.
But as with most teenagers, he learned to adapt. At our new appointment in Oil City, he made new friends, while staying in touch with his old ones; broke athletic records at his new school; and met Melinda, who is now his wife of 14 years. Yes, James grew to be a normal guy and a great father.
Today, JJ and I are as close as ever. Fathers would give anything for their children, but it’s also beautiful how I can say that I love my son as a dear friend.
My advice to any officer or cadet with children at home: Strive to make your children’s lives as normal as possible, and do not let the ministry interfere with that process. It should never be a burden on them.
Do not let Army responsibilities consume you. It’s easy to jump in response to every call because those responsibilities cry out to you. Your family may not literally call out for your attention, but they are calling you in their minds and in their hearts.
Answer those calls. Doing so will make you a better parent, spouse, and follower of God.
by Major James Foley