I was born halfway between Monterey and San Francisco in the Summer of 1967. The Monterey Pop Festival had happened a couple of months before, and the Summer of Love was underway in the Haight-Ashbury. My parents had just moved the family up the coast from Monterey, to the little town of Mountain View. While Mountain View is now known for Google, back then it was cherry orchards and new tract homes. I was the youngest in a large family, and my closest sibling was six years older than me. My parents were the farthest from the Summer of Love as humanly possible. Married in 1942, my Dad fought in the South Pacific during the war and came home to raise a family in post-war California. They were definitely not hippies, and the Grateful Dead did not exist in their minds.
I had the benefit of learning about life from my four older sisters and three older brothers. One sister dropped out of Berkeley in 1968, six months before graduating, to live with a hippie, so my flower-child creds were real. My closest brother taught me everything there was to know about growing up, including how to smoke pot, use a bong, and cut a line of coke. He was much wilder than me in his youth, but I like to think I experienced much about life vicariously through him. I was 14 when he took me to my first Grateful Dead show at Stanford. Always immersed in music from the late 60’s and early 70’s, this show opened my eyes to Jerry Garcia and began my life-long passion for the Dead. This has always been somewhat incongruous to my outwardly conformist and military appearance.
You might wonder how this flower-child wanna-be ended up in a Navy uniform. When I was seven, one of my older brothers told me that my mother would very much like for me to go to the Naval Academy. I have no idea why he thought this was a good thing to tell me, but it set the stage for my life. Had it not been for that, I would have probably ended up at UC Santa Cruz, listening to the Dead, majoring in creative writing, smoking pot, and surfing. And incredibly happy. But that one conversation, probably long forgotten by him, became an implicit directive in my life to go to Annapolis to make my mother happy.
Now, neither my mother nor my father ever pressured me to go the Academy, but I could tell it made them both happy when I talked about the possibility. As I got older and more people began to assume I wanted to go to Annapolis, it really became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than stand back and take a hard look at this crucial decision in my life, I just shrugged my shoulders and decided to go with it. This would certainly not be the last time I made that mistake.
So that’s how it happened. One month after graduating from high school, I found myself on a TWA flight from Oakland to Baltimore, headed to the Naval Academy. I was only 17. I wasn’t doing it for myself as much as for the idea of pleasing my parents, my family, and my friends and neighbors. After so many people tell you what a “good idea” it is for you do go to Annapolis, and how “proud” they are of you, it is very hard to jump off that train. The weird thing is that I didn’t need my parents’ approval — they loved and supported me no matter what I wanted to do. It was my own fucked up idea of what I thought they wanted me to do.
Like my father, both grandfathers, and great-grandfather before me, I raised my right hand with a shaved head and took the Oath of Office as a Midshipman in the United States Navy on 2 July 1985.
First-year students at the Naval Academy are called Plebes, from the Latin word plebs, denoting the general body of free Roman citizens. Plebes are the lowest form of life at the Academy. They like to say at Annapolis that, on the first day, they shave your head and take away every God-given right, They then hand them back one-by-one and call each a privilege. In a word, Plebe year sucks. I didn’t go home again until Christmas, and by then I already realized that I could never really go home again. I was a different person. The kind, gentle, and reflective person I was in high school had been replaced by an intenser, harsher, and self-righteous young man — one who saw things only in black and white. I had been successfully indoctrinated into the military, and it would take me years to once again recover my old self.