It’s what you do after you shit your pants that counts.
My dad served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. His drill sergeant mentality provided me with an anxious childhood. I was an oops kid, an alleged happy accident who was spawned in the mid-autumn of his life. I also represented his sole attempt at fatherhood.
His military-steeped paternal advice was rough around the edges. But it was still potent.
One story that stuck with me was when he explained the narrow gap separating panic from courage. Based on his combat experience, he was well equipped to teach this lesson.
With casualties and change as constants in Vietnam, my dad would sometimes have a mix of seasoned veterans and fresh recruits in his fold. Often the newbies would be scared, and rightfully so. But many newer soldiers would feign toughness and claim to be unfazed, even if they were terrified.
Occasionally, one would confess their fears. My dad said he would make an example of them, but not in the way one might guess.
My dad would announce to everyone that he trusted the man who admitted to being afraid since he was courageous enough to be honest.
“There’s no shame in saying you’re scared. It’s the fools who are afraid but claim they aren’t who worry me — way more than someone who has accepted their truth.”
My dad often used this anecdote as a preface before talking about some battle that he couldn’t quite find the right words to describe. It’s such a tidy narrative that I wondered if it was even true. But the thing he wanted me to understand was the difference between being afraid and being brave.
“Being afraid is shitting your pants. Being brave means doing what must be done, even if there’s shit in your trousers.”
Okay, not the most G-rated advice for your kiddo. But I’ve never forgotten it.
We all fall prey to our fears. But we still need to deal with them.