I was raised a “military brat.” Armed service members, active and retired, will recognize the politically incorrect label, yet most “civilians” won’t. The simplest description I could find for this term is: A military brat is a child of serving or retired military personnel. Brats are associated with a unique subculture and cultural identity.
That last line was evidently written by someone with more education than me, because it went flying straight over my head. This seemingly offensive term left no deep psychological scars, and I still refer to myself as a military brat when discussing the childhood years. National Military Brats Day is officially on April 30th.
There’s one additional military term for us brats that I believe is more derogatory, although I find some humor in it. The word “dependent” was used quite often during Dad’s Air Force years. Almost every form he filled out had the following question,
“How many dependents?”
My father always wrote in three. Mom, my brother, and me were all dependents according to military statute. I remember him saying this, although not in these exact words,
“The higher the number of dependents the larger the paycheck.”
I never knew exactly what dependent meant, because Mom worked and supported us just the same as Dad, yet she was also considered a dependent on his forms. Only the military can explain that one.
When my older brother reached eighteen, he was no longer considered a dependent. That’s the year Jim turned in his military I.D. card. I don’t recall any kind of party afterwards to celebrate the grandiose occasion.
The same was supposed to happen with me four years later, only I’d lost my piece of identification. It’s too long ago to remember exactly what happened, but most likely I had to sign a bunch of government paperwork. Only recently did I find it stuck between pages of an old childhood book. Evidently, I’d used the card as a bookmark fifty years ago. Someone with Air Force security will probably now show up in our driveway, knocking on my door.
I sometimes wonder after so many years of military brainwashing, if Dad didn’t introduce us to strangers as, “These are my two dependents, Jim and Mike.” It might be a bit factitious for me to think that way, but then again, maybe not.
This afternoon, I was in the kitchen drying dishes when my Amazon parrots started squawking for something to eat. They do this daily, knowing that I’ll jump. We’ve been repeating the same routine going on forty years now. As I prepared them bowls of fresh vegetables and fruit, a thought suddenly came to mind that they were my dependents. If it wasn’t for me cleaning their cages, feeding and watering them, these guys wouldn’t survive.
Thinking back to my late Dad and his military days, I thought of Jet, Brutus, Ringo, and Fluffy. Those were pets that we had during childhood years. They depended on Dad as much as Jim and I, because his meager paychecks helped purchase their dog and cat food. Why my father didn’t mark down seven dependents on those forms instead of three is beyond me.
My wife tells me that the IRS still brings up that dependent question on tax forms. I wouldn’t know because her and the tax people have been taking care of that job for close to forty-five years. Joleen says she now marks the box with a zero, doing so after both kids left the nest. Unlike what Dad did with Mom, she’s not able to count herself.
Tax time is here, and I suggested that Joleen declare three dependents this year, one for Simon the Pekingese, two for Jess & Aldo, our parrots. I believe that would allow for a rare refund. Worth a try in my mind, yet she wants no part of such an unlawful experiment.
With the crazy way this country’s been going, making it legal to declare pets as dependents might seem a bit goofy, yet not any more so than several recent court rulings regarding men being allowed to compete in women’s sports. I suppose someone from “opinion enforcement” will now come knocking at my door for even thinking that!