birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


We're all subject to the whims of fate — the job we didn't get, the epic evening out we turned down, the chance encounter we didn't pursue.

My dad had an epic what-if when he was in his 20s. I don't know if he knows how signficant the path not taken was — he seems kind of ambivalent when asked, even as he recounts all the attendant detail and the life changes that followed in its wake — but to me it's practically my family's Marty McFly "Back to the Future" pivot in time moment.

I think about all the ensuing ripples in time and the resultant anchoring points for dozens, maybe hundreds, of people, and want to ask: "WTF, Dad!?"

In his 20s, back in the 1950s, my dad — no doubt like many a kid looking to find his place in the world and see more of that world in the process — enlisted in the military. He was in the Navy, and from what I've heard of his stories and seen in the online and email postings of his shipmates, it was definitely an adventure.

The sub he served on, the Tang, took him all around the world, from Japan to the Arctic Circle. He was part of that post WWII cadre of serviceman who patrolled during the early phases of the emerging Cold War, and while the weight of that moment in time is clear to him, he really remembers that period of his life for the camaraderie of his shipmates, the ports of call, and the discipline it brought to his younger self.

He remembers Tokyo, his first camera, trying sake before he'd ever heard the term, and the temples and landscapes he saw. He remembers the close berths of the sub's quarters for the enlisted men, though little of the officers who commanded the boat. He still loves naval history and will tour any sub or ship around when the opportunity arises.

But the part he let slip years ago, sometime when I was just out of college and my folks were visiting California from the Midwest, was that he also visited Hawaii. In the 1950s. Before tourism became widespread.

He said he loved the islands. He was numbed by the weight of the memorials to those navy men lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He, a Chicago boy who had endured many a hard winter, loved the Hawaiian weather and the laid-back vibe. He saw surfing in its early days. He loved (and still does, like I do) the water.

And when he tells these stories, he recalls, almost in passing, how he had an opportunity to stay and build a new life in Hawaii. Some buddy had some business idea and asked him to partner on it.

Where I would now think this as a weighty decision, full of import for the future and opportunity for growth, he seems to dismiss it as a relatively minor choice.

Hawaii. Before it became the Hawaii of today and grew to become America's oasis. Hawaii, when it was all potential. Hawaii, of year-round wonderful weather.

He wanted to come home to Chicago, to his large family. The the known.

I still revisit this conversation with him from time to time. I probe to see if he feels the major pivot that moment could have been for him.

I want to Marty McFly that choice, and drop in and see my dad and understand what he was thinking.

Are almost, were almost

 Big Bang Theories