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James H. Joyner, 1943-2010

My father and namesake, James Harvey Joyner, died yesterday morning from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.  He was 66.

James Joyner and James Joyner Jr Circa 1974

James Joyner and James Joyner Jr., Houston, Texas, Circa 1974

He was diagnosed with the degenerative lung disease six years ago and told he likely had three to five years.  He was hospitalized with pneumonia three weeks ago and I went down and spent a few days with him.   But while the doctors gave him hope that he’d recover and go home, we both knew there was a pretty fair chance he wouldn’t.    So, when I got the call that his condition was deteriorating rapidly and I should come back down, while I wasn’t ready, I was prepared.

But, then, he’d spent my whole life preparing me.

During my last trip down, I took the evening shift at the hospital, since my mother doesn’t like to drive in the  dark anymore.  The first night we were alone, he made it clear that he didn’t want to be put on a respirator and have his life prolonged indefinitely with no hope of  ever going  home.  Nor did he want to be released from the hospital unable to take care of himself and therefore be a burden on  my mother.   Having known him for 44 years, I  knew these things instinctively but having him articulate them made it easier to make the decisions that had to be made.  More importantly, it meant that I could relieve my mother of the burden of having to make them.

My dad was born August 26, 1943 into a world I can only imagine.  Neither of his parents finished elementary school.  His mother was married at an age that seems absurd now — I believe she was 13 — and had the first of five children a year or so later.  His father was a semi-skilled laborer, doing seasonal light carpentry and painting.   Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of money.

Dad seemed destined to live a similar life.  He dropped out of school at 16 and did various odd jobs until enlisting in the  Army just shy of his 19th birthday in July 1962.  After finishing his initial training, he shipped off to Germany where he met my mother.  They married in September 1964 and she followed him back stateside for his next assignment.

I was born in November of the next year, at Fort Monroe, Virginia near where he grew up.

The combination of a new family and a steady paycheck made staying in the Army look pretty good and what started as a three year hitch became a twenty year career.  The combination of an above-average IQ and a very strong work ethic made it one for which he was well suited.  He rose through the ranks quickly, spending the majority of  his career in the senior NCO ranks.  He ultimately retired as a First Sergeant.

Along the way, he finished his GED and the Army sent him to get his associate’s degree in police science on to way to becoming an agent in the Criminal  Investigation Division.   He was offered a chance to become a warrant officer but felt starting over at a rank that some kid coming out of school could hold was a step down from the exalted status of senior NCO and passed.   He’d regret that decision in later years but it’s understandable given the Army’s culture.

His last duty assignment  in uniform was as a chief instructor at the Military Police school, a major’s billet.  When he retired, though, and applied for a mere instructor’s job in the civil service at the same school, he was passed over because his lack of a four year degree made him “unqualified.”

He worked briefly as a retail manager, first at a regional drug store chain and then at an electronics store.  He had more than doubled sales at the latter in  a little over a year and became general manager when a second store opened, so he was shocked to be fired when the owners decided that they wanted to take over and run it themselves.  That turned out to be a bad move by the owners, as they failed miserably.  But my dad used the opportunity to go back to school on the GI Bill and finish his four year degree.

I was eight months ahead of him.  While we were probably in the lower middle class when I was growing up  (military pay was  horrendous until the Reagan administration, so my dad was quickly making more in retired pay than he did on active duty) it had never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t finish high school and go on to college and a decent career.   Indeed, I had already been commissioned a second lieutenant by the time my dad got his BA and would finish my masters four months later.

Ironically, he was the better student.   While I’m more academically talented than he was, mostly because I was a lot better at math, he cared more about learning for its own sake and worked harder.  Partly because academics came easy to me and partly because I saw school as a ticket to be punched to get the jobs  I wanted, I didn’t throw myself in to it in the way he did.

At any rate, he managed to land back out at Fort McClellan in  the civil service, although he had to take an  insulting step down, entering as a GS-7, to do it.   But he quickly worked his way to GS-12 and a division chief  position, from which he medically retired some  years  back.   From the perspective of the DC area, where GS-15s  are a dime a dozen, that may not be too impressive.   But outside the National Capital Region, GS-13 is about as high as you can go.

I didn’t fully appreciate my dad when I was a kid.   My mom stayed home and took care of me,  while Dad went off to work — sometimes very long hours, including lots of weekends.   It wasn’t until I got out in the world that I understood  how big a deal just getting out of bed every day, putting in your best effort on the job, and then bringing the check home to the family was.   It was just something dads did, after all.  I was  into my twenties before I really understood how many dads didn’t.

Because of his example and the head start that his sacrifices gave me, I’ve lived a life that he couldn’t have even imagined growing up.  I was the first in the family to get a four-year degree (and he the second) and then went on to get a doctorate.  While I’m by no means rich, we live a comfortable, upper-middle class lifestyle and  it’s inconceivable  that our  little girl won’t be able to be whatever her talents and desires lead her to be.

Like my dad, my career has taken me far from home, although I’ve done a much better job of staying in touch than he did.   When he was my age, he’d been married 21 years and his son was two months from finishing college and starting work on his master’s degree.   I’ve been married four years and Katie  is still in diapers.

It’s now up to me to carry on and do what my dad trained me to do: Take care of my mother and my family.  There’s a lot to do over the next few days.  And with a toddler to love, not much time to be maudlin.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    I am so sorry for you and your family.

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  2. Ole_Sarge says:

    I am so very sorry for such a grievous loss. It is the way of things, but it does not make the burden easier.

    May your father’s memory be eternal, may he rest in peace with the angels and may you and your family receive strength and support from all those around you.

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  3. kth says:

    I am sorry to hear this, James. While it does not sound like his death was unexpected, 66 is too young.

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  4. sgoode says:

    De-lurking to offer my condolences, James.

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  5. Anne says:

    That’s a lovely remembrance. My condolences.

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  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    My condolences. Losing a parent is always hard but a parent at such a relatively young age makes it more difficult. I hope your mother will be alright.

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  7. Have a nice G.A. says:

    My condolences Doc, I will pray for you and your family.

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  8. Herb says:

    Condolences. Sounds like his work is done and yours is just beginning. Stay strong.

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  9. Carol says:

    What a beautiful tribute to the quiet dignity of a live well lived.
    Condolences on your loss.

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  10. Dave Schuler says:

    You have my deepest sympathy, James, and that of my wife as well. As she read your remembrance of your dad over my shoulder she noted that he was just one month older than her brother.

    Believe me, I know what you are going through and my thoughts are with you.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    It wasn’t until I got out in the world that I understood how big a deal just getting out of bed every day, putting in your best effort on the job, and then bringing the check home to the family was.

    Yep. That’s the Dad job, even now with most women in the workplace.

    Condolences.

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  12. My condolences on your father’s passing.

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  13. just me says:

    I am really sorry for your loss. Even when you are prepared for it, it still hurts a lot.

    Right now you have a lot on your plate, but when you can, take the time to write down all the memories you have of your father. Your daughter will love learning about her grandfather through her father’s eyes as she grows older.

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  14. floyd says:

    James;
    Prepared or not,a father’s death has a profound impact, especially when the relationship is close.

    My father left when I was five years old and had no interest in any relationship with me, yet when I buried him forty years later, I was surprised at my own emotional response and sense of loss.

    Unlike me,you have lost more than just a father, but also a lifelong relationship.While dealing with this loss you must also deal with the fact that his loss changes your view of yourself and your responsibilities, both in your eyes and in the eyes of those who love and depend on you.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family at this time along with my sincere condolences.

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  15. John Burgess says:

    James, I offer my deepest sympathy. This is a loss that doesn’t go away, though the pain fades.

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  16. PD Shaw says:

    Sounds like a great man. You and your family have my condolences.

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  17. Your father James sounds like a great man and father. This disease takes too many family members away from all of us. Please accept my sympathies on behalf of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation on your loss.

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  18. Steve Plunk says:

    Please accept my sincere sympathy for your loss. Please accept my sincere admiration of you, your father, and the relationship you had. You are both lucky men as father and son.

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  19. Triumph says:

    Sorry to hear this, J-Dawg. Please accept my sincere condolences.

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  20. Steve Hynd says:

    An outstanding eulogy. He did damn well if he managed to produce a man like you. My deepest sympathies to you and your family, James

    Warmest regards, Steve

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  21. ggr says:

    That was a very nice eulogy. My sincere condolences to you and your family.

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  22. Ed Burns says:

    Sorry to hear that James. I understand the sentiment about not being ready, but being prepared. Our family’s prayers are with your family and your Mother.

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  23. Kenny says:

    We are but that of which we are made. The details of your father’s successful live go a long way toward explaining you and is also reassuring to note what it will mean for young Katie as she grows.

    Condolences, Dr. Joyner, for you and the family. Give your mom an anonymous hug, too. I suspect she’s a special lady as well and more than deserves our admiration and best wishes.

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  24. legion says:

    Prepared or not, that deeply sucks. My deepest sympathies are yours, James. And whether or not there’s time for it, you do need to take some time – when you can – to be ‘maudlin’ (as you say) & deal with your own feelings on this. Until you do, you won’t be strong enough for the others who depend on you now.

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  25. DC Loser says:

    James,

    Please accept my sincere condolences for your great loss. Your father sounds like a great man and father. I just hope someday my sons will say the same of me that you said of your father.

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  26. M1EK says:

    Condolences, James.

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  27. sam says:

    My condolences, James. If our children are the evidence of our success or failure in life, your father’s life was a success.

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  28. Maggie Mama says:

    As the Irish say “Sorry for your troubles”, Dr. JJ.

    I lost my father more than twenty years ago and the emptiness lingers. Fighting cancer for months, his death was not unexpected. So I cried on the day I learned he had the disease but not after that …. until several months after he was buried.

    My dad loved Morris The Cat TV commercials. One day a funny new one came on and my thoughts jumped immediately to my dad. “I’ve got to call Dad and tell him about this new one,” I thought.

    Suddenly the painful realization hit like a ton of bricks. My dad was GONE. There would be no sharing. No one at the end of the line waiting to hear my news. It was UNBEARABLE. Months of no tears surfaced in a sudden moment. I must have cried for hours. The depression lingered on … all brought to light by a stupid TV commercial.

    I don’t know when it will hit you but I know your loss may strike with a vengeance at the strangest of times as did mine. I can only hope that your father’s strength will see you through as did mine.

    Live for him as I live for my dad … with joy and honor for the memory of a loving father.

    Deepest condolences to you and yours.

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  29. rodney dill says:

    You have my deepest sympathies

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  30. Robert Prather says:

    Condolences, James. He sounds like a fine man and father.

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  31. I’m very sorry for your loss, James. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  32. Joseph Delaney says:

    I am sorry to hear of your loss and I think that was an exceptionally heartfelt obituary. You have my condolences.

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  33. I am sorry for your loss. May God and those around you bring you some comfort.

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  34. Highlander says:

    I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss.

    Your father sounds like the kind of man who made the system work. No small thing.

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  35. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, while I do not always agree with your assessments on this blog, I must wish my condolences to you and your family. I lost my Father in 1985. He was 72 years young. I felt as though I had lost my best friend. I send my heart felt sympathies to you and yours. God Bless.

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  36. Mike D. says:

    So very sorry for your loss. Thoughts and prayers to you.

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  37. john personna says:

    A good tribute.

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  38. Dodd says:

    My heartfelt condolences, James.

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  39. steve says:

    Our prayers are with you.

    Steve Sisson

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  40. vnjagvet says:

    You are clearly a wonderful son, James, and your dad was blessed that you were there at the end of his life here. God bless you in your time of loss.

    I was surprised to read that your dad was born the same year as my younger brother, as I had the impression that you were a bit older than you are. You certainly exhibit wisdom and judgment beyond your years. Our prayers go with you.

    Jim Rhoads

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  41. anjin-san says:

    Very sorry to hear about your loss. My Dad passed three years ago & I am still trying to come to grips with it. The pain will lessen in time, but it will always be there. The one positive thing I took away from it is that I now truly realize the value of time spent with the people you love. My God, what an expensive lesson…

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  42. Dantheman says:

    An excellent eulogy, James. Your love for him really came out.

    May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and comfort to all who are bereaved.

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  43. hln says:

    Nicely said, and he was a fine example of a man. We so often get to really know and appreciate our parents as we become parents – when it’s all acute what they did for us (often quietly in sacrifice).

    Thanks for letting us know a bit of him.

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  44. My condolences to you, your mother and your family. Thank you for sharing your father’s story — it is a noble accomplishment to marry, stay married, care for your children and make the most of yourself. It’s harder than it looks. I hope your father looked back on his life with great pride.

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  45. Don Baker says:

    He sounds like he was quite a man, James. We’re so sorry for your loss, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Don

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  46. Eneils Bailey says:

    It’s now up to me to carry on and do what my dad trained me to do: Take care of my mother and my family.

    Mr. Joyner, you do that and your father will be honored.
    I bet he left peacefully knowing that you would “take care of business” as he always did.

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  47. spago says:

    Sorry for your loss James, my condolences to you and your family

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  48. David Nick says:

    My heart, prayers, and condolences go out to you, your family.

    It sounds like your Dad was an honorable decent man who stood by his principles. That kind of example in ones life is hard to come by these days.

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  49. Franklin says:

    I am very sorry to hear that Mr. Joyner. I’m sure your mother is strong, but do your best to support her.

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  50. DocJ, I missed this yesterday. My greatest of condolences to you, sir.

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  51. Idiot says:

    I really believe that’s what all fathers really want and need: recognition. I lost my dad over 10 years ago now. I still think of him regularly and fondly. He grew up in the depression and then on to combat in WWII. That’s a very different experience than mine and I can’t really imagine it.

    Please accept condolences.

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  52. ptfe says:

    James, just reading this now. Condolences to you and your family.

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  53. Wyatt Earp says:

    My deepest condolences, James.

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  54. Brian Knapp says:

    I am very sorry for your loss.

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  55. My best to you & your family. Congratulations on having had such a fine dad.

    I didn’t fully appreciate my dad when I was a kid. My mom stayed home and took care of me, while dad went off to work — sometimes very long hours, including lots of weekends. It wasn’t until I got out in the world that I understood how big a deal just getting out of bed every day, putting in your best effort on the job, and then bringing the check home to the family was. It was just something dads did, after all. I was into my twenties before I really understood how many dads didn’t.

    And especially congratulations on realizing this.

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  56. Benedict says:

    Nothing original about this piece by Kipling, but seems remarkably appropriate:

    IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    ‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

    May your father rest in peace.

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  57. Kyle says:

    My deepest sympathizes to your family for the too soon passing of your father. May he rest in peace.

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  58. CGHill says:

    We are all made poorer by the loss of such a man; let us, therefore, remember how our lives were made richer while he was here.

    He has earned his peace.

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  59. physics geek says:

    My condolences, James.

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  60. Jake P says:

    Heartfelt condolences, James. This is a wonderful tribute to a dad.

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  61. Carol P says:

    As my great Aunt used to say “I wanna mash you”…just ((((HUGS))) to you and especially your Mom. There is something I believe to be true that the Lord never takes someone from you until those that love them “get them”…really get them. Until everything you do every day, every decision you make you can hear his opinion and advice in your heart and mind. When I turned 40 I passed by my Dad who was sitting in his favorite chair and he pulled me into his lap and kissed me on the forehead and said “No matter how big you get or how old you get you will always be my baby girl”. When life’s decisions overwhelm me and I would love to defer those things to someone else I relive that day and remember I am just a little girl that grew up. I am always my Dad’s baby girl.
    What a good looking guy your Dad was! …and what a heart warming tribute to him …a true American success story!

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  62. Rick Almeida says:

    James,

    My condolences on the loss of your father. Stay strong & God bless.

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  63. ulyssesunbound says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

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  64. Anderson says:

    Wow. Way too young for him to go. Very sorry, JJ.

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  65. Wayne Travers Jr. says:

    I was so sorry to hear the news from Kim on Saturday. You honored him with your eloquent and heartfelt tribute.

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  66. Kind Words says:

    […] Joyner | Friday, February 5, 2010 My thanks to all for the kind words on the passing of my father. They mean a […]

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