Sweet journey: daughter's graduation worthy of single dad's trying road
June 13, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (June 13, 2013) -- "I'm excited, but I'm also very nervous because I'm not completely sure what I want to do," said 2013 Prince George High School graduate Kristine Cherry.
She is the daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Cherry III, a small group leader at the Army Logistics University's Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
Although there is an element of uncertainty in Kristine's future, her graduation nonetheless is her father's gratifying assurance that he has helped set the course for her fledgling flight into adulthood.
"It's kind of humbling," said the single parent, "because someone who I helped to create has gotten older and is becoming an adult."
A native of North Carolina, Cherry might be described as a pragmatic Soldier who loves his family, the Army and golf. He also carries a sense of humor and is candid enough to use phrases such as "There are no secrets here" and "It is what it is."
The 45-year-old Soldier said he is proud of his daughter's graduation, especially considering the circumstances surrounding the achievement. Cherry had been married 17 years when his life was flipped on its end during the summer of 2010. That's when he had returned to Hawaii from a tour in Iraq. His wife and children -- Rick, Kristine and Olivia -- welcomed him back at a pre-dawn redeployment ceremony. The clan all returned to their quarters afterward when a bombshell was dropped. He remembered it this way:
"We get back home at Schofield Barracks; we're putting the bags down and my wife is going out the door," recalled Cherry. "It's 3 o'clock in the morning, and I'm like, 'Where's she going?' My son and daughter said, 'Dad, she's got an apartment.' I'm like, 'You guys aren't going with her?'
"'No dad,' the kids replied collectively, 'we want to live with you.'"
The redeployment-night conundrum sank Cherry. He descended from an adrenaline-pumped warrior fresh from a tour in Iraq to a sobered, single parent with three kids, including two teens, who were eager for his stabilizing presence. His initial response to the dilemma was superficial in nature: "OK, we're going to make it happen."
Three years removed from the experience, Cherry has made it happen, but his journey has not been storybook. He said single parenthood has been transformative, enlightening and filled with a myriad of challenges that can amplify flaws and weaknesses.
"Being a single parent is kind of tough," he said. "There's a lot of things I'm not very good at. It took me three times to pass college algebra, and my daughter always has algebra homework when she comes home. It's very, very hard to help her with it, but we try."
Needless to say, there is more to parenthood than helping the kids with math. Cherry said he has had to deal with plenty of issues mothers typically tackle.
"There are some things that go on with females that I really don't have all the answers to, and there are cues that I don't pick up on like with feminine products" Cherry said, noting his daughters prefer the use of a code word when referring to such items in public.
For the more serious issues such as "proms and guys and stuff," Cherry said he turns to a support network -- his fellow female Soldiers and civilians at the LNCOA. "They're great" at offering advice, he said.
On the other side of that, he said his daughters know who he is and "If he needs schooling on an issue," they are more than willing to teach.
Then there are some things that can't be taught and are better left to a woman. Cherry said he remembers his mother's ability to nurture and wishes his kids could benefit from the same.
"My mom was great -- a school teacher, very supportive," he said. "That's one thing I felt bad about the past three years; not having a mom in the house. It does make a difference. I don't care how good of a father you are or how good of a parent you think you are, it takes two and your kids need to see it."
Despite what his household lacks, Cherry said structure is not one of them. After being in the Army for 22 years, he knows how to make a schedule, establish goals and make a unit function cohesively. Eighteen-year-old Kristine said her dad has been a big help as she and 17-year-old Olivia dug into their academic requirements and pursued interests in track and field and tennis, respectively, during the school year.
"We have really busy schedules, and I come home at like 6 o'clock after track practice," she said. "He gets home the same time as me, and he sometimes will still make dinner by himself while I'm doing homework. The only thing I have to worry about are things like doing the dishes and cleaning up around the house. He's my support system."
Cherry's children support him as well. The oldest, Rick, made good on a promise to join the service last year to pay for college through the GI Bill, sparing his father the expense and allowing him to pass on his benefits to his youngest daughter. And Kristine sometimes goes along with her father when his presence is needed for the LNCOA's community service requirements.
"We work as a team," he said.
Team Cherry has one more member to ready for adulthood , and he said he has more than a few challenges with his youngest.
"My big project now is to get her out of the mirror and show her the real picture -- show her the real world where all of her friends are walking around with iPhones and she still has a slider," he said with a tinge of comedic sarcasm. "That's where the rubber meets the road."
Olivia's naive adolescent experiences, however, were probably the farthest thing from Cherry's mind Saturday morning when the PGHS commencement exercises were held. Cherry conveyed that he felt a sense of accomplishment and pride that he supported Kristine's transition into the next stage of life. The crossroads moved him to remember in a flash who she was and what she had become.
"I saw that little girl with a big smile holding my hand on the first day of school," he said via email. "I saw the t-ball player; the gymnast; the cross-country runner; 16-year-old driving her car for the first time; the volunteer; the graduate; and the adult."
Kristine plans to attend Richard Bland Community College in the fall. She has not yet solidified her career plans.