Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Running to Afghanistan - 5 km at a time

For regular readers who may have missed it, back on August 4th 2009 I wrote about my decision to apply to the Canadian Forces, with the intention of serving in Afghanistan:

A 43 year old looks to join the army, and go to Afghanistan

Reaction from friends and family has run the gamut, some have been very supportive while others have tried to dissuade me. Before making application though my mind was already made up, I've decided that if I'm accepted that I'll enlist for a minimum three year hitch. After that? Three years is a long time, and that's something I'll evaluate at that time...assuming I'm successful.

Its interesting what happens to a person when they make a decision, cutting off all other possibilities...the energy one finds.

At 43 years of age I realize I will never be as fit as I was at 18...if nothing else I am a realist. But I'm determined to give myself the best shot possible at seeing my goal come to fruition. And that has given me energy for something I've never been too keen on...exercise. I'm generally pretty fit, but I've never enjoyed exercise for the sake of exercise. Put a basketball or tennis racket in my hands and I'll gladly play for an hour or more, getting fit obviously but that isn't the ultimate goal. Being one who enjoys sports I don't consider playing a sport exercise, its fun.

But I know the Army will require lots of running, push ups, sit ups and chin ups. Up up up!!! Suddenly I've found myself motivated to go jogging, and my body is holding up better than I expected. I'm already running 5 km in the evenings, and doing it in just over 30 minutes. I'm also doing push ups and sit ups in repetitions of 25. I haven't done any chin ups yet because I need a bar, I'll have to find something...a low hanging tree branch or something.

I know this, if I'm accepted for basic training I will be in good shape for the physical tests involved.

Now for the reasons, I touched on a few of them the last time I wrote about this, but now I'd like to go into more detail.

To understand who I am you must know that I'm divorced, and that has become a defining aspect of my life...for good and for bad. Before the divorce if anyone asked what my principle focus was in life, the answer was simple, my kids. I have a 10 year old son and a very soon to be 5 year old daughter, and they're incredible. While my ex-wife focused in heavily on her career, I compensated by concentrating on the kids.

I took parental leave both with Buddy and his sister, the Princess Raspberry. With Buddy that involved taking a 3 month leave from my job as an inside sales person with Pitney Bowes. With Raspberry it coincided with a period of unemployment. A problem with my marriage, one I accept full responsibility for, is that I wasn't serious enough about my career. When the kids were sick I'd take the day off, no problem. While other parents lean on grandparents or baby sitters, I preferred looking after them myself.

Daily activities included bike rides with my sun when it was warm, or going skating in the winter. Wrestling matches with my son were de rigeur, and I could easily withstand his flying knee drops (not any more though, he's over 100 lbs now and over 5' tall).

My ex-wife was doing exceedingly well in her career, working for one of Canada's major banks. She's very driven, and very conscious of status. I knew this, so as I was contemplating my next career I was looking for something that would be remunerative, but something that would also provide me with the flexibility to spend as much time as possible with my kids. I thought I'd found it, as a financial consultant with Investors Group.

It was too late, my ex had already made up her mind. A guy I thought was a friend of mine, I'll call him Uncle Dickhead, fell into a boat load of money. A family member of his died leaving a sizable estate, of which he was the beneficiary. About this same time my ex started going on made up business trips all over Ontario. I was a trusting spouse, and even while I was attending training sessions for my new job, I was rushing home on Fridays so that she could get away for her weekend business trips.

I should have put two and two together, but I've stopped beating myself up over it, husbands and wives are supposed to trust each other. At the same time that the ex was leaving the home on numerous weekends, Uncle Dickhead told me his second marriage was over. I used to take Buddy to swimming lessons on my weekends alone with the kids. I'd drop his sister to my in-laws, then after swimming we'd pop over to my "friend's" house so that Buddy could play with his dogs. But on those weekends when she was away, he was never home.

After hearing that my wife wanted a divorce, things started to add up of course. I confronted her about her weekend trips and found out they were a lie. I shouldn't have been surprised, when we were dating she used to spend weekends at my apartment...lying to her parents about job related trips to North Bay. The MO was the same, except now I'd be cast in the role of her parents.

I knew she'd been sneaking around with "Uncle Dickhead", but didn't have any tangible proof...not that it matters. When confronted with the accusation she'd always say, "you can't prove it". Incidentally, the reason Dickhead gets the moniker Uncle is because that's how the kids refer to him. I'd known him for over 30 years, and considered him a close friend for more than 10.

So what does this have to do with joining the Army? Everything.

The ex married Dickhead's mone...errrr, she married Dickhead. And now he is living in the same house as my kids. At the time of the divorce I was working for strict commission, and I started well. But after I'd figured out what my ex had been up to my life went to crap. I engaged in stupid and destructive behaviour, I started dating and living beyond my means. I racked up a pretty sizable debt, trying to maintain as close a relationship as possible with my kids, but with little money coming in. But I wasn't making enough to live on and had to give up on Investors Group finally.

Finding work should have been easy, but it wasn't. I picked up my kids 3 or 4 times a week from school, as well as helping out in the classroom, and I wanted that to continue. Finding a job that would permit that proved near impossible, unless I was willing to work the midnight shift...which I did. I got a job at the LCBO warehouse in Whitby, unloading trailers of booze from 12am til 8 in the morning. I was able to continue coaching my son's baseball team as I'd done for the previous 2 years and before that 2 years of soccer. The only problem was I was working for a temp agency making poverty level wages. Luckily I'd moved back in with my father, about the time my mother was dying from lung cancer.

I've come to the realization that my life is at a standstill. The thought of Dickhead being there when my kids wake up in the morning, and him tucking them into drives me nuts. Thankfully I've never been a violent person, if I was I'd probably have ended up in jail. That is the reality of my life, something I have to deal with.

I can't make enough money working at the LCBO to live on, not as a temporary contract worker. I'm back there again as a temp, this time as a shipping clerk. And the thought of taking a 9 to 5 job would mean I'd only be seeing my kids every other weekend, a fate I don't deserve either. So I've picked the Army.

Obviously it will mean even more time away from my kids, but when I'm on leave I'll have loads of time for them. And I know they'll be proud of their father, someone who took some risks and served his country. Three years in the Army should provide me with something of a nest egg when my hitch is up, at which point I'll decide whether or not to continue. I'll have made my own way, not relying on a windfall inheritance to define who I am.

Leaving the kids aside there are other reasons as well. One is obviously adventure and a desire to see the world, and not just the good side. I've read plenty about war, but I've never experienced it first hand. If my application is accepted I will get to see conflict through the eyes of a soldier.

Its fair to say this might be part of mid life crisis, although I prefer to think of it as a reassessment. My father worked for almost 20 years in the financial industry, and as a family we moved often between the US and Canada. Like any kid I didn't have a choice or a voice in the decisions that were made. We moved when I was less than a year old, again when I was three, later when I was 5, and 8, and 10 and 12. My adult years unfolded in much the same fashion, I didn't pick my jobs so much as they picked me.

Choosing the Canadian Forces is MY choice, right or wrong, good or bad, its MY decision...and I intend to make the most of it. That is why I'm actually enjoying putting on my running shoes and getting out for a nightly run. I fully intend to serve my country in Afghanistan, and I've started down that path, 5 km at a time.

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