Frank Schaeffer, Keeping Faith

Well, good afternoon everybody. This is your friendly guide thanking you for joining me. You know, the other night there was a report on the news about the value of imbedded reporters in the war with Iraq. And the report essentially said that an entire generation of journalists have had no exposure to military life, and for the first time they were actually being introduced to the world they had never known, the world of the military. And I was reminded of comments made by Randall Wallace when I interviewed him on his movie, When We Were Soldiers. And he said something to the effect that soldiers are human beings. We tend to ignore that because the rest of society is so removed from what soldiers do and have to do, and what they experience. Soldiers come from our society. They are us. Well, a lot of us, as boomers anyway, know what it means to be absent of military experience in our personal life.
Q. And our next guest has written a book that has been described as an
extraordinary accomplishment. It is the story of a father who never served in the military and a son who joins the Marines. It’s written by novelist Frank Schaeffer, whose novels, Portofino and Saving Grandma, have established him as a great writer, and as a voice to be heard. This book is titled Keeping Faith, published by Carroll & Graf. And thanks for joining us, Frank. I appreciate it.
A. Hey, it’s good to be with you, Dick.
Q. Now, did I hear that you were on Oprah recently?
A. Yeah. I was on Oprah this week.
Q. Really.
A. Yeah.
Q. And how did that go?
A. It went great. I mean, they sent a crew out to my house and they shot around
here for two days. And then, you know, she interviewed me a little bit. And then in the after-Oprah show we talked for about another 20 minutes on her cable channel so that, you know, we got-we got a good shot.
Q. What is it that people are connecting to in this book? What is it that she
connected to?
A. Well, let’s see. Where to start. I mean, I guess this-I guess this book tells the
story of a guy who lived, as I describe it in the book, in-in the Volvo-driving, higher- education worshipping, Northshore Boston. And, you know, I write novels for a living. So in writing Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, first of all, it’s non-fiction, and that’s a departure. Secondly, I-I co-wrote it with my son, John, who is now a corporal in the Marine Corps. And really it tells the story about a family who had never imagined one of their kids going into the military, whose other two children went ¢€œ in the case of my family ¢€œ my older son went to Georgetown and my daughter went to New York University. John wanted to go into the Marine Corps right out of high school, right out of a swanky private school. And I had never served in the military, and-and to be frank, the children of the members of my economic class, white, educated, “’60s-generations types” usually don’t serve, at least not around here in Massachusetts.
Q. Yeah.
A. These days we leave military service to other people’s sons and daughters. So
I guess what people are connecting to with-with Keeping Faith is really three things. One, it’s a personal story about a father who loves his son and the son who loves his father fighting all through the last summer. The kid’s at home, I didn’t like his girlfriend, I didn’t want him to go into the Marines.
Q. Yeah.
A. We had all kinds of trouble. So I was learning too, not only about the Marine
Corps, but something about my son and how to respect him. And then the-the other element is this whole reconsideration of class in the military. I mean, why do we assume, for instance that, you know, Chelsea Clinton or-or Jenna Bush aren’t going to volunteer for the military, whereas it doesn’t surprise us if we hear that the guy who works down at the gas station has a son in the military.
Q. Yeah.
A. But you know, what’s happened to our country? I mean, in World War II
everybody did the heavy lifting, not just the ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ you know, not just the people who, you know, were in the less-educated
echelons of the society. So you know there’s this issue. And then I think the third thing, of course, is because of 9/11. And we wrote our book, by the way, before 9/11.
Q. Yeah.
A. And after 9/11 and now Iraq, of course, anything to do with a kid in the
military is pretty topical. And my son’s been deployed, he’s out there in the Middle East now, so of course I’m getting some sleepless nights. And you put all that together and all of a sudden we’ve got a book that’s, you know, selling very well.
Q. Well, timing is everything.
A. That’s right.
Q. And your timing couldn’t have been better, even though you-your-your timing
pre-dated what marketing people would have said would’ve driven a great-selling book.
A. That’s right.
Q. You know, what was it that made you decide to write the book? I mean,
everybody can understand a book like this after 9/11. What was it that happened with the two of you, with your son and you, that made you feel like, hey, we ought to write a book?
A. Well, here’s the deal. John, my son, began to write me some very descriptive
letters from boot camp.
Q. Yeah. By the way, he is a very good writer.
A. Yeah. And we kept those letters. And then after he left boot camp, he went
on to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where military intelligence people are trained, and he did some further training. And when he was out there we started trading e-mails. And you know, after a few months of this I said to him, You know, John, at some point I’m going to use this material in a book, whether it’s a novel or something else. And then a little while later I said, Hey, that’s crazy. You know, we’re writing this book now. Let’s just keep going and treat it that way.
Q. Wow.
A. And so I-I started editing it together and-and John started, you know, sending
me bits and pieces to fill in information. And-and actually, just as-as coincidence would have it, I had planned a meeting with him to do some final editorial work where he was stationed in Pensacola at the time on September 11.
Q. Wow.
A. And, of course, all flights were cancelled. And my plane down, you know,
that I didn’t re-book for the 12th, was finally re-booked for the 14th. And we got together and the whole world had changed. And the rest is history, you know.
Q. You know, in an interesting sort of way¢â‚¬¦ And folks, one of the things
that I loved about this book is it is a¢â‚¬¦ It operates at a number of levels. At one level it’s simply a great story of a father/son bond and the testing of that bond through a variety of circumstances. And I found it useful to me because I have teenage kids and I’m going through some of this same stuff. So even if I wouldn’t have been interested in the-in the military aspect of the book, it was very revelatory. But-but it also strikes me that it was a great way to develop an ongoing relationship with a son who had gone out, established his individual identity, and yet here you are a father and son that want to have an ongoing relationship. What a great way to do it.
A. Right. Yeah. I mean, I have to tell you, if you said, How did you write the
Book? I explained a moment ago, but the reason that we wrote Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, is really simple. And that is, it was my way of keeping track of my boy. I did not want John to go slipping into a world of which I knew nothing.
Q. Yeah.
A. So call me a controlling Jewish mother, or call me a, you know, an overly
indulgent father, but I didn’t want John drifting off into a world which I had no contact with. So I wanted to come up with a project, any excuse, whether it was trading e-mails or writing a book, whatever ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ to stay very close to him. And you know, the thing is, too ¢€œ our last
summer, as anybody will see who reads the book ¢€œ in Keeping Faith I’ve been pretty straightforward and honest about the fact that we were, you know, we were having a rough time. I didn’t like his girlfriend, we had a lot of fights.
Q. Good old Erica.
A. Good old Erica. A lot of-a lot of back and forth. And-and really, part of this
story was just our attempt at restoring our relationship ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ which had always been there through-through writing to each other.
Q. Well you know, and that’s the reassuring thing in this-this book is you had a-
you had a-a-a dynamic relationship with this kid from the time he was young, but he was-it was a great relationship. And-and all of us as parents go through times when our kids are trying to establish their individual identity where, in his case, he both joined the Marines and thought he, you know, was very interested in Erica. So the summer that you had hoped would be the summer where you’re having your final time together, he’s having it with somebody else who doesn’t happen to like you, and doesn’t want to be part of your family. And-and the good news in this story is that as he heads off to the Marines, he learns how important his family is to him. He knew it before, but¢â‚¬¦ And it became a clarifying moment for him. So all of us that go through that with our kids, whether your kid joins the military or what, it’s that relationship you’ve built as a child. And for goodness sakes, you can see in the things he says how much he loved and respected you. You-you went to every one of his-his meets as an-as an athlete.
A. That’s right.
Q. Even-even the cross-country meets, he says.
A. That’s right.
Q. So you had built a bond, and it got tested, and it turned out to be very strong.
A. It was. And I think the story of Keeping Faith on one level is the story of a
father and son’s relationship that is, then, that goes through a tough time of testing and then comes out restored. And oddly enough, through him being in the US Marine Corps. You know¢â‚¬¦
Q. I’ll tell you what. We’re going to take a quick break, Frank. We’ll pick up
there when we come back.
We’re visiting with Frank Schaeffer who, with his son John, wrote the
book Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps. It’s in all the bookstores, it’s available online, pick up a copy. You’ll love this read, published by Carroll & Graf. The book is Keeping Faith. We’ll be right back.
(Break.)
Well, welcome back everybody. We’re visiting this afternoon with Frank Schaeffer. With his son, John Schaeffer, he wrote the book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps. It’s-it’s just a wonderful read.
Q. We were talking about the bond that had been established with John that was
tested and found strong. Let’s get acquainted with John a little bit. I mean, first of all, as a child there were indications that he was the adventurous kind of Marine-quality guy. I mean, the story of the snake, the story of poison ivy, the story of the rockets. Tell us a few of those stories.
A. Well you know, I mean, John-John is the kind of a kid who, you know, I was
trying to sum up in the very first pages of the book.
Q. Yeah.
A. And, you know, the best thing I can do is just¢â‚¬¦ These are very short
vignettes, but the book actually starts this way. And it-it begins with just trying to give a picture of my son. And I-I write this in the first page. “When John was newly born, his hair damp, smelling sweet, the nurse placed his long body in my arms and then, bless her, forgot us while Genie slept. I held him until the sun set and the stuffy room grew dark. John, age 5, running in from the garden on a bright spring day, ¢â‚¬ËœLook Dad, I caught a snake. He’s on my thumb. Look, Dad.’ A four-foot garter snake was hanging in a writhing black and yellow coil from John’s five-year-old pink little thumb. John’s eyes were wide with pain and delight. ¢â‚¬ËœSee, Dad.’ ¢â‚¬ËœJohn, the snake is biting you.’ John grinning, ¢â‚¬ËœThat’s how I caught him.’
Q. That’s a great story.
A. Yeah. John, age 11, in full battle regalia, charging over the sand dunes on
Plum Island, ambushing a pack of friends. They didn’t think I’d attack through the poison ivy. So you know, that’s my kid. But the thing is, you know, John was an interesting case because, you know, I mean, this is a guy who was winning track meets and then going straight from there to a poetry reading at the local library ¢€œ
Q. Yeah, exactly. There’s another¢â‚¬¦
A. ¢€œ reading his poems. You know, so he’s-he’s not-he’s not your gung ho, you
know, I mean¢â‚¬¦ One interesting thing about John’s childhood was that he never hung out with any particular group. I mean, you’d see this big, big giraffe-like, you know, six-foot-something kid loping along next to some little nerdy guy with thick glasses who would be his best friend on one instance. And then on some other instance he’d be out there with another athlete. In other words ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ he was, you know, he¢â‚¬¦
Q. Well, he’s something of a Renaissance kid.
A. Yeah. And also, you know, it’s interesting. He was much more of a Marine
than you’d think. I mean the public image of the Marine Corps is these sort of tough, you know, guys. But I think if anybody who reads Keeping Faith will see at the end there that, you know, here are these Marines. And there’s this female Marine who’s pregnant and who they’re making sure she’s getting her vitamins and, you know ¢€œ
Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. ¢€œ because, you know, their mom gave them examples of, you know, what
good prenatal care is. I mean, there’s a lot about the Marine Corps, and the community of people in it, and the love they have for each other and their families that I think people just don’t get unless they’ve been around it.
Q. Even that, though, was-was precursed. There’s a wonderful story in here
about him as an athlete. And he was, you know, best on the team. But he was a very loyal friend. He had a friend named Forbes ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ and he was holding back. And you had a conversation with him about why
in practice isn’t he giving it everything. And-and it indicated his commitment to friendship. Talk about that.
A. Yeah. There’s a passage in the book where I was just trying to figure out who
this kid was and why he had joined the Marine Corps, and his-his-his idea of team spirit and, you know, never leave a man behind was there before he was a Marine. It’s kind of set in him. There was this guy who was on the track team who could not run as fast as John on the cross-country team. And I noticed John in practices always let this guy come in ahead of him. And he’d come in sixth and John would come in seventh. And they cut after seven because the track team for cross-country is seven men. So I kept saying to John, why don’t you beat him in the-in the practice runs and in the intramural meets? And he’d say, No, no, you know, it’s fine. I’m just¢â‚¬¦ And I pushed him and pushed him until finally he admitted it. And he said, Look, Dad, I do lots of sports and, you know, but this is the one event Forbes can compete in. He says, If I beat him, he might get cut. But if-but if-but if I-if I push him a little bit from behind, I can help keep him on the team.
Q. Yeah.
A. So you know, this was my kid. I mean, you know, and I was just thinking to
myself after he went into the Marine Corps, you know, they talk about each Marine watching the other Marine’s back. I mean, John was very in tune to that.
Q. Yeah, yeah. He-he was a smart kid who didn’t really like school that much.
And you handled it really well. I-I was thinking about that as I think about my own kids. You have these ideas of what your kids ought to do.
A. Right.
Q. And-and he was capable of the work, but you had him in two different private
schools, one of which he basically just went 10/12 weeks without doing any of his homework.
A. Yeah. I mean John, you know, John’s idea of life at about age 14 was to sit
up all night reading the books he would be interested in, and then fail to read the five pages and write a one-page essay on a report on something the teacher wanted him to read.
Q. Yeah, but see¢â‚¬¦
A. And-and invariably the books he was reading were-were, you know, better
books or ahead of the mark of what the teacher wanted him to read. But it was impossible. I mean, you know, he’d be too tired to go to school because he had been up reading all night, you know, a history of Winston Churchill, and they had been wanting him to write something. He was just bored out of his mind ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and wouldn’t do it.
Q. Well you know, this is a great story of be careful what you teach your kids
and model them because they may actually do it.
A. Right.
Q. Because you show up, Frank, in this book in him in so many interesting ways.
First of all, there’s the rocket fights they used to have with fireworks. And you thought this was great fun and-and mom thought this was nuts. And now later on this kid grows up to think this is still great fun.
A. That’s right.
Q. Or you talk about here he is at 18, he goes out and joins the Marines without
permission.
A. Yup.
Q. He gets in a¢â‚¬¦ He’s kind of on his own journey. He gets in a relationship
with this Erica, and you’re-you’re frightened that he’s going to do something, frankly, as-as crazy as you did at that age.
A. That’s right.
Q. Talk a bit about your own background at this age and why you felt kind of
muted in speaking too boldly to him because, after all, like father like son.
A. Listen. You know, John, as I talk about in the book Keeping Faith here, you
know this father-son story about love and the United States Marine Corps, when I would talk to him as a teenager and say, hey, you know, watch out, what I really had to tell him was, don’t do what I did. Listen, when I was 17, and my wife that I’ve been married to now for 33 years was 18, I got her pregnant with who then turned out to be our beautiful daughter, Jessica.
Q. And this, by the way, for people that know about L’Abri, this is all happening
at L’Abri, right?
A. Yeah, oh yeah. Right in the middle of a big Christian ministry there. And-
and God bless my parents, you know, they neither judged me nor sensored me or tossed me out or made me embarrassed, they just were very loving and took Genie in. And we got married and everything had a happy ending, although there were a lot of big struggles because we were just kids having kids.
Q. Yeah.
A. But you know, in the book I talk all about that in the context of a father now
being terrified of what the kid is going to do that is now his age, and sort of wishing that I had my Dad back, who died in 1984, to kind of say, Hey Dad, I guess-I guess this is payback time. You know, I got Genie pregnant and John has joined the Marine Corps without my permission.
Q. Yeah.
A. You know, somewhere you’re laughing over this. But basically what’s
interesting about both stories, the support I got as a teenager when I got Genie pregnant before we were married, the support John got in our family was that actually, you know, love, I mean, mushy as this may sound, love does conquer all.
Q. Absolutely, absolutely.
A. My parents ¢€œ the love and support they gave me as a Christian mother and
father, and the love and support John got from us and that he had gotten through his childhood actually then went out so that, you know, the funny thing is in-in comparison to me, you know, John has been an absolute model citizen. I mean, he wanted¢â‚¬¦ You know, I was getting somebody pregnant and he was going off to defend his country. You know, which kid would you rather be raising? So I look back on my own life in the context of my boy and I realize, you know, this guy has actually done the right thing, whereas I was just giving my parents nightmares. And he actually did something about serving that, you know, makes me so very proud that, you know, when I went down to Parris Island, as I describe in the-the book and-and saw him graduate, it was honestly the proudest moment of my life. And I felt very small, kind of alien to all the selflessness around me, and really felt that I was unworthy to be standing so casually on the ground that these guys had trained on and into which so many, you know, millions of gallons of sweat had soaked. You know.
Q. Wow. That’s where we’re going to pick up next because something new
happens. Father and son both change when son, John, is at Parris Island. We’re going to talk about that.
What a great timely opportunity to understand our relationships with our
kids, understand them on the backdrop of today’s military. We’re going to be back with more of Frank Schaeffer who, with his son John, wrote the book Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, published by Carroll & Graf. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re having a most interesting conversation, as I find every conversation with Frank Schaeffer, an interesting guy who-who writes out of his own life and experience and worldview and perspective. And it’s a refreshing one. This book is Keeping Faith. It’s non-fiction. His other books, of course, Portofino and Saving Grandma were both fictional works. He’s got another fictional work on the way, but he took a little time out of that schedule to write Keeping Faith with his son, John. It is a father/son story about love and the United States Marine Corps, titled Keeping Faith, published by Carroll & Graf.
Q. One more thing about the summer, because one of the things that you do
Frank that is-that is so unusual, frankly, is you’re willing to reveal the-the kind of crazy, almost neurotic things that-that you had going in your relationship with your son. I mean, he describes your relationship as “in the morning we have a huge fight and in the afternoon we’re sneaking out to see a movie together and laughing and having fun.” There’s a really humorous story, and given what you just said about getting a girl pregnant ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ at L’Abri, the way your parents handled it, you-you-you¢â‚¬¦ He’s dating
Erica. She doesn’t like you ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ for some sarcastic comments you made about college.
A. That’s it.
Q. And then-and then he-he’s off for a day. You love to cook. You had cooked
a very special meal, rosemary chicken, slow cooked rosemary chicken. And he doesn’t show up that night. And lo and behold, he-you find out by calling Erica’s house that he’s having dinner with Erica. And fortunately you handled this really well.
A. Yeah, right.
Q. You asked to talk to the dad.
A. Totally off the phone, you know. I mean, off the¢â‚¬¦ I was on the phone with
his father and of course what I rant about is just the fact that with John leaving that summer I just went out-out of my mind. I mean, basically it was crazy. I called the father up and said that I hoped that while John was over there, you know, nothing was going on, that after all I didn’t want him getting his daughter pregnant. And then later my wife says to me ¢€œ
Q. And by the way this is really the first conversation you’ve had with this guy,
right?
A. Yeah, exactly. And then later my wife says to me that evening, she says to
Me ¢€œ let me see, I’ll find it in the book ¢€œ she, after I told her about my conversation with Erica’s dad, Genie shrieked, “’You called Trip and told him you thought John might get Erica pregnant?’ ¢â‚¬ËœI didn’t call him,’ I said, ¢â‚¬ËœJohn just happened to put him on the line after I called to find out why he hadn’t come home,'” which of course was nonsense, because I had pushed John .
Q. Yeah.
A. “’And you said you hoped he didn’t get Erica pregnant?’, says my wife. ¢â‚¬ËœNot
like that. We were just talking about our wise choices.’ ¢â‚¬ËœAre you out of your mind? How can you insult him that way?’ ¢â‚¬ËœThat wasn’t an insult, just one father talking to another.'”
Q. Yeah.
A. “’You’re so crazy.’ Genie stared at me dolefully and shook her head. ¢â‚¬ËœCrazy.
John is over there for dinner and you call up and say, Oh, by the way, while you’re having dessert, keep an eye on my son in case he gets your daughter pregnant.'”
Q. Yeah.
A. “’John will never speak to you again.’ ¢â‚¬ËœOf course he will,’ I said. ¢â‚¬ËœThe only
reason you’re so angry is because he missed your rosemary chicken,’ Genie said. And smiled. ¢â‚¬ËœMaybe that I feel lonely,’ I said.”
Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. And you know, the thing was¢â‚¬¦ Dick, I don’t know how you are but, you
know, in my family, basically, we kind of get a little operatic at times. And my kids all just laugh at me. So I figured, hey, they’ve laughed at me their whole lives, I’ll put this in the book and see if somebody else gets a kick out of it.
Q. Well, totally.
A. And you know, I get some good e-mails from people who say they’ve had
some good laugh-out-loud moments reading Keeping Faith.
Q. Well, I absolutely did. My wife heard me laughing in the-in the other room
when I was reading your book because-because I was connecting so much with the times when my kids think I’m a lunatic.
A. That’s it.
Q. And it’s good to know that there’s other-there’s other fathers on that same
path.
A. The amazing thing, as you well know, Dick, is you know, when we were our
Kids’ ages, we thought they were grownups. Now we know when we get to this age we still don’t know very much.
Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. And-and you know, we’re flailing around, too. And I often think to myself,
Dick, were my parents as-as-as bewildered as I am now?
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. Because they looked mighty grown-up to me back then.
Q. Yeah. Well, your craziness continues when he heads off to Parris Island
because there’s-there’s very little communication initially. And you’re fretting that she, Erica, is getting all the letters. You comment that you’re sick of God.
A. That’s right.
Q. You’re helped through it by reading a book called Making the Corps, which
describes kind of day-in/day-out what happens at Parris Island.
A. Right.
Q. And-and some wonderful things start happening in your life while he is at
Parris Island. Among them, you discover your family’s own military history ¢€œ
A. That’s right.
Q. ¢€œ and you reflect on the impact of Vietnam on our generation through talking
to a friend, Frank Groover, who reminds you, after all, that your son is in Clinton’s military.
A. That’s it.
Q. Which is an amazing combination of things that any boomer is going to look
at that series of issues and get it totally.
A. Yeah. And Frank is a good friend of mine. He’s somebody I’ve written
screenplays with, he’s an agnostic Jew, he lives in Los Angeles. You know, I’m a-I’m a Christian, I live on the East Coast. But the funny thing is, where we meet is over our children. We both love our kids and we both try to do the best job we can, and actually agree on a lot of stuff even though you’d think we wouldn’t. But Frank and I have this running debate. I mean, I’m more conservative and he’s more from the lasted. You know, basically I was telling him that, you know, I wasn’t so happy to think about the fact that my son is facedown in a sand pit in Parris Island and Bill Clinton is his commander in chief. You know, and then Frank came after me and basically would say, well where were you during the Vietnam War? You know, you’re sitting in Switzerland in a nice, you know, Swiss mission.
Q. Yeah, totally.
A. What do you know? So the funny thing is, you know, having the kid there at
Parris Island suddenly gets me into this very deep water of argument with some of my friends who are, you know, take a different point of view, but ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ in the end, what happens is that I really look at my own connection to my
country differently.
Q. Yes.
A. I feel completely different about it. I’m connected through John. And you
know, as I put it, you know, and that is, you know, right now for instance, John’s over there in the Middle East and I’m not sleeping well at night. But you know, as I said at the end of the book, at least I can look the men and women in the eye who defend us because my son’s one of them. And he’s the best I have to offer. So that through all this in the end, not only am I so proud of him, but by the end of the book I’m really identifying with other people.
Q. Yeah.
A. My grandparents who served. John’s grandparents who served. The-the
people who are out there. The lady down at the coffee shop whose kid is a Marine.
Q. Yes.
A. It-it’s a kind of reconnecting with the national fabric of our nation in a way
that I’d never experienced. And now I look back and I say, Man, you know, you were an isolated, snobbish kind of a guy, weren’t you.
Q. Well, like the warying parent said, Isn’t the Marines terribly southern?
A. Yeah, right. Exactly.
Q. You know, you talk about¢â‚¬¦ You have this wonderful sentence after you talk
about your dad’s pessimism about western culture.
A. Right.
Q. And you-you conclude that you love America. Talk about how your dad was
feeling because a lot of us are familiar with your dad’s work about ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ about western culture, western civilization. You’ve kind of come to a
refreshing hopefulness about it.
A. Yeah. I actually feel that ¢€œ America is an amazing country. I mean, as you
know, there’s a lot of things going on in this country that I have a terrible sense of disapproval of and also would like to change, you know, whether it’s abortion on demand. There are a lot of things like that. But on the other hand, through having John in the Marine Corps and kind of hooking into my own American roots of grandparents and great grandparents who served on John’s side, you know, the question is, Well then, what’s the alternative? Who would you rather have as the great power in the world right now? France? China? Saudi Arabia? Well, let’s take them. You know, Saudi Arabia, we’d be having Sherea law and beheading people taken in adultery. Or stoning them. And if France was running things? Well, enough said. It would be like France. And that wouldn’t be a good thing. You know, State policy of France and Algeria a few years ago was to torture prisoners, and they’ve had a very rocky history.
Q. Yeah.
A. They-they’ve turned in their Jews before the Nazis even asked them to when
the Vichi government was compromising. No. France isn’t the power you want. And China, you know, we know what would happen, so that I guess having John out there defending us and my own son wearing the uniform of the Marine Corps and watching our backs while we sleep really has made me much more kind of level-headed in terms of looking at what the alternatives are. And I-and I-and my sense is that the warts and all, you know, the United States of America is-is¢â‚¬¦ The world is fortunate that we are the ones wielding this terrific power right now.
Q. Yeah. And you get the sense throughout this book that despite the-the
struggle that you have with a lot of this, that ultimately you’re little by little realizing what a wonderful gift John has given you in a decision that he made that has, in fact, enriched your life.
We’re going to pick up with some concluding comments with Frank
Schaeffer. Folks, obviously we’re hitting some high points here of a wonderful book. You can spend more time with him by picking up your own copy of this book, and it’s a great, great read. It’s titled Keeping Faith: The Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, published by Carroll & Graf. We’ll be back right after this.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Frank Schaeffer who, with his son John, has written a wonderful book titled Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps. It’s published by Carroll & Graf.
Q. And we’ve heard about the wonderful journey that-that Frank is on. And-and
John is¢â‚¬¦ The book reads back and forth. So John is observing that his dad has changed. I mean, his dad in fact, booked the flight for graduation. And dad never does that. But-but he was so prepared, at two months in advance he was booking a flight for John’s graduation at Parris Island. There is a wonderful, wonderful section in there about-about Frank becomes more community activistic in his own community in some ways, that dad is getting really involved in some interesting ways. Meanwhile, where John is, he’s facing all the challenges that go with being in a rigorous, rigorous program that’s designed to reconstruct a young individual and turn him into a full-fledged Marine. I want to talk about some of what that involved, but one of the interesting things, Frank, that I don’t want to forget to ask you about is, it was obvious to me that John and you both kind of were individually connecting in a kind of a deeper way with your own spiritual life. I mean, John initiated. He didn’t have to do this but he-he got involved in the local Catholic worship service because it was the closest to your-your orthodox tradition.
A. That’s right.
Q. Yeah. And you were having some very interesting prayer times with God.
There was a spiritual dynamic to this whole thing.
A. Yeah, absolutely. And I would just say, to take the story a step further, since
John has been deployed to the Middle East, something interesting has been happening to me in the mornings. And that is, you know, in the old days I used to wake up and then pray because I’d remember to pray. But I actually wake myself up already praying. In other words, what’s odd to me is sometimes, just like a dream will wake you up, most mornings now with John out there in harm’s way, I actually have woken myself up praying. The prayer starts before, you know, my mind really is consciously awake so that obviously, you know, my-my deep concern for his safety and the safety of the people he’s with, and so forth, has translated into a sense of, you know, real dependency on God and-and grace because there is nothing else to look to at this point.
Q. Yeah. You have one of those prayers in here where you find yourself waking
up and praying that the sins of the father will not be visited upon the son or something.
A. That’s right.
Q. That’s very kind of Old Testament.
A. That’s right. But I’ll tell you what, when you have-when you have a boy
going off to, you know to war, well, and before that off to boot camp, and you’re so concerned for his safety and so on, you know, you really get down to basics. And the basics are that you want, you’re asking for God’s mercy on your child ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and-and-and that’s really what’s uppermost in your mind. So that it does get
basic, it does get Old Testament, and-and mercy is the whole thing. I mean, the mercy of the father for the son, and the mercy for the heavenly father for his children is really what you want.
Q. Both of you, when he was in basic training, were answering the question, Why
did he join the Marines?
A. Right.
Q. And what kinds of answers did you come up with?
A. Well you know, when he first went down there he said to me, Look, Dad, you
know, I just want to go. I want to try something different. I want to-I want to get some self-discipline. But as he writes in the book he says, You know, by the time he was done it was not when he went down there, it wasn’t an issue of patriotism. He says, you know, speaking for himself, he had no sense of the whole country. And-and but when he got down there, what he learned most of all was-was that loyalty to the Corps meant something tangible, and that was by the end of boot camp he was trying to be a good Marine out of loyalty to the Marine standing next to him and those who would follow him onto those yellow footprints they all stand on when they get down there.
Q. Yeah.
A. And-and he says that look, you know, he’s come to see and believe what he
was told, that each mission is dependent on the one that came before. And when it comes right down to it, as any recruit on Parris Island could tell you, by the end of his or her training, the Marine standing next to you is more important than you are.
Q. Yeah.
A. Which, by the way in case, you know, somebody has missed the point, that’s
obviously a Christian virtue.
Q. Yes.
A. They don’t put it that way but, you know, if-if that’s not a statement of what
the Golden Rule is, I don’t know what would be. So that in a funny way John came full circle. And what he found on Parris Island was that the-the-the-the moral fiber of the Marine Corps, and what they teach you about selflessness, really does mirror the teaching that he had been having all those years as a Christian in a Christian home, but in a way that was now applied to another situation altogether in the real big world out there.
Q. While we’re talking, I want you to flip to page 261 because I’m going to ask
you to read the postscript, the thing that John writes at the very start of that page there, about the Marines are a religion. But-but one of the-one of the great things that happens again is-is in a funny sort of way he gives you a compliment by saying that the way you used to kind of rant at him was great preparation for what was happening to him in the Marines, and-and that didn’t end. I mean, as proud as you were of him, when he signed up for a fifth year ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ it was momentarily back to the rants.
A. Yeah, that’s right. I mean, he wrote a letter saying, hey, I want to do this
special intelligence mission that’s going to require an extra year of training and security clearance. And it was like, oh, you know, what are you doing? And you know, of course, it’s always my sensible wife who-who-who comes around and says, Hey, wait. What are you doing? You know, you’re proud of him that he’s down there, you know, why aren’t-why aren’t you just backing him in what he’s deciding to do here? And you know, sort of pulls me back towards the center again, you know?
Q. Yeah. Read that postscript, the part right at the top there, “The Marines were
a religion.”
A. Well sure. You know, there’s 30-some poems of John’s in this book.
Q. Yeah.
A. And there’s a short one at the end and it goes like this.
“The Marines are a religion. They worship many gods.
They have a hymn, From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, They have short maxims like pain is good, extreme pain is extremely good.
They are a mystery religion, exclusive and closed,
and semper fidelis.”
Q. Yeah. As you said earlier, he’s a rare kid because he’s a physical specimen ¢€œ
A. Right.
Q. ¢€œ a great active mind, and he’s got that poetic sense. And his writing is really,
really very touching.
A. Yeah.
Q. And yours, obviously, is-is well proven, but it’s almost as if you’re reading a
fictional account, even though this is non-fiction. And the reason it feels that way is because of the artistic and aesthetic value of-of the writing.
A. Yeah, well, I’m pleased you say that, and I think John did a terrific job here.
And together, you know, we were able to write a book that I think also proves another thing, by the way, that the stereotypes of the sort of people going into the military are ridiculous because John’s not the only bright, articulate kid who can write who’s sitting in the Marine Corps right now ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ or in the other services. I mean, you know, there was a terrible ad in The
New York Times ¢€œ not an ad, a cartoon ¢€œ in The New York Times a few months ago that just infuriated me. And it said something to the effect of, you know, under-educated? Need health benefits? Join the Marines and see Iraq, which was kind of a comment on-on foreign policy. But if you look between the lines that sort of condescending irony that-that the-that some of the media and a great deal of the people in the universities have for our military is just infuriating. And when you look at a boy like my son John, who is both sensitive and loyal and clever and a good writer and a good athlete and a loyal, good friend, you know, these guys deserve better than to be stereotyped as under-educated and unable to do anything but go into the military. They-they go into the military for many reasons, some of which are good, some of which are bad. But I’ll tell you one thing, they all stay in the military and do the job they do because they learn in the end that the Marine standing next to you is more important than you are. And that’s a selflessness our culture would do well to emulate.
Q. So how did you watch the coverage of the war differently as a result of your
son’s journey?
A. Well, first of all, it’s no longer impersonal. These are not just headlines and
someone else’s kids. This is my kid, it’s my heart out there.
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. You know, he took my heart with him.
Q. Yeah.
A. And when he comes back, my heart comes back.
Q. Yeah. Wow. What’s the next fiction you’re working on, Frank?
A. Well, there’s this copy, there’s this novel coming out that’s a sequel to
Portofino this autumn. In September there’s a book called Zermatt, which is named for the town in Switzerland that’s a famous ski resort. So there’ll be Portofino, Saving Grandma, and Zermatt. And Zermatt contines the Calvin Becker saga of this-this wacky missionary family that is, you know, he’s trying to come to terms with over there growing up in Europe. And like I’ve said before, No, it’s not a biography. I just paint places and people and the kinds of things that I’ve known. So it’s set in Zermatt on a ski vacation, and he has further adventures for people who already read Portofino.
Q. Well, we’re looking forward to it. We’ll look forward to talking to you on it.
Folks, go out and ¢€œ rush right out now, do not pass go, do not collect $200,
go right to the store or online and buy Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps. We’ve been visiting with Frank Schaeffer who, with his son John, wrote Keeping Faith. We’ll be right back.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in April 17, 2003 by | No Comments »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

79 − 75 =

More from Staublog