The Road to Recognition: Déjà vu all over again

So I’m the parent of a Doolie, the new kids on the block. But I should probably have an asterisk next to my name.

Having had a son who graduated from the Naval Academy, I’m not exactly a rookie to the experience. There’s plenty I don’t understand about USAFA – its traditions, etc. – but there are some things that feel quite familiar.

For the Doolies, Recognition is the goal line, much like the Herndon Climb is for the Naval Academy’s Plebes. Now that we’ve crossed the 40-days until Recognition threshold, the intensity is increasing. Oh, for the Doolies? Sure. But I was speaking about the parents.

The struggle doesn’t end when BCT is over. Like most of academy life, it evolves.

The tone of the Facebook posts in the parents’ groups has slowly evolved. There’s the initial mix of pride of their child entering the academy and the anxiety of losing touch with them for several weeks. The subtle melancholy of separation is eased by a brief Thanksgiving break and the extended time together over Christmas. This paralleled my experience at USNA.

As the Dark Ages approached, I saw the same mood change in my daughter that I had seen in my son some five years prior. She knew what was coming. And she wasn’t going to like it. It would be especially difficult after a few weeks of sleeping in, binge-watching The Simpsons, and dining (and snacking) on her favorite foods. I knew the calls home the next few months would be a bit more strained with fewer “funny things that happened.”

And I knew the Facebook posts would follow suit. That’s because I’ve come to appreciate the relentless rhythm of life as an academy parent. No matter what else is going on, the wheels at a military academy keep churning. I-Day, A-Day, Fall Sports, Winter Break, Dark Ages, Spring Break, Service Selection … they all happen like clockwork. For the parents, too.

The Doolie parents follow, too. The level of concern has continued to increase, whether it’s unheard of demerit points to possibly pushing Recognition down the road a few weeks to switching companies a year earlier. Some parents wring their hands, others brush it all off, some offer words of support. There is no right way to handle it, much like there is really no wrong way to handle it … well, I can think of a few, but nothing within reason.

You see, I’ve come to believe in several mantras during my time as an academy parent and one of them is “your experience is the right experience.” There are more than 1,000 Doolies at USAFA. Each one is wired differently. So are their parents.

As a Plebe parent, I spent nine months wringing my hands. Plebe Summer was six weeks of stress-induced insomnia and was followed by a Fall Semester of only slightly lesser anxiety. Each semester that passed, I became calmer, though there were plenty of reasons to stress and lose sleep. Yet, they bothered me less and less. By the time our son was a Firstie, things would happen that two years earlier would have caused a panic, would cause me to shrug my shoulders and say “because … Navy.”

My daughter is having her own experience as a Doolie. And I am a much different passenger for the ride than I was for my son. She gets upset just like he did, but my responses tend to be more measured, less reactionary. It’s a different experience, but for us, it’s the right experience.

I hope other parents are able to embrace that. If someone’s cadet is having the time of his/her life, there’s no reason they shouldn’t celebrate that, just as there’s no reason for another parent to get upset that their cadet is struggling. For the latter, don’t feel like you’re missing out – it’s your experience. I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to relive the emotions of my first year as an academy parent. But I wouldn’t give up that year for the world. It was my experience and just like yours, it was the right experience.


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