My Firstborn Son – Stuart Terman

Geoffrey lived with me until age 3 when his mother and I divorced. I left, and could only visit him for a short time now and then from hundreds of miles away.

I’d travel to see him when I could afford it; the visits fewer, my evening stories, guidance certainly fading with the years.

One day, he called me one day from Florida, asking my opinion; “Dad, what do you think if I enlist?”

I thought for a few moments before answering. He wasn’t happy or satisfied with part time work/part-time college courses in Florida, where his mother had moved him, and that this new road might lead to…who knew where…?

I told him that enlisting might give him time to gather his thoughts, give him regular income, and perhaps let him see what path he wished to follow. I flew to Washington D.C. to see him off to his service location, give a few words of encouragement, wave as he bravely walked towards his overseas departure gate. I headed back to my Cleveland home an hour or two later that same day.

The letters he began to send to me after enlisting becoming more positive; he was being promoted and eventually sent to England, then to Afghanistan for the first of four ‘rotations’ in that far off land. His initial work was to patrol the area around the base.

His nights were spent in a small tent, other guys snoring, getting some rest as best as he could with the days blending together.

One day, after eating, Geoffrey carried his pack and his weapon to begin patrolling around the perimeter of the base, the ‘no man’s land’ between the base and the rest of the rocky landscaped country described to me in his letters, with the local towns just beyond view.

A loud noise in the distance caught his attention, and looking

across the cleared perimeter he saw two young men laughing, shooting towards two very frightened girls, The two men were clearly looking for laughs/entertainment.

A few moments of watching the frightened looks on the two girls—was enough for my son, who raised his weapon, aiming it at the two and shouting to them to “get the hell away or else…”

His forceful words; understood in ANY language, his gesturing/armed ferocious appearance in his full uniform/armor/with a raised and armed powerful weapon was enough for these two cowards who quickly ran away.

After a few moments the older of the two girls called in English to my son asking his name to thank him, and then both ran back to their home in the nearby village.

Several days passed when a worn-appearing man walked up to the heavily guarded main gate at the base. After being thoroughly screened, he asked politely if “Sergeant Terman is available, I’d like to thank him for saving my daughters.”

My son was called from his chores, and arrived at the gate to greet this man who was profuse in his gratitude, thanking him over and over for his unselfish help in rescuing his daughters.

Geoffrey quietly listened as this man, a tailor who also raised sheep, told him, “you must have a very fine Father. I’d like to give him a gift.” A coat, as was something he would make. My son described my 6-foot tall/thin frame/long arms/ appearance for this older tailor, who then said his goodbye’s and quietly walked back to his home, miles away from the Base.

Some weeks later Geoffrey was still at this Base, his ‘rotation’ ongoing seemingly forever, when the tailor arrived at the Gate with a package– thoroughly screened–that he asked to be given to my son.

Geoffrey ran to the gate to thank this man.  After bowing to my son, he thanked him again for saving his precious daughters.  “Please thank your dear Father with this gift from me.” Geoffrey promised and watched him walk back home, disappear from view.

The U.S. ‘AP0’ postmark on this carefully packed box that arrived at my home a month later confirmed that it was from the U.S. service, and inside I saw a beautifully made, perfectly fitted sheepskin coat with lush fur inside. I now rarely wear it, and only if it’s not raining.  It rests in a safe spot in my home, safe from the elements.

To be honest, though, I’m not all that great of a father, since my son, after and since his mother and I divorced when he was a small child. He just developed his own sense of decency, helpfulness, and resourcefulness pretty much by himself.

Should I ever meet that tailor in the great beyond I’ll be certain to tell him that the mitzva my son performed on that day was his and his alone. And the marvelous coat, so carefully made, should likely have been sized for a shorter, more muscular guy. A man who still calls me up to talk, and with a question once in a while.

Stuart Terman, M.D. was an assistant clinical professor/Ophthalmologist/Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. He’s had publications in Medical/Surgical/Literary/Poetry/Pediatric/Ophthalmology Journals.

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