When I was in elementary school, I suffered greatly from Middle Child Attention Deficit Disorder (MCADD). It was never diagnosed, but in hindsight, it seems clear that I had all the trademark symptoms:
- A wildly-inflated view of my own importance in my family and in the world
- A deeply selfish attitude toward my siblings and parents
- A hair-trigger sensitivity to any perceived injustice
- An insatiable desire for attention and privilege
A textbook case, as you can see. Of course, it was mostly my brother’s fault. Had he not been such a stalwart firstborn, oozing with virtue and a strong commitment to duty, perhaps my parents would not have been so entirely unprepared for a second-born who shared few (if any) of his brother’s character strengths.
When she could stand it no longer, my poor Mom would resort to sly sarcasm and insults.
Mom: “Have you considered a career in the Navy, Tim?”
This was odd, because our family (steeped in Army traditions) didn’t know much about the Navy except that they had strange-sounding ranks and presumably swabbed the decks a lot.
Me: “Not really, Mom. Why do you ask?”
I knew enough about my Mom’s slyness to be on guard.
Mom: “I was just thinking that some of the ranks might really appeal to you … “
Me: “Oh, really? Which ones? Admiral? Commodore? Commander?”
Mom: “No, I was thinking more in terms of ‘Petty Officer’.”
In our household, the word ‘petty’ was used to describe someone who was mean-spirited, small-minded, physically weak and cowardly, and in every way contemptible. Eustace Scrubb (from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader) in his pre-Dragon days was the template for this word.
So whenever my Mom wanted to tease and needle me for my lack of virtue, she would designate me as ‘Petty Officer’ or even (shudder) ‘Chief Petty Officer’. Howls of outrage ensued.
Jump forward with me, across the mists of time, some 40 years. My older two sons both participated in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program at a local high school, and David has decided to follow in their footsteps, these past 18 months.
Although he managed to distinguish himself early-on, receiving several quick promotions, there was a change in leadership in the program, and David found it difficult to gain the attention and favor of the new Commander, who also had no prior experience with David’s older brothers. Higher ranks tend to be awarded in direct proportion to the amount of time a student invests in the program, and David has been unable to spend very many extra hours at the school this year because (a) he doesn’t yet drive, and (b) the difficulty of his online classes through the Potter’s School.
And so he seemed to languish as an E-6, Petty Officer First Class, PO1. He went to the ‘boot camp’ 4-day exercise even though he was sick, and many of his peers were promoted, but not David. He waited for several months, yet each time merit promotions were awarded, David’s name was not on the list. It was a difficult time for him and for those of us who were watching.
Finally, I took David aside for some fatherly counsel. Since David is not a quitter, I felt free to explore some other options.
Me: “David, if the leadership of the program can’t see your obvious merit, maybe it is time for you to spend your time in a more profitable way.”
David: “Yeah, well, maybe you’re right … “
Me: “But … ?”
I could tell he was not yet ready to quit the program.
David: “If I can just get this next promotion, it would mean a lot to me.”
Me: “Why is that?”
David: “Well, if I can just get to the next rank, I can wear the SDBs.”
Suddenly it all became clear. Junior Navy enlisted uniforms are like most military uniforms the world around – they’re designed to be both uncomfortable and unattractive, and they succeed admirably. But the Service Dress Blues (SDBs), now, they are another story altogether. Even high school students look very sharp in SDBs, as we have noticed at previous Navy Balls attended by our older sons.
A couple of weeks ago, David came home with a uniform on a hanger and a wide smirk.
“What’s that? Did you finally get promoted?”
I peered hopefully (and a little enviously) at the uniform on the hanger.
“Yep. These are my new SDBs,”
David waved the hanger gently in front of me. Light gleamed off the gold buttons, ribbons, medals and the sleek dark blue fabric. David’s patience had paid off in a big way.
I’m sure my Mom will be so proud – there is finally a Chief Petty Officer in the family.