When I left home and joined the Marines, I did so, partly because I wanted to be part of an elite group of people with higher standards for life. When I returned home 8 years later, I made the mistake of forgetting this. I was in for a real shocker when all around me I saw my family experiencing problems for which I saw simple solutions. Being trained to have initiative I would go quickly to work trying to fix everything. Bad mistake.
The same problems veterans experience with civilians, are not exempt from family members.
Unless you just happen to have a very tight family, Godfather style, your family will not only not care for your help, it will see it as a source of your weakness. This is not based on my own personal experience alone, this is based on the pattern of experience I observed with half a dozen other veterans I know, including close friends.
Knowing that I would have the G.I. Bill to supplement me for cost of living expenses, I offered my dad ALL OF IT, which was $2000 a month, to rent a room in his 5 bedroom house. My dad didn’t have a steady income for the past several years and I saw this as an opportunity to give back to my dad and help with my half brother and sister. Bad mistake.
My father saw this as a failure into transitioning into adulthood.
I don’t know what made me think it was a good idea to go back home. I ran away from home to start off on my own life’s adventure, happy to be free from a dysfunctional household, and 8 years later I thought I could just come back and it would all have been left in the past. Yet, I was still lucky. I knew it was bad in the past, and I just had remind myself. Other friends of mine were not so lucky.
One of my best friends went home, to small town America, and inherited not just his family’s debt, but also their drama. He quickly got to doing handy work around the house, was quick to get a union job to start providing, and he was just as quick to develop ulcers. When we would catch up on the phone, talks were no longer about cute girls, they were about how everything was his fault and how he couldn’t do anything right. His mistake was also going back home, surely none of the problems he was tackling were his, and surely he was never going to fix them.
I too did handy work for my aunt. Her yard had been looking like a junk yard for YEARS. I could not understand how a member of our family was allowed to have a yard like this. I could not comprehend how my father lived only a few minutes away and was okay with his sister living like this. Part of the reason her yard was so trashed was her husband had gone blind, the other I just don’t know. My aunt also had two adult sons. Where the hell were they? All of it was so shocking for me, having come from a culture that demanded you take initiative to fix that which is broken and that you work as a TEAM.
It took me approximately three days to de-clutter her yard. I never expected a thanks or any compensation for this.
I did other acts like this, at one point even did an overnight run to pick up my meth head cousin from Las Vegas because her mother had just died and needed help getting on her feet. Problem was, everyone knew she was meth head except for me. Bad mistake.
Here’s the point.
When you are a transitioning veteran, you don’t have time to be fixing other people’s problems. You need to get yourself fixed first. Unless you come from a good family, that is a family that serves as an example for other families to follow, you are better off staying away. Same goes with old friends. The culture difference is vast and you are no longer the same person you were when you initially left. All of these things will be figured out eventually, but the point is to not inherit unnecessary responsibility.
As a transitioning veteran, your focus should be on getting yourself situated. In the military, your rank and billet told others a lot about who you were, in the civilian world no one knows you. To everyone else, including your family, you are NOBODY unless you have money and material goods. Transitioning means your assets are limited therefore, your respect will be limited. Essentially, you are a bum.
If I had my own house, a career, and a couple cars, cleaning up my aunts house would have been welcomed and she probably would have made me some dinner. When I went to visit my brother and sister, my dad would have probably had a barbecue. Instead, anything I did that I considered “helpful” was interpreted cynically as me asking for charity because I was unemployed and only owned a used car.
I was the equivalent of that homeless dude cleaning windshields by the freeway.
The time I wasted could have been used much more fruitfully. I could have read “What Color is Your Parachute” and learned how to properly interview for jobs. I could have spent more time planning out my future, researching my fiancee’s paperwork and green card requirements to help her transition as well. I had plenty of things to do. PLENTY. All I had to do was just ignore what already been there all along before I had ever showed up.
Then there are the problems which we create for ourselves. New pets, new cars, new toys, new loans. All of these are unnecessary burdens. One of the best decisions I made was to get a used car. The loan cost me 165 dollars a month. One of the worst was getting a rescue dog. I hate to admit it, but its true. I estimated I could hold out for a year of unemployment and I did. But then I was still unemployed afterwards. Having to care for a dog became a heavy burden.
Worry about self. You can’t help others unless you are in a position to do so. When you are transitioning from the military, you are not in a position to help anyone. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Being selfish goes against our entire moral fiber. The key is this: You don’t know how to provide value, yet. As a transitioning veteran, you are almost the same as an immigrant but you don’t realize this because you think you are the same as everyone around you.
Immigrants don’t have time do many things other people do. They have to learn a new culture, learn a new language, get a new education, get new titles and certifications (often in subjects they already know), and they have to do so while being considered dumb and backwards.
So there it is, the third thing transitioning Veterans should avoid: Unnecessary Burdens.
To end positively, the way I succeeded in transitioning from the military was by sticking to my own kind: other Veterans. We are all out here and happy to help each other.