“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain
After two weeks of background info, I finally get to share this story about my dad… one time for sure when he achieved the perfect Dad Score of 10/10.
As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty hard and life in the Aggie Band is harder still. Back then, a large number of fish would wash out. I don’t recall exactly what the attrition rates were, but I want to say Corps-wide, it was about 35-40%. I know in prior years it was as high as 60% and I’ve heard rumors of years when it was more. When I was there, my outfit had one of the highest retention rates in the Corps, but one of the other three outfits in the Band started with 36 fish and ended with 14 – a 61% attrition rate.
Most fish reach a breaking point where they make the fateful Call Home. During the Call Home, they tell their parents how hard it is… how it’s not what they expected… how this isn’t what college is supposed to be like… how high school band was fun, but this is just torture… how mean and cruel the upperclassmen are, especially the sophomores.
I’m not ashamed to say I made the Call Home.
It was probably two or three weeks in. My dad answered the phone. I asked to speak to my mom. He must have known what was up because he said, “Why don’t you talk to me first.”
I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I talked to him. Once I started talking, I started crying, which surprised me… I didn’t realize how broken down I had become.
I told him how much I hated my life, how hard the Aggie Band was and how we had to do so much more stuff than the rest of the Corps and how our upperclassmen made us do things the CT fish didn’t have to do. (Members of the Corps are affectionately known as CTs.) I complained about not getting enough to eat and not ever getting enough sleep. I complained about tons of other things. I told him I wanted to quit.
Given his passion for A&M, I expected to hear something that started with “No son of mine…” and continued with a mandate of staying in the Corps and the Band.
He simply said, “Well, son. That’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”
I was stunned. I think I was looking for permission to quit or, at the very least, being berated into not quitting. I wasn’t prepared for his simple response.
I asked him what I should do.
He said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can decide.”
Then, he said, “I can tell you this, though: If you quit, you will spend the rest of your life knowing you couldn’t do this. You will end up quitting other, more important, things later on. If you somehow make it through this, you will know that you can overcome anything because nothing will feel as hard as this does right now. This decision is going to define who you are for the rest of your life.”
I think this might have been my dad’s finest moment as a father. I can’t think of anything he could have said or done differently which would have been even slightly better.
To top it all off, he was right.