A Daddying Call To Arms
A Special Memorial Day 2023 Guest Post by Everett Cox
with Introduction by DCG and Daddying Film Festival & Forum Founder Allan Shedlin
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the DADvocacy Consulting Group's Armor Down/Daddy Up! program workshops for veteran fathers and their children, we note at the outset that there are two times in your life when your identity is changed instantly and forever: when you become a dad and when you join the military. For many, when they enlist in the military, they are answering a certain type of “call to arms.” When they separate from the military, they are being called to a different set of arms – their children’s arms, and vice versa. The skills necessary to succeed in each of those roles can be vastly different and immensely challenging.
When this Memorial Day weekend comes around, I will be at my post as a volunteer at Arlington National Cemetery for an extraordinary program now in its 10th year. The Mindful Memorial Foundation program was created by Ben King, an Iraqi War veteran who earned a Purple Heart during his service. Ben is the proud father of two daughters, a vital member of our DADvisory team, and a Daddying blog contributor.
Working with Ben at Arlington and co-creating and co-facilitating the AD/DU! program has made me aware of the challenges faced by veterans when they transition back to civilian lives. That interest has led to our Daddy Appleseed Fund’s support of, and work with, two other extraordinary groups that offer creative ways to support veteran dads in their transition: Horses for Heroes, and the EXIT12 Dance Company.
In our work with EXIT12, I had the opportunity to meet Everett Cox, a Vietnam War veteran. He shared with me some of his own writing, which reflects the extraordinary challenges that veterans and their families face as a consequence of their service.
During a time when the world is once again at war, and the number of those enlisted to fight grows, as well as the millions of innocents forced to flee the insanity, it seems important to be reminded of the everlasting toll it takes on the men, women, and children caught in the middle of it all. But we also must be reminded of our consequent obligation to do whatever we can to assist and honor those who have served, continue to serve, and the countless number of people who are impacted by their sacrifice. And, most importantly, each of us should be mindful of living more peacefully and "beating [our] swords into ploughshares."
The following selections of poetry and prose were written and shared with us by Everett. We have republished them here with his permission.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Everett wrote the following piece after hearing me recite my poem, "A Daddy's Prayer," as a prompt during one session of the EXIT12 workshop series aboard the USS Intrepid in New York City, 4/24/23. - Allan
"I want you to live until you are 101," he told me. "I need you to stick around so we can talk."
He knows 101 is my lucky number. When he was born, I promised him I would not kill myself. I know the children of suicides have a higher risk of suicide. He became my reason to live.
"Don't put that on your son." I was told.
I never told him. But I have told other vets to live for their children.
"Don't tell them but do it."
- Everett Cox
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: My favorite piece is my first piece as a vet. I call it [that] because for 40 years I denied and avoided my military and war experience. In 2010, I went to a veterans retreat and began to speak about it and it radically changed my life and continues to do so.
An Open Letter to Veterans
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
Please don’t kill yourselves. Don’t do it.
The suicide rate for vets is four times the numbers that die in war, now between 18 and 22 a day. Time heals. Give yourself time. Avoid impulsiveness. Impulsiveness gives no time. Get the guns out of the house. If you have a noose ready, get rid of it. A stash of pills, get rid of them. A stripped electric line? Get rid of the readiness.
When you hear that train a comin’, it ain’t your train. Stay off the tracks. No bridge has your name on it. No bridge.
When you are suicidal, you are distraught. Distraught does not make for clear thinking. Impulsiveness compounds the problem, leads to mistakes. Mistakes may be worse than death.
You need time, more time, much more time, maybe a lifetime. PTS speeds things up. You need to slow down.
One of the best ways to give yourself more time is to give your time away. Start with your family. Little children can really slow you down. Their presence to the moment, their curiosity, their imagination, their playfulness can all rub off on you if you slow down with them.
Learn to identify 10 trees in your neighborhood with your children and their friends. Learn the names of 10 birds, 10 insects. Then learn 10 more of each. Pick some wild grapes and make jelly. Gather some hickory nuts and make cookies. Learn the natural world with them.
Men, learn to cook. Learn to feed yourself and your family. Your children would love to work with you in the kitchen. It will strengthen your marriage. Nurture her. Learn good nutrition. Bake bread. It’s great fun punching down the dough. Sit with your family at the table. Just for the fun of it, chew each mouthful 25 times. Slow down. Feed friends and neighbors. It’s healing. Go to the Farmers Market. Visit their farms. Grow something. Grow herbs and some flowers. Your children would love to grow something with you. Grow it and eat it. I learned how to make a simple red pasta sauce in Viet Nam. Do it from scratch. It’s simple and it builds confidence. Then do variations. Don’t eat standing up, out of the pot.
Volunteer your time. Help a neighbor, cut grass, rake leaves, shovel snow. Help the elderly. Visit a shut-in. Helping others helps you. It can help get you out of yourself and getting out of yourself helps.
SELF can be toxic.
Being concerned about others helps. Self needs time to heal. The healing is up to you but taking care of others heals you.
The trauma in Post Traumatic Stress begins with violence, war, rape. Military sexual trauma – rape – currently affects one-third to two-thirds of all women. The trauma begins with horrible violence.
Life wants to live. It is as simple as that.
Life wants to live. Violence can pervert that very simple truth. It can twist it, create doubt, create ambivalence. There can be only two responses to violence. One is to return the violence. The other is to return love. Love is a long, slow, hard, painful path. No one coming out of war or rape is prepared to be loving, but PTS is a sign that you can love. PTS is a sign of the love in you.
Post Traumatic Stress is not a “disorder.” It is a natural response to what you have been through. It is a response to a terribly unnatural and unhealthy trauma. It is a sign that deep inside, you understand that life wants to live. That is the starting point for your new life, the post-trauma life.
- Everett Cox
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Guys talking suicide
I've got a half dozen guys talking suicide.
They all say the same thing:
When I say suicide
I'm not talking suicide.
But will you bring me a gun
with one bullet.
if I bring you a gun
I will bring
I've had enough of this shit.
If you fucking go
I'm going with you.
That's what I'm here for.
Vet peer support.
When we can't live for ourselves.
Live for someone else.
it can be complicated.
when you've reached for the gun and bullet
live for someone else.
Live for the one who loves you the most.
Some vets tell me they love me
- Everett Cox
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Suicide Prevention Resources for Veterans
If you’re a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive 24/7 confidential support. You don't have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect. To reach responders, Dial 988 then Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text 838255.
In response to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act designating the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the Department of Veterans Affairs has made it more user-friendly to access the Veterans Crisis Line with Dial 988 then Press 1. VA has also awarded $20 million through Mission Daybreak, a grand challenge aimed at developing innovations to reduce Veteran suicides; granted more than $52 million to 80 community-based organizations through the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program; conducted an ongoing public outreach effort on firearm suicide prevention and lethal means safety; and leveraged a national Veteran suicide prevention awareness campaign, “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.”
- Information provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, May 22, 2023
Everett Cox is the father of a beautiful son. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1969, deploying to Viet Nam in the spring of 1969. He has worked most of his life as a laborer. He worked with the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Program for about 8 years and is now retired. He was introduced to Warrior Writers program in 2010 and began to participate in workshops in 2011. In 2012, he trained as a WW facilitator, eventually working with the Vet2Vet peer program.