Out There: The Army...again

As my second son is set to join the armed forces next month, I realize – again – that it is indeed important to be careful what you wish for.

Drawing  by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Drawing by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
‘Son,” I said to my yeshiva- learning, desert-walking, rock-climbing, hitchhiking, motorcycle- wannabe-riding third child the other day, “I’ll worry about you less in the army.”
The boy, the one known affectionately as Skippy, laughed. I was only half-joking.
It’s crazy, but true. I will worry less than I do now when my Easy Rider of a freedom-loving son is in the clutches of the IDF’s framework.
Now, he hitchhikes to get to his yeshiva in Eilat; the army will give him a free bus-pass and put him in jail if they catch him thumbing a ride.
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Now, he goes on long hikes in the desert unsupervised and without a medic tagging alongside; in the army he’ll go on the treks with many others, including medics, and be forced to carry multiple canteens.
Now, he’s taking motorcycle-riding lessons in the hopes of getting a two-wheeler license; in the army, he won’t have much time to ride.
But still… As my second son is set to join the armed forces next month, I realize – again – that it is indeed important to be careful what you wish for.
For with all my concern now, it will pale in comparison to having to worry about him getting called into Gaza, or going into Lebanon.
But all that scary stuff is far off into the future. For the next few months, its all basic training – which is not that bad (especially if it’s my son, and not me, doing that training) – and trying to get into the unit he wants.
In other words, here we go again.
SOME FIVE YEARS after my oldest son, The Lad, finished the army, his younger brother is going in. And then, within the next two years, his younger brother will follow him. Oh, goody.
One thing I learned from The Lad’s experience is that the army is a lot longer than you think.
You think it’s three years, but its much more – and that’s even if the kid doesn’t become an officer or sign up for more than the mandatory three-year stretch.
First, there is the post-high school, pre-army yeshiva or mechina stint, which can extend from one year (The Lad) to three years (Skippy).
Then there is the three years in the army itself. Then there is the six-monthto- one year post-army trek. Then there is coming back from Nepal but just missing the cut-off date for applications for the next academic year. Then there is the psychometric test to take, and the six-month course to prepare for that.
Add that all up, and it’s about six years from the moment the kid graduates high school to the time he finishes the army, decompresses and is ready to start college. And then, only three, four or five years after he starts college, will “real life” begin.
On a Shabbat visit two years ago to my son’s yeshiva in Eilat, the head of the yeshiva gathered all the visiting parents together and said the students were encouraged to go for the “five-five plan” – five years in yeshiva, five years in the army.
I gasped, The Wife choked, and a teary-eyed woman next to us raised her hand and said that while that sounded like a perfectly splendid plan, she did have one small question: “When are they supposed to get married and get on with the rest of their lives?” “What’s the rush?” the yeshiva head asked.
I gasped, The Wife choked and the teary-eyed woman shed even more tears. But Skippy, well Skippy can relate to all that.
Actually, we’re not from the great rushers, The Wife and I. We’re not from the school of thought that believes the earlier the degrees, the earlier the weddings, the earlier the jobs, the better.
Never have been.
When I was a kid my folks didn’t force me to go looking for summer jobs too young, saying I should enjoy the summers because I’d be working for the rest of my life. I internalized that philosophy; adopted that motto.
Life in this country has enough built-in pressures already, no need to pile it on by telling the kids to get on with it already.
So we don’t; and they don’t.
One of my neighbors, curious as to when our children will get married, inquired about it the other day.
“When they’re ready,” The Wife responded.
“No pressure.”
“Well, maybe they need some pressure,” came the reply.
Nah, that’s not our style. What’s the rush? Everything in good time. I actually think our ancestors came from Jamaica, not Russia-Poland.
NOW, HOWEVER, IT IS THE ARMY’S time again. Truth be told, it’s a little different this time around because – as a result of The Lad’s experience – The Wife and I have a much better idea of what to expect.
We know that the transition is not wildly dramatic, that the boy does not immediately go from warm cocoon straight into the jaws of danger.
We know that we won’t be talking with him that much for the first few months, and that even when we do, the only word out of his mouth will probably be “sababa” (cool).
We know that the army is not all pain, misery and boredom, but also great camaraderie, character-building personal challenges and regular meals. We also know a lot more about the army’s many acronyms, and the different units.
Skippy’s journey into the IDF has already tested us, placing The Wife and me in a dilemma of having to decide whether we want what is good for us and will make us happy, or what is good for him and will make him happy.
We wouldn’t have minded if he ended up with a cushy office job, and were thus not devastated when his first medical exams gave him a medical profile that would keep him out of harm’s way.
He, however, was distraught – and fought tooth-and-nail to raise his medical profile.
As a parent, you’re torn: Do you want your son’s army medical profile to be lower, something that will enable you to sleep easier; or do you hope he wins the battle to raise the profile, opening up all kinds of combat vistas, something he desperately wants? “Either way we lose,” I told The Wife.
“Either we get what we want and he is miserable, or he gets what he wants and we are miserable.”
But that’s not really true. The bottom line, of course, is that you want your kid to be happy, even if his happiness might cause you some heartache.
Well, at least in theory. 
A collection of the writer’s Out There columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.bookdepository.com.