My father grew up in a household of 9 children. His father was an alcoholic that could not support the family. It got so hard that at 16 years old they sent my father away to the Boys Club in Nevada. I remember him telling me that his mother was not very loving and pushed away any kind of affection. I can imagine having an irresponsible husband played a part in that protection mechanism, she had built up to survive. I felt bad for my dad when he told me that. He was rejected at every turn, which was so sad. This led to his issues of impatience, lack of self-worth and a lot of frustration on a social level with family, which I believe eventually developed into alcoholism over time.
I also knew my dad was part of the great generation that fought and won World War II. He was in fighter planes for the Navy as a Radioman and Gunner. I would eventually go into the Navy myself and become a Radioman. I remember seeing pictures of him when he was in the service but never really thought about it too much or understood the full meaning of what he had endured until I was an adult with my own family. He never talked about what he did or what he saw in the war.
Growing up my dad was very impatient with me and I developed an inferiority complex and projected failure in everything I did. I also grew up watching most of my relatives drinking and smoking at any social gathering. Thinking that was the norm I sought out those same things at 15 years old and by the time I was a junior in High School I was well on my way to becoming an alcoholic. My older brother would take the same path and become an alcoholic and died of lung cancer after over 50 years of heaving smoking. I came to my senses when I was serving in the Navy and they sent me to a 45-day program that saved my life. I have been sober ever since, 38 years and counting now. I also quit smoking and it has been 34 years now since my last cigarette.
I owe my life to the Navy and have a deep respect for all people that served and have empathy for those that have been scared by the horrors of war. I remember my dad crying when he was in his 80s still terrorized by what he had experienced. Thanks to his courage and thousands of others that lost their lives in that war we can still raise the America flag with pride not the Nazi flag of Hitler.
As the years passed my mother passed away at the young age of 62. I had returned from California after being there for eight years, four of those in the Navy. 6 months after I had returned my mother was gone. My dad never really dealt with that. He left within a few months and moved down south and stayed there until he died just before turning 90. He lived all of those years alone and never sought another woman. My relationship with him was estranged as it was with my brother. My dad was a miserable and lonely man that never recovered from my Mom’s death and he was very negative, combative, and at times downright mean. I had to cut off my communication with him to protect my wellbeing and my family.
As I look back at the man my dad was, I did admire him for what he came through and how he did his best to raise our family. He came from nothing and made a life for himself and our family and he survived living in a dysfunctional family and a World War. I have since learned to forgive him for his misgivings and the way he treated me and realized that I inherited some bad things and good things. The bad things I decided to give up and then I took all the good things, the strengths he had, and went in that direction to build an amazing life, serve my country, and over the last 4+ years helping other veterans with their transition from the military to the civilian workforce working for General Dynamics Mission Systems, starting a successful Linkedin Group called Put Veterans To Work then launching a website with the same name this February, https://www.putveteranstowork.com where I post helpful information all in one place for veterans to access to assist them in their journey from serving to serving in another way to support our troops.
It took me a long time to find where I belonged in the workforce and to feel like I was doing something that had meaning and was working for a good cause and helping the right people. I am grateful for so much in my life and know today if I had not gone through what I did as a child to adulthood and had the parents I had, I would have not become the man I am today. So, thanks to my parents and the Navy, I do serve once again this great country with honor and respect for my fellow veterans. I would have not reached this place without taking the journey that I needed to. I am still on the journey and will continue on this path as long as I can continue to help veterans any way I can. It is my honor to do so.
Keith Hannaleck-US Navy Veteran, GDMS Sr. Sourcer, and founder of Put Veterans To Work
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