Many of us remember the excellent movie "Saving Private Ryan" by Stephen Spielberg, featuring actor Tom Hanks. Your book reminds me of that movie.
That was one of my favorite movies. I must have seen it a dozen times.
The interesting thing about the movie is that it pictures battlefield drama interwoven with human drama. It's not a just war movie, nor is it just a human interest story.
"Cross in the Background" has many parallels to the movie. It speaks of the pre-war lives of the soldiers who fought, when they had hope. It speaks of the horror of war. It speaks of the post-war years of those who served and suffered.
Wars are fought by individual men and women, not armies. Oh yes, they are in the Army, or Navy, or Air Force, or Marines. But, they are men and women, each with his or her hopes and dreams.
The book is an inter-twining of several sub-themes:
- War & killing
- World War II
- Effects of combat on residual life
- Family relationships
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Futile medical and psychiatric attempts at curing PTSD
- Forgiveness and restoration
- Honoring your parents
- Recognizing that only God can heal and restore
I was expecting some general feedback. You, know. The book was well written. The book was not well written. Too short, too long. Not enough pictures.
The feedback I received shocked me. The publisher told me, "Gee, Randy...This book reminds me of my own dad. I could not put it down. I read it over the weekend. I could see him and me throughout the book. I think I need to visit him next weekend. There are so many things we need to square away."
That was encouraging to me. It is one thing to write a book to occupy a shelf, it is another to write a book that people will take to heart.
It speaks of hope and understanding. Hope, in the sense that God is the Great Healer and Forgiving Father. Understanding, in the sense that, while we may not understand PTSD, it is a serious mental disorder that affects millions of Americans each day, and their families. It touches not only on the crippling effects of war, but also on the immeasurable value of telling your child, "I love you."
So, tell me about the book.
My book is an account of two ruined lives. And, one healed life.
My father grew up in a poor family during the Great Depression. However, his exceptional athletic skills quickly propelled him to fame throughout the small Texas town of Taylor. In 1940, he was considered one of the best football players in the entire nation.
Then, World War II hit, and he entered military service, fighting in the Battle of Okinawa in the Pacific. His unit, the 96th "Dead-Eye" Army Division, suffered horrible losses in life, with most of the surviving soldiers suffering from severe combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My father suffered from the effects of that war for his entire life. Even at age 85, he had nightmares about being in a foxhole, awaiting yet another Japanese "banzai attack." This suffering bled over into the entire family, including me as his son.
Growing up, my relationship with my dad was...well...lousy. Actually, very lousy. And, my love for him was forced and, at times, non-existent.
After his death, I took the time to study his life. His military records. His medical records. And, importantly, my own reflection upon him over almost 60 years.
Thankfully, God allowed me to see my dad in a different light. Not the abusive father I knew as a kid, but as someone who had been emotionally crippled by a war that he did not want, and who did the best he could to try to raise his family under those circumstances.
Ultimately, God healed me. Fortunately, that healing began to occur while my dad was still alive. But, oh, to have another year with him...
So, why did you decide to write the book?
The best answer that I can give is based on what actually occurred.
When my father died in May 2009, I was not shocked. He was 85 years old, and his health was beginning to fail.
Several months before, in December 2008, my father told me something that I had been waiting to hear for almost 60 years—a simple, "Randy, I love you."
I knew he loved me, but growing up, I had developed a real bitterness towards him and a forced love. After hearing those words, my opinion of my father changed. He, suddenly, became my dad.
At his funeral, the US Army had a small honor guard. My love for my dad was real. Finally.
Afterward, I decided to write a couple of pages of "notes" for my two children, in a feeble attempt to explain to them a little about their weird, estranged grandfather. I noted some facts — the date and place of his birth, his high school background, etc.
Eventually, my two pages of notes became ten pages of notes, and then fifty pages of notes. By then, I had delved into his medical history, his military history, and his personal belongings, including all the clippings from his high school glamour days in which he was a football superstar in Taylor, Texas.
At lunch, I mentioned all of this to a close friend, and he suggested that I write a book. A book? Me? So, I did.
The book covers a spectrum of different topics, including my father's early childhood, his high school days, his military service, his post-military service, and his decades of medical and psychiatric treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It soon became a personal challenge to "figure him out."
I researched World War II, the Battle of Okinawa, the science and art of killing, and the science of psychiatry and psychology. More importantly, I researched my own childhood.
I then had the basis for my book. But, instead of writing a book from 1923 to 2009, in chronological order, I decided to force the reader to not only read, but to think. Think about the war. Think about PTSD. Think about parents and children. Think about good relationships and broken relationships. And, think about where God is in all of this.
The book discusses each of these areas at some length. But, the real focus is an attempt to not only understand my father, but to understand myself.
To me, the best part of the book is the last chapter. For it is in that final chapter that the real message comes across. That message is a message of love, grace, and mercy. And understanding. And forgiveness and restoration.
That message was penned by me.
That message was written by God.
Who would enjoy reading your book?
I suppose that the book would appeal to a lot of audiences — quite different audiences — those with friends and relatives who served in World War II, or who currently serve in military combat roles.
Those with friends and relatives who have suffered from PTSD.
And, of course, those readers who have fathers. Come to think of it, that's everyone! Readers whose fathers are deceased — they can reflect back on them. Readers whose fathers are still alive — they STILL have an opportunity to make things right. Readers whose fathers (or other relatives) served in World War II. Readers whose fathers (or other relatives) suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Readers who have not yet realized that God is in total control. Of atoms and molecules. Of the solar system and universe. Of our lives, if we let Him.
What lessons/information do you wish readers to come away with from your book?
Hope and understanding, for certain.
Hope, in the sense that God is the Great Healer and Forgiving Father.
Understanding, in the sense that, while we may not understand PTSD, it is a serious mental disorder that affects millions of Americans each day, and their families.
And, the crippling effect of war — war is fought by individuals, not armies.
What are your dominant themes in the book?
Whether we understand it or not, God exists, and He is there throughout our entire life. Sometimes we recognize Him, sometimes we do not.
God is the Great Healer. Aside from Him, we cannot be healed.
God is a Forgiving Father. Aside from Him, we cannot forgive, even those who are so close to us who have wrecked our lives.
God will be glorified, even in our triumphs and defeats throughout our lives.
As an individual, we should view our earthly fathers as: daddy, father, and dad. They are different. When God works in our lives, we can accept and enjoy our earthly father.
I understand you would like to offer a special "thank you" to some folks?
Yes, I would.
I would like especially to thank Mr. Kevin Tumlinson for his cover design. A great job, Kev!
I also want to thank the individuals I cited in the book, for their great insight and input, and wisdom.