Dad, what’s your greatest fear?


“What’s your greatest fear?”

She asked me this on a Sunday morning at Whataburger over a pancake platter. Her little eyes looked directly into mine through her smudged glasses, with no trace of irony or humor. She wanted to know.

In our family, we’ve made it a practice to answer questions seriously with honesty and directness. It does not matter what the subject is – race, sex, math, dish washing – we approach everything the same.

And with L, she’s ALWAYS asking questions. Sometimes, at night, we’re forced to ban questions until the morning. Her brain is just always on and wondering.

But jeez, it’s our Sunday morning date to Whataburger, and talking about my greatest fear is… not my favorite.

“Well, for me, I have always been afraid that I’ll get a life-threatening disease right after I retire from the Army.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know that I only have about 3 and a half years before I can retire from the Army and be a civilian again right?” She nods.

“My greatest fear is that I will have made it through three combat deployments, three years as a prison chaplain, I don’t know how many field exercises and trips away from you all – just to get cancer after I’ve finally finished and gotten my pension. I’ve seen it at the hospital, and it scares me. I don’t think I will, but that’s my fear.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful and then said, “my greatest fear is spiders. I do not like spiders. With their legs and swarming. Did you know a dolphin…”

(She is an Enneagram 7 after all. She does not stay long with pain.)

We’re moving soon. For Sara and myself it’s old hat, but for the kids, it is not getting easier with age. It’s getting harder. Questions always get darker when we get closer to a move. There is anxiety and fear; death lingers in the air. Moving is like a death. The last month is so painful. It’s just one goodbye after another.

I am grieving leaving here. We’ve been here longer than any other duty station, and it shows. We’ve settled. The kids have found their people. It’s been a good few years. I am grieving leaving the CPE center where I’ve been the director for the last year; I have spent the last decade working for this job and leaving it hurts. I know that going to my next assignment – working at the US Army Chaplain Center & School and setting up a new center for extended CPE – will be fulfilling, but that does not take away the sadness of leaving this one.

Death is always present in life. I think we often spend so much energy avoiding it, we miss out on the life that is here, in the now. At least I do. I fear dying after my career is over and my new one is starting. However, for me, owning that out loud is what it takes for me to attend to the death anxiety and be in the moment. Perhaps that’s what happened this morning: L and I observed our greatest fears… and then enjoyed our pancakes.

Be well.

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