This last deployment, my dad had two homecomings; one for his R&R and one for his final homecoming. Both were difficult for very different reasons. For the first homecoming, I had to tell him something that I knew would hurt him. I had to completely miss the second homecoming. This was a new experience for all of us, considering I had been at every single one until that point. On both occasions life had gotten in the way of having a homecoming like I remember from my childhood.
The first homecoming was over winter break of my sophomore year in college. I flew into Memphis first, and had a couple of days to talk with my mom about how we were going to approach telling my dad what I had to tell him. We decided not to let on that anything was wrong until after he settled in for the first night back in his house. We went to the airport and got special permission to be at the gate when he walked off the plane. This was another new experience for us because the homecomings of our past included a whole squadron and all of their family members. This time, however, it was just my mom, me, and my brother standing next to a mom waiting for her young son to come visit her for the holidays.
Dad was one of the last people off of the plane. When he walked through the gate, I waited patiently for Mom to hug him first. This was different from when we were younger as well. When Nick and I were younger, we used to run out to greet him, and Mom would follow us. Even though so many things were different this time around, Dad still brought us a memento of his travels just like he used to when we were kids. He handed each of us a coin good for one tour of the Eiffel Tower; he said that all we had to do was get there like it was no big deal. We all walked to the car arm in arm, all four of us, together again. Mom and I were acting like everything was fine, which in that moment it was. Unlike those early homecomings my dad came home to a daughter who had not simply grown a few inches, but had grown up in a way a father never hopes his daughter has to.
For the second homecoming, I was in the middle of taking the last set of my finals for my sophomore year in college. I was crushed when I found out that I could not be at the airport when he flew in after 13 long months. There was no way I could ask him to stay there longer in order for me to finish my finals. He was ready to come home, so I waited to see him. While taking my exams, I missed the airport and the welcome home party. I eventually got one weekend with my family. It was only a weekend because other family members like his mother were demanding to see him. It worked out because I was busy training for my new summer job and moving apartments. He was thrown right back into Dad duties and built me a dresser for my apartment. This homecoming did not have a black cloud hanging over it like the last one; it was simply practical for all parties involved. My father and I were in separate parties for this occasion.
So many things had changed; these homecomings were not what I remembered them to be like. It seemed like the world had stopped when I was younger and he was coming home. There was not a care in the world and every minute felt like an hour during the countdown. I am different now; besides being older I live on the other side of the country. Even though my family is still my rock I have created a universe where they are only a part of it and not the center like they used to be. Life has a way of making you move forward even when you want to stop and smell the roses.
Erin Anding was born while her father was going though flight school to become a Naval pilot. She graduated UCSB in Spring of 2014 with a degree in Psychology and is currently a law student at the University of Hawaii.