Major Dad:  Sharing the Burdens beyond the Weapons, Dr. Robert Zuber

16 Jun

Fist Bump

Do you really believe that your child is an idiot?  Because you said it, she now believes it.  Dan Pearce

Once, at the hardware store, Brooks had shown me how to use a drill. I’d made a tiny hole that went deep. The place for my father was like that.  Elizabeth Berg

We are not bonded to our fathers’ fate, but rather called to build on their trespasses or triumphs for a better future.  Cristina Marrero

A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.  Marilynne Robinson

That was the first time, months after his birth, I felt like Sam’s father. In a chair I never wanted, holding the child I desperately did. Aaron Gouveia

I’ve come home from another journey at the cusp of Father’s Day, a bittersweet remembrance for many (including those facing a first Day without a father), a time to recall both triumphs and trespasses, words that stung and words that healed, teachable moments and pedagogical awkwardness, the “hole” that for some was small and deep, for others broader and more shallow.

Pedagogical awkwardness was certainly on order for me and my brood of brothers.  We were idiots, it seemed, not absorbing what we were taught and generally not wanting the lesson to continue.   There was plenty to learn, to be sure, certainly from a dad who seemingly could fix anything and who did so routinely and without asking for family and neighbors alike.  But the lessons were often pitched a bit too harsh; it wasn’t always palatable to play the idiot within those pedagogical moments, to be little more than the conduit for disconnects that could have been more fruitful than the mutually-incomprehensible annoyances they mostly became.

But there are times looking back when we see things that weren’t clear when we were younger, the learning that we thought we missed out on but actually bored deep inside us, making us the persons we are, for better and for worse.  I did learn things from my father that turned out to be of great benefit in my later life – to hit a baseball and catch a football, to plant vegetables and catch fish.

And to use and care for guns

I haven’t cleaned or fired a gun in many years, but the echo of weapons respected but not feared has stayed with me.  Now, I and my UN colleagues are more concerned with the policy surrounding our weapons-saturated world than with their maintenance and uses, but there has been value in being able to connect with persons in the security sector – military and police, peacekeepers and guardsman – for whom weapons in some form are as indispensable to their work as a laptop computer is to mine.  And not only to connect, but to make the sector inclusive of women and others, and to make good use of the platform from which we can remind the sector that “security” is increasingly more complex (and more urgent as well) than weapons and their threats alone.

This past week, during a period at the UN defined by Kuwait’s fine Security Council presidency and important treaty bodies on oceans and persons with disabilities, I was honored to be overseas, acting as “copilot” for a course in small arms and light weapons conducted by Roman Hunger who now works with NATO but was once a fixture in the UN, including in the office of the President of the General Assembly.   The course was held at a NATO facility in the German Alps and brought together a group of 27 military officers and diplomats from 20 or so countries.   It also brought together officials from the UN, NATO, the OSCE and the European Union to comment on agreements to manage the arms trade and threats of weapons diversion, and included as well technical experts on weapons destruction, landmine removal, stockpile management and other practical skills.  And, while there were only four women participants in this particular course, there was a welcome NATO focus on Women, Peace and Security, reminding officers of their/our responsibility to make safe and secure spaces for women that they might finally bring to the security sector the full complement of their skills and vision.

As regular readers of this space could well imagine, the role of Global Action in this setting was intended to move the room a bit beyond the “tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it” mode that understandably characterizes much of the discourse of persons in uniform.   I talked about our need to be better “promise keepers” when it comes to the international agreements we craft and the commitments we publicly espouse.  I talked about the many stakeholders at work in the security field – including NGOs like mine seemingly in eternal “doggie paddle” mode – organizations that identify and address a range of security threats that are related to our seemingly unquenchable thirst for weapons procurement, but are more broadly related to issues like climate change and economic inequalities.   I talked a bit about the need for restraint in security matters, especially when we are unsure – as we often are – that armed violence in any form won’t simply make matters worse.  And with Roman Hunger in the lead, we discussed the government corruption that leads to weapons diversion or to the accumulation of new weapons that waste precious resources and, in some instances, represent “gifts” that national militaries have not themselves determined a compelling need for.

There was plenty more from us over the week, mostly filling around the primary task of introducing officers and diplomats to the current “state of play” on small arms and light weapons, the weapons we produce in huge quantities that intimidate households and communities, the weapons favored by non-state actors seeking to sow discord in societies, the weapons we procure without a firm grasp of how we will manage the armaments they’ve replaced over what is often a longer lifespan than our own careers.

Fortunately, as the week progressed, participants used the afternoon discussions (what NATO calls “syndicates”) to raise and debate some of the issues both within and adjacent to the small arms and light weapons field.   These (mostly) men thought harder than they might generally about how to ensure a respectful place for women in uniform.   They applied some nuance to the threats that they are duty bound to defend against, threats that come in different shapes now, threats that harbor no recognizable artillery or air assets.  They even interrogated their own views of human nature/potential beyond the cynical (and at times even dystopian) worldviews that still come just a bit too easily to men (and women also) in uniform.  They located the keys to open their minds without compromising their duty.

A few even brought their children along for a bit of holiday, basking in the refreshing air and copious ice cream parlors in the nearby village.  I hope that someday these children will one day come to appreciate how hard it had once been for parents and all of us to protect them in this weapons-riddled, plastics-inundated time of rising seas and falling trust, of corrupt governance and our equally-corrupted sense of honor. I also hope that while they are being raised and protected, while they are being taught and nurtured by the people who have literally incarnated and magnified their spirit, their fathers will never forget how “desperate” they have been to hold these children close.

I wish I could have had conversations like this with my own father, conversations about the world and its blessings, its possibilities and threats, the duties he accepted and laid down, sharing beyond the guns and sports and fishing gear that kept us connected in real time by an often-thin thread.  We certainly could have used a family-friendly version of the NATO “syndicate.” But the interactions we managed to have also served me well even though I wasn’t as open to the learning as I could have been.  Our communications flaws could not be laid at his doorstep alone. They never can be.

To all those “Major Dad” types who are stretching to connect with their children while worrying about our threat-saturated world, please allow something nice to happen to you today.   Maybe an ice cream in a mountain town, or maybe a conversation with someone younger about our current, uneasy state of affairs; perhaps even to share what might still be done to overcome the violent distractions that sap our resolve to create a more “triumphant” future, one that can keep both our fragile planet and its human aspirations buoyant.

Happy Father’s Day

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