Tattoos

“Well, Dad, I’m eighteen now” my son announced, one day a few years ago.

“That you are, son!” I responded. “So what?”

“Well, I think I’m gonna get a tattoo.”

I paused a moment before answering. This is one of those teenage challenges kids occasionally throw at their parents. I guess I was wrong thinking we would escape parenthood without any threat to our sovereignty “A tattoo, huh? What were you thinking of getting?”

“Well, I don’t really know,” he responded.

His pause gave me an opening. “Can I offer a suggestion?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “If you’re gonna do that, get something meaningful. Something that you’ll still be proud to have when you’re 70 years old.”

And he actually thought about that. Two weeks later, after doing some research on tattoos and tattoo shops in the area, he had our family crest permanently inked into his left shoulder blade. I had to admit – it looked pretty cool. So cool, in fact, a friend of ours, who also shares our last name, took one look at it and had the same tattoo etched into his arm. His first tattoo. John’s 60 years old.

“I wouldn’t have anyone else except that guy do my tattoos,” my son announced after leaving the tattoo parlor. “His shop is so clean and he’s a real artist.” I noticed the use of the plural word tattoos’ in his declaration. Sure enough, the next year, he got another one. A very ornate cross, this time on his bicep. In memory of three friends who had died while he was in high school. “I was gonna put their initials on the cross,” he confided. “But that might be bad luck. I don’t want to have to add other initials to it later.” I couldn’t argue with the meaningfulness of that tattoo either.

He says his next one will be some variation of the Marine Corps bulldog but he needs to wait until he graduates and actually gets his lieutenant’s bars, before that one is etched in. There’s an unwritten rule – no Marine Corps tattoos until you’ve earn them

I’ll admit tattoos have always fascinated me. As a youngster, I remember thinking how cool that anchor tattooed on my uncle’s forearm looked. A souvenir of his time serving with the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Lots of guys from the “Greatest Generation” came back home with similar etchings. They were a symbol of pride. For those warriors still alive today, their tattoos are now long washed out and faded. But that pride is still there.

I recall , years later, while I was serving in Korea, a friend of mine wanted a tattoo. Not some symbol of the unit in which we served, nor an American flag – nor even some mysterious Oriental character.

Those were too involved for him. He simply wanted the Roadrunner tattooed on his arm. So he visited one of the many tattoo shops in the muddy little village that had grown up around our base, and had the deed done. We all marveled not at his tattoo, but at the fact he didn’t get blood poisoning. In that place and in those days, the sanitary situation was, shall we say, less than adequate. To this day, he still sports that bird on his arm. And I’m sure it will shrivel as his skin does when he hits 70 or 80 years young.

Last year, my daughter announced, like her brother, she too wanted to get a tattoo when she turned eighteen. I playfully rolled my eyes but actually, inside, I was worried. I’m not a big fan of those long swirly things so many girls today get tattooed on their lower backs. I just can’t picture those on an 80-year old woman again, my long-term outlook on tattoos.

So I said, no. As a dad, I have that right, right? But then we talked about it after all, we had a whole year to work on reason. And she went from wanting two angel wings on her shoulders one on either side to settling on a neat little guardian angel above her left shoulder blade. It was actually quite tasteful. So my wife and I agreed this would certainly not be the worst thing she could do. We had some hope our kids wouldn’t keep going on this tattoo thing until their bodies looked like comic books. So we visited Blue Heron Tattoo Shop, on our son’s recommendation, where John reviewed her design and set up an appointment for my daughter’s eighteenth birthday.

And, oh yeah, I finally gave in to my secret desire – we set up an appointment for me, the same day as hers. I didn’t want any comic book characters all over my body I guess I’m just a traditional tattoo guy – but I’ve always wanted a symbol of my time in the Air Force. So I had a copy of my unit patch from Korea etched into my arm. After all, I spent as much time there, as I did in college. It meant something to me – and it looked cool too.

It was kind of neat to do this the same day as my daughter. We spent a week checking out each other’s tattoos. Making sure we had each put moisturizer on “the wound” as John called it. Checking out the raised bumps that would eventually heal smoothly. I thought it was a nice bond between father and daughter. Unorthodox maybe but nice.

My son and I have committed to a tattoo bond as well. When he actually becomes a Marine Corps officer next year, we plan to have his and my dog tags tattooed on our arms, one crossing over the other.

We thought it would create a simple, but powerful bond. I got that idea from a friend who plans to do the same with his and his son’s dog tags as a tribute to his Marine son who gave his life for this country several years ago. Thanks, Peter.

So I guess I’ve acquired a new respect for tattoos these days. Even if mine will shrivel, as my skin does, when I reach 70 or 80.