After Deployment, Marine Returns To Find His 'Most Important Thing': Fatherhood
When Marine 1st Lt. Ernesto Rodriguez deployed to Iraq in 2005, the father of two had only recently become a dad. When he got back, he struggled to hold his life together.
But he'd never spoken about those times with his son, Sebastian, until they sat down for a StoryCorps interview.
"When I left, you were just starting to crawl," Ernesto tells his son, who's now 11 years old. He says he thought about Sebastian every day he was deployed. "And then, when I came back, you were already walking and you didn't know me. You were completely terrified, and it was the most difficult part of coming back."
But it wasn't the only difficult part.
"I was hoping to talk about these things with you when you grow up," Ernesto tells his son, "but yes, war does change you. There was an Iraqi kid about your age, and he was dead. And it could have been you. That kind of thing changes you as a person."
When Ernesto returned from Iraq, he and Sebastian's mother went through a divorce. Without a place to live, Ernesto turned to a homeless shelter.
"I was a little scared for you," his son tells him. "Sometimes I wouldn't know where you were, and I was scared before I went to bed," Sebastian adds, a sob catching in his throat.
Now, though, Ernesto lives in an apartment, where his children come to visit and where "I feel safer and I feel that you are safe," Sebastian says. "And I feel like you're a dad, because, umm --"
Because, well — what does it mean to be a dad? There's a sign on the wall at Sebastian's school that offers some help here.
As Sebastian recalls, it reads: "God took the calmness of a mountain, the warmness of a sun, and tons of other stuff, and put it into one together, and called it a dad."
"You're just like everything that I would possibly need," he adds.
"Just know that I love you, and that everything that I have done is because of you," his father answers. "To see you every day, to answer your questions about life just like we are doing right now, that is to me the most important thing."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman and John White.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.