In the beginning of Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD, Christal envisions herself, mom, and dad in a happy and carefree life, with her mom’s biggest worries being the rose bushes she should plant around the mailbox. She dreams of how things could be…if only war hadn’t been weighing so heavily on her father, and in return their family.
Growing up in a life where she felt isolated from her father, as he stayed behind closed doors, strumming his guitar: his lifeline and happiness in life, Presley was a child to a Vietnam Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Looking back now, Christal realizes that music is her dads drug, as animals are hers. At the young age of 18, her dad (Delmer Presley) was drafted into the army, spending a year in Vietnam. When he returned home, he returned changed like many service members and over time with PTSD showing in all aspects of life. Presley grew up “walking on eggshells”, never knowing what would be that one thing to set her father off or to have him resort to locking himself behind closed doors. Growing up, Christal exemplified many signs of Secondary PTSD as she witnessed her father’s episodes.
Writing became the outlet that Christal used to process life and get through life. While taking a writer’s workshop, the speaker asked the class, “What if you wrote about the thing you fear the most?” The speaker himself has not been able to find happiness in life until he worked through his fears. Instantly, Christal knew what it was that she feared the most, her father and the war he had brought home from Vietnam. This was when she was challenged to focus on a thirty day project. She would call her dad every day to talk about the war that she grew up in. This was intended to help her in gaining closure on the past and heal from the memories that she could not suppress. Surprisingly, her father had agreed to take part in this and would answer questions about his time spent overseas in war.
The conversations began with a touch of awkwardness since they did not have a relationship due to how Christal grew up. Within time, a bond was formed and the talks became more open and honest. Both shared things they went through in life and within time, things they were going through. I relationship was finally being formed. They discussed Agent Orange and the forests of Vietnam. Her father spoke on the anti-war protesters that filled airports and places that held Vietnam Veterans. People would line the streets with signs, “Baby Killers”, “Dope Heads” and many other things, they were spitting on soldiers that returned from war. It wasn’t just men acting in this cruel manner, but women and children as well. Delmer emotionally tells things that Christal did not expect.
Over ten years after returning from war, Delmer Presley discovered he had come in contact with Agent Orange and that a big mass has developed in his lungs. While Christal Presley was in college, he had a part of his right lung removed due to this. He tells Christal of the many issues and lives that were lost due to Agent Orange.
During one conversation, Presley asks her father what advice he would have for families of veterans today. His response is for family members to find a group and get counseling. Families need to know what to expect. “War changes a person. It changes everything”. He also goes on to tell her that there is nothing she could have done to help him or to make things different. There wasn’t help for veterans after Vietnam, as there is now.
As time dove on, Presley’s relationship with her father became more open and closure from the past was found. Bad memories from the past may still remain, but with forgiveness, understanding and moving on, Presley was able to begin remembering good times – from before the war came to stay. Presley was able to relive the moments of smiles, laughter and enjoying the random times of happiness she shared with her father growing up.
After the thirty days with her father, Christal Presley made the decision to travel to Vietnam. She stands in the same places her father stood in Chu Lai. She walked on his landing pad at LZ Bayonet. She saw the mountains he saw during such a horrid time. She touched the same earth as he did.
I encourage families of veterans of all eras to read Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD. There are so many emotions tied into this story. As a family member to a veteran of war, this book will make you feel as though you are reading parts of your own life. As a civilian to the military life, you will grasp more as to what goes on behind closed doors that military and veteran families are still so reluctant to speak of. Presley has a captivating and unique way of capturing the good and bad moments in her life and pulling readers into her world. Thirty Days is an emotional read because of the sincere honesty it holds. It is a book that will remain a part in the lives and hearts of all that read it.
About the Author, Christal Presley:
Christal Presley received her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in English Education from Virginia Tech. She received her Ph.D in Education from Capella University. She is a former intern at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, and spent seven years teaching middle and high school English in Chatham and Danville, Virginia.
Her first book, Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD, will be published by Health Communications, Inc. in November 2012.
Christal grew up in Honaker, Virginia, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the founder of United Children of Veterans, a website that provides resources about PTSD in children of war veterans. In her spare time, you can find Christal playing with her dogs, tending to her chickens, and gardening.
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/1/2012