I have a very close relative who was in Iraq. Well, actually, I have several close relatives who were in Iraq but in particular there is one who runs his family using the Army’s manual on discipline and unit cohesion. And I have to say that has a lot to be said for it.
Full disclosure I never served in anything more regimented than the Boy Scouts. I was too young for Vietnam and too old for 9-11. But my father and my grandfather served and they always talked about military discipline and unit cohesion as traits that were sadly lacking in civilian life. Well, when I was a kid, we gave all that talk very short shrift. We were way too smart and savvy for all that regimentation. At least that’s what we said back then.
But it recently occurred to me that discipline and unit cohesion were the answers to a lot of the problems we see in the world today and also a source of satisfaction in a world that is drifting apart into chaos. Even within close family there is a tendency to become strangers. I don’t mean that literally but rather compared to the closeness that existed when people didn’t move away from each other every other year. We see each other once or twice a year. We talk on the phone every few months and we lose track of what’s going on in each other’s lives.
But then when something goes wrong, we’re all alone. And that’s even considering the old days when families had a passel of kids and everyone had plenty of brothers and sisters. Imagine now where every family has at most two kids. You start out almost alone and then by the time you head off to college your family is just a forgotten period in your life that is only revisited at Christmas and the Fourth of July.
The alternative to this is feeling responsible for your family. If your brother has a problem. Maybe he’s having trouble in school. Make it your problem. Help him out. Tutor him. Or maybe you notice that he’s not making friends very easily. Include him in some activity or ask one of your friends to have a younger brother include him in some activity.
And of course, parents have to lift up their kids. We take that for granted but you’d be surprised. With two parents working often the kids get lost in the shuffle. Spending time on kids’ homework and paying attention to teacher’s reports and what your kids tell you about school is critical. Instead of the extra toy at Christmas, the weekend camping trip or the vacation in the mountains or at the shore is a much smarter investment. You build the memories and you build a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.
And just as important is having the kids do their part around the house. Chores and responsibilities are vital to keeping kids engaged. Even if mom is home every day, she is swamped with things that have to be done. Enforcing discipline and teaching the value of work is probably the most important activity a father can have with his sons. And when kids become teens a first job is the transition from childhood to responsible adult behavior.
Grandparents have their place too. Having get togethers that bring together your children and their children allows the cousins to know each other and stay close. With the smaller family sizes today, this is even more important to maintain some sense of familial closeness. Let the grandkids know they are part of a bigger and older family than just their parents and siblings. There is magic in that for children of all ages.
I’ll be the first to admit that I came from a family where all of this was woefully missing. We were a large family and my poor parents were outnumbered and unprepared for the insanity that we inflicted on them. We ran amok. Somehow, we all survived but sometimes it was a close thing. But I have since seen it handled better and I attribute it to discipline and unit cohesion. Give the kids plenty of love and attention but also expect family loyalty and responsibility for themselves and for each other. Drill it into them that families don’t disband when the kids turn eighteen. Family is a multi-generational structure where we support each other and make life better for those who came before us and those who are coming after.
Family is the closest relationship you should have. But friends don’t have to be disposable. It’s possible to have friends that are almost like family. They’re rare but they can happen. Probably for servicemen it’s less rare. I have friends whose service buddies are lifelong pals who are there when they need them. I envy them the camaraderie they have.
And finally, we have the wider community. These are folks who share the same values. With them we can share stories and good wishes and strategies. Maybe sometime, something we say to somebody, may provide a morale boost or a bit of information that gets him over the hump. At least that’s how I like to look at it. But the same idea applies in each case. Show a sense of solidarity with those you are related to. Take responsibility to do your part and maintain your place in the family or community or even movement. Feel like you belong and let the next guy know it’s not every man for himself. And who knows, someday you might say something to someone who’s feeling very alone and it might give him a reason not to give up. That’s not nothing.