Tag Archives: father-daughter

“Warm and Human Soldierly Philosophy”

Henry Snively Campbell 2012

Today and tomorrow, I’m doing reconnaissance of a sort, albeit not of an opposing force. I’m looking for information that will help me understand my father better.

After spending seven years as his caregiver, I thought I had Dad figured out. But almost two years since his death, I remain curious. I was so busy caregiving that I missed the window when he could have answered my questions.

How did he become the gracious man I knew in old age? After hurdling heart disease to support his family, raise four children and be there for my mother during her final illness, he could finally relax. With his fighting years behind him — in the literal and figurative sense — I thought perhaps he returned to the person he was when young. Smart and sensitive, he had been the middle child who empathized with others, particularly his mother, who bore the brunt of his father’s criticisms. His career in the Marine Corps, I thought, explained his emotional distance when I was growing up, his command presence at home.

I’m rethinking that. Watching my brother’s taped 2003 conversation with him, I was struck by my father’s expression when he described the personal connection a leader must have with the troops for whom he is responsible. In his memory, he was back in 1941, soon to be commissioned second lieutenant, preparing to lead men in war. He was 24.

Then I read a passage in General Victor Krulak’s book, First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. “Brute,” as he was known, gave his take on the brotherhood of the Marines. It is embodied, he suggested, in a section of the Marine Corps Manual written by General John A. Lejeune in 1921 called “Relations Between Officers and Enlisted Marines.” In six short subsections, Gen. Lejeune laid out what officers must do to preserve the “spirit of comradeship and brotherhood” that came out of WWI. I saw my father in this:

b. Teacher and scholar — The relation between officer and enlisted men should in no sense be that of a superior and inferior nor of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar. In fact, it should partake of the nature of the relation between father and son, to the extent that officers, especially commanding officers, are responsible for the physical, mental and moral welfare, as well as the discipline and military training of the young men under their command who are serving the nation in the Corps.

At the end of the passage, Gen. Krulak noted this:

“This warm and human example of soldierly philosophy, in addition to its enduring wisdom, implies a lesson for anyone who aspires to lead men. In it, General Lejeune uses the term officer ten times, the term men ten times, and leadership or leader three times, but he never used the more sterile terms personspersonnel, supervision or management at all. Lejeune knew he was talking about warm, living human beings.”

Seems my father didn’t leave the Marine Corps behind at all. Perhaps it taught him to be a better man, a better father, the one he never had.


Click here to read General Lejeune’s order in its entiretyIt remains in the Marine Corps Manual nearly 100 years later.







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How Dad Survived

Dad holding Midge's hand 1953

Dad holding Midge’s hand 1953

I have often wondered how my father survived a dysfunctional family, the horrors of the war, the loss of his nearly four-year-old daughter to leukemia, the sudden end of his career for medical reasons, and finally the loss of his wife after 58 years of marriage. Any one of those experiences would have damaged most people.

But Dad wasn’t most people. Perhaps my vision is clouded as his youngest, his only surviving daughter and, for seven years, his caregiver. Maybe the magnetic attraction I feel to ponder his bigger-than-life story is a father-daughter thing. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. Dad has been gone for 14 months and I still learn from him every day.

I was there when Mom died, at the moment her heart finally gave out at the end of a three-and-a-half month struggle with late stage lung cancer. He was steadfast at her bedside, holding and stroking her hand, looking in to her eyes and telling her he loved her and would see her again. She died connected to him.

In the hours and days after that loss, Dad felt that severance as an open wound. He did not know how he would survive it. We all knew the survival statistics for men who suffer the loss of a life-long mate.

As he reflected out loud about their life together, he asked, “How can I live without her?” Over time, within weeks, that rhetorical question subtly changed. It became, “How can I live without her?” And then, “How will I live without her?”

In his questions are clues to Dad’s survival strategy.

With the first question, he assessed brutal reality. Can I survive this? Do I want to? Can I imagine life without Eileen?

Slowly, the “how” came into his inner dialogue. Dad the planner began to emerge. He began to focus on what lay ahead even if it was as simple as assembling the groceries for the four meals he said he knew how to make. He was a realist, and not an escapist. He began to imagine making it, in a world without Mom, day by day. His image of himself was eminently practical: a guy who would rise around seven, make coffee, feed the dog, read the paper, prepare some oatmeal, do some chores, go for a walk, have lunch, take a nap, read a book, make dinner and retire at ten after a few TV shows. Thrown in there somewhere was the endless maintenance of his collection of hunting guns, and perhaps a few calls to line up skeet shooting or fishing junkets with one of his sons or his friend, Bob.

After the massive heart attack that forced his retirement from the Marine Corps, I imagine that Dad’s view of his future self changed radically. He was in his mid-40s, a guy being watched for higher command, a Colonel with all the right prior postings. That guiding occupational dream drove him.

After finding himself out on the curb, his motivation changed. Everything, everything in him aimed at the seemingly insurmountable task of recreating a professional career that could support his wife and four children, none of whom had yet completed college.

“Be clear about your objective” was more than a military tenet. To Dad, it was a commandment. After keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table, his number one goal to secure our education.

Pursuing his objective left little time for leisure. What time he had went to connecting with the outdoors, a source of succor throughout his life. Wading the banks of a promising trout stream or crunching through the stubble of a shorn, frozen wheat field in search of pheasants was his idea of a vacation. Whenever possible, he would share that transporting experience with his children.

Although his dream had been sacrificed, Dad never expressed bitterness. Mom wasn’t above assuming a little high dudgeon about what would have happened if Dad had been able to continue his career, but her comments were never a complaint or rebuke. Dad could easily have looked at his abrupt departure from the Marines as a failure, but I never sensed such a deflation in his self-esteem. A door closed, another had to open. Had to, to educate his children. His sense of self worth was tied up in taking care of us, not stroking his own ego.

A recent Scientific American Mind article described the work of psychologist Shalom H. Schwartz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which sought to identify universal values that might guide one’s life. Constructing them as a compass:

At the north is a universalistic orientation, which includes tolerance… and self-directed thought. To the east are hedonism… and personal achievement in the eyes of others…..Moving southeast, one can find dominance…. To the south is a believe in the importance of security and safety…., and to the west are humility and caring….  

A related study by Ravenna M. Helson, Ph.D., of UC Berkeley divided women into four groups over the course of their lives: seekers, conservers, achievers and “depleteds.” “Conservers valued tradition, family, security and hard work (the south of the compass). The achievers wanted both personal growth and the ability to excel at what they did (covering an area along Schwartz’s compass from the north to the east),” Scientific American Mind reported.

Those who identified as “conservers” were the most content.

Dad knew who he was, even as he worked through jarring crises. He knew what he wanted, even as his goals changed. He did not waste time longing for things outside of his practical reach. And he knew what he wanted to leave behind.

He never talked about his legacy, but if he had, it would have been for the four of us to have satisfying lives with children or people we love, acting with integrity and ready make a difference – however small – in the lives of those around us. Nothing grandiose. Nothing impractical. Just an immutable sense of self in service to others.


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A Quiet Kind of Influence

Betsy Campbell eyes 1975

When I was an adolescent, I made some very unfortunate makeup choices. One of my first signature looks was an alarmingly bright turquoise cream eyeshadow that I slathered on both eyelids. I thought it set off my blue eyes. With that metallic green-blue glowing from my lash line to my brow bone, I now understand that no one could have noticed my grey-blue irises. By high school, I had exchanged the eyeshadow for mascara.

My eyelashes, bent like hockey sticks by my eyelash curler, waved upward like hairy tarantula legs. In my mind, they said “ingenue.” To the rest of the world, they said, “mascara fetishist.”

When I sat at our dinner table facing the bay window, the bright chandelier turned the darkened view into a mirror. I was a great admirer of my reflection.

A little smile would come across my father’s face and he would say, “How is Ysteb tonight?”

Most memoirs and many novels have at their root an author who is coming to terms with her dysfunctional upbringing. Underlying their narrative is a turbulent upbringing that haunted them into adulthood with substance abuse issues and shattered relationships.

When I write about my father, I feel as if I am beachcombing. I walk slowly along the sandy beach, crossing miles of uniform sand granules, until I stumble across a fragment. If I walked more quickly, I’d miss it – something shimmering there in its beauty. But having seen it, I pick it up, hold it in my palm, turn it over.

I think now of all of the things my father could have said to me when I was trying on my young womanhood. He could have said, “What the hell are you thinking? Go wash your face!” Or, “No daughter of mine is going out like that.” Or, “I suppose you think that looks good?”

But he didn’t. Deadpan, he would wryly invoke my name spelled backwards, “How is Ysteb tonight?” Hearing that didn’t feel like a rebuke or even a criticism. I took it as, “Come back to the table, please. You’re not the only one in the room.” It felt like an act of love, even if there was a tease thrown in for good measure. I got the message.

I remember few rules from my youth. I wasn’t harangued to make my bed, come home at a certain time, do my homework, achieve better grades or get off the phone. I wasn’t told when I could start shaving my legs, or wearing makeup or start dating.

I did want approval, my father’s approval in particular, and I knew what he admired without him ever saying a word. I was more interested in the brass ring of admiration than avoiding the sting of criticism or the pain of punishment.

Recently, I learned that one of my acquaintances on Facebook is tired of my posting about my father. She thinks it’s time to get over the grief and move on. She has missed the point entirely.

I’m not grieving, I’m appreciating. My experience of my father was subtle.

He was just there, a quiet, predictable and strong presence even when he just referred to my twin in the mirror.

Sitting at my parents’ table, I didn’t appreciate what I had. It’s taken me four decades to get to the point I can see the beauty in his love and influence. And it remains with me.

Last weekend I attended a retreat where the facilitator shared this poem. The utter reliability of my Dad led me to take him for granted. Remembering the subtle ways he expressed his love for me, my mother and my brothers is a gift that keeps on giving.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

– Robert Haydon


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The Year-Agos

Figgy Pudding 2012

I started writing this post yesterday, and then I received an email from my brother Bruce about how he was brought up short when he reviewed his holiday card database and realized he would not be sending a card to Dad this year.

Little static-electricity jolts triggered by seemingly meaningless moments constantly zap you the first year after losing someone. Last year, addressing holiday cards was a necessary but unremarkable task. This year, it’s a reminder.

A year ago Friday night, December 6, I dined with two girlfriends friends in Seattle and strolled the Figgy Pudding outdoor caroling event snugly bundled up in matching winter white hats, mufflers and gloves. I felt full of holiday spirit, braced by the cold air, a little buzzed from the cocktails we shared over dinner. I never suspected that Dad’s decline had already begun.

My brother Scott, who was caring for Dad at my house, called the next morning to say that Dad was unable to urinate and in extreme pain. What should he do? At the doctor’s urging, he took Dad to urgent care where they removed over one liter of urine.

When I returned to Sacramento that afternoon, Dad was significantly weaker. He’d had a recent bout of extreme shortness of breath and then pulled a muscle. With the bladder problem, there was no question of him returning back to his assisted living community. By Tuesday, he was in extreme pain again, unable to urinate. He was sent home from the ER with a catheter that we hoped would come out after a week.

I was frantic. The catheter gave him a sensation that felt like urinary urgency, so he tried to rise every 15 minutes or so. If he was not watched at night, he would attempt to get up for the bathroom and fall. 

Ten days later, he stopped being able to walk.

My world had transformed from light to dark. From an evening lit by sparkling decorations, cheeks blushing pink from the cold, lilting carols soaring in harmony, I sat by my father’s bedside, worrying.

Instead of making me sad, that turning point reminds me that a year ago, Dad was still here. A year ago, I had every reason to expect he would recover from this latest health setback. A year ago, I knew Dad would feel better when the winter lifted and spring bloomed again.

Today I leave Seattle, headed for home again. The house is already decorated. Dad’s room will be orderly and quiet. When I walk in the house, I will remember that it was the beginning of Dad’s final decline. The hard part is over. He is worth remembering, worth loving and worth every moment spent comforting him.

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Birthdays Remembered

Just now, my fingers hovered over the keyboard, not quite ready to land. If I don’t write about it, if I pretend that tomorrow is just another day, maybe it won’t be real: one year since my Dad’s last birthday.

I have a parade of Dad’s birthdays marching through my head. There was his 87th birthday when he had a speech all prepared beginning with, “Four score and seven years ago….” That was the last time I tried to faithfully match the number of candles to his age.

Five years earlier, Dad’s surgeon had emerged after an eight hour cardiac bypass operation with the good news that the procedure was a success, and the bad news that he expected this one, Dad’s third, would last only five years. When we gathered the family for his 87th, the five year timer had gone off. We faced the possibility, even the likelihood, that Dad would die within the year.

We drank a lot that night, liquid accompaniment to the many toasts, stories and recitations of Dad’s favorite poems. In the midst of it, Dad cocked his head, raised his glass and looked directly into my eyes. I think of the smile in this picture as my smile. He would purse his lips gently, the way I do when I’m about to cry, and the corners of his lips would lift. He held that pose, for one beat, two, three. That gaze remained on his face for as long as I wanted to look back. To me, it said it all.

Scan 2

Two years later, Dad moved permanently to California. The word went round before every birthday: you should come, it might be his last.

When someone’s death is predicted for nine years running, it starts to become comedic. We began spreading out family visits to provide Dad with something to look forward to. Two years in a row, I turned Dad’s birthday into a road trip, taking him to Monterey to enjoy an ocean front room and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

As Dad gazed up at the aquarium’s 28 foot high tank, the pale blue light of the tank washed over him. He seemed to drink in the majesty of the display before him: swaying fronds of kelp, swirling sardines, cruising fish. Its beauty moved him.

Dad and me at the Monterey Aquarium 2010

By his birthday last year, his 96th, much of that joy had slipped away. His rich, brown eyes had faded, and it was harder to rise to the occasion of a party in his honor, even a small one. He was quiet, though he enjoyed his lamb, and of course there was chocolate cake. He always had room for chocolate cake.


I could not envision celebrating his next birthday with him. And I was right.

This year, there’s no Pendleton shirt wrapped and ready, no bacon-and-eggs breakfast planned, no chocolate cake in the refrigerator. For most of the world, it will be just another day. But for me, it’s the first birthday that wasn’t.

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Darkened Windows

The windows of the corner room in my house were dark when I pulled in last night, which should have been no surprise. With a few exceptions, they have been dark since January.

I stopped the car in the driveway and thought about what was missing.

The glow of the television through the shutters was usually the thing that caught my attention. Even from the driveway, I could see images from the The Military History Channel strobing from light to dark in the shadowed room. In the foreground, Dad’s face was revealed when brighter images flashed on the screen. I could see him tilted back in his recliner.

He was waiting for me to come home.

As a teenager and young adult, I often returned home late. I’d turn the key in the lock as quietly as I could and take off my shoes so they wouldn’t make a racket on the green slate entry hall floor. At the sliding door that separated the hallway from the kitchen, one of our Springers would be snuffling along the half inch gap below the door. Slowly, I’d slide the pocket door open an inch or two, just enough to pat the soft brown head before closing the door and heading downstairs to my basement bedroom.

A few minutes later, it would start: Dad “buttoning up” the house. The springs of my father’s twin bed would complain and the wood floor creak slightly as he rose for his nightly rounds. Three steps to the end of the bed, another five or six to the doorway. It was quiet for a count of ten as he padded down the carpeted hallway past the bathroom, turning left into the front hall. Then a series of clicks: push-push, push-push. My parents’ 50s era house had buttons instead of switches to operate the lights, and none of us ever managed to remember exactly which switch operated what. So turning off the lights meant pushing the buttons to check whether everything was shut down. Then in reverse: movement down the hall, bathroom stop, bedroom door firmly closed, steps to bed, bed springs sounding their dissonant chord several times before Dad settled down. The house was secure.

This time last year, Dad would have been listening for the sounds of my return. He liked to retire by 10 p.m., but he’d often delay his bedtime if I wasn’t back. The bombs of Iwo Jima had decimated his hearing so much that he didn’t even turn on the television sound, relying instead on the closed captions. But something about the squeal of the garage door springs and the heavy whump of the door where we entered from the garage were within the range of his hearing.

When I peeked in, he’d be watching the door rather than the tv. “There you are, Bets. Did you have a good time?” He’d say he thought he’d retire, and I’d kiss him on the cheek. See you in the morning. “Shut the door, please,” he’d ask, so that the cat wouldn’t visit him during the night.

These days, his corner room is dark. And yet I feel he is still present.


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