His anxiety kicked in as Joe walked into the newly floored study his father maintained so immaculately. The walls were adorned with prizes won, symbols of power and freedom. His father had collected these over the years. And his father before him. And his before him. The grand mansion was a hundred years old. It had been in the family for three generations. He was to inherit it, move into the master suite next spring as his father retired. That too had been their family tradition. It was his father’s last year carving the turkey. Old man Joe was ready to pass the metaphorical torch, the literal knife and the keys of G.I. Joe and Sons to his son Joe III, or as he was known fondly J3.
They were a proud family, and a wealthy one. The wealth and pride came from the business which great grandpa had established a hundred years ago. It was said that grandpa Joe was a free spirited person and an honest hardworking man who had arrived on a boat as a small child, separated from his parents to this great nation. He served his adopted country and when the war was over, started G.I. Joe and sons in a small shack that he lived and worked in. The storefront had been modest, smaller than their mudroom now. He had a dream. He had to ensure that his children were born in a land of the brave and the free. Freedom was his pride. He had ensured his children never saw the misfortunes he had as a child. His son had gone on to serve in the next war after him, returned to pursue an education in the prestigious Notre Dame and used his business skills to expand the small store into the largest retailer of Freedom in the state, as he was fond of claiming.
Then came Joe Jr. who was looking nostalgically at the carving knife as his son walked into his study. He looked at J3 with emotion. “You know son, when I first landed in ‘Nam, I hated it. I wanted to be in college, reading, meeting women and joining movements.” J3 smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Movements, Sir? At Notre Dame you mean. What kind of movements?” His father laughed, “I was young and foolish, or maybe it was the pot. No, not at Notre Dame, I actually wanted to go to hippie land. Berkeley. My old man had quite the showdown with me before I got drafted. I hated it but I went along with it. I wasn’t even sure why, I just did it.” J3 was genuinely surprised. To say his father was traditional would be an understatement. The old man went on, “When my boots first hit the clay, I nearly threw up. I did in fact throw up on the flight there. I did it because my father told me a story of freedom that his father had told him and his father before. Freedom is our tradition Son, our pride. We have to preserve it at all costs.” J3 nodded compassionately, “I believe that father, I really do.” Old man Jr. took a sip of his bourbon. As I fought to preserve freedom, I came to learn the meaning of it. When I got back, I wanted to go to Notre Dame, not because I hated Berkeley, but because following our values and tradition had made me believe.”
This was not the way J3 expected the conversation to go. His father appeared exceptionally sentimental today. He went on to narrate the same story he and his sister had heard countless times. Joe Jr. had come back to start working for his father alongside taking classes at Notre Dame. He had graduated top of class, and before he was thirty, had gone on to not only take over his dying father’s business, but expand it. He had seen the real link between freedom and business, politics and communication and worked tirelessly to evolve G.I. Joe and Sons to a national business empire, the largest seller of Firearms and Ammunition that these United States had ever seen. He had started the investment wing of the company too, which now employed hedge fund managers from New York City to San Francisco. He had dined with congressmen and vacationed with models. One such model had been his wife, a young aspiring actress from Berkeley, in fact. J3 wondered if it was his mother’s genes that made him walk into the room this evening, nervous but passionate about what he was going to share with his father.
“I do believe in freedom, father. I want you to know, I cherish it more than life itself. I am proud of my service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am grateful for my Notre Dame education.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I am also grateful for my Berkeley education, father. It was not a whim, or a passing fancy. I worked hard to learn the business while I studied Anthropology. It was a real degree, I assure you.It also taught me about freedom and pride, like the Marines and Notre Dame did, but from a different perspective.” His father shook his head and sighed. “Why do you do this to me son, try to rub it in as I hand you the keys. You know my time is limited. What is it that you are trying to prove. Just tell me that G.I. Joe and sons, and this family will be in good hands, and I’ll rest in peace.”
J3 took a gulp from his own glass of bourbon. He hated the rough sweet taste. He was more of a red wine drinker, though he preferred to not drink at all. He could not stomach it. Or the guns, or the politics. “Our investment firm will grow like never before father, your daughter in law, Rama will put her NYU MBA to work tirelessly. I will work on expanding our philanthropic wing to reach out to more people than ever before. In fact, I just spoke with Melinda and Bill Gates on Skype the other evening. They are very excited to collaborate with us. On one condition of course.” His father frowned, “Why, what do they want?”
J3 continued, “I think you know dad. I think you have always known. I will do everything I can to preserve freedom and look after our family. Rama and I, Rob and Jamal, and yes he will make a great son in law to you, will all look after our family and our businesses and freedom in America.” His father took a deep breath, “And where is the but?” J3 smiled calmly. “But, father, the meaning of freedom has changed over the years. It isn’t so much about holding a gun, as not worrying that your kid isn't shot in school by one. Pride isn’t about picking up a gun and flying to another country, as embracing the person you were born to be, or the person you choose to be, without judgement. Freedom is having the right to marry who you love. Pride comes from helping others without a war, but through social work and outreach, education and science. I think great grandpa would have agreed, when he came to these shores as a boy, it wasn’t to keep the practices that he was subjected to across the sea, it was to create new traditions. It was to be free, to live as he chose and look after his family, community and country. We will do the same. Just differently.”
Joe Jr. sank into his armchair, looking weak and frail for the first time in years. He looked up at his son, a tear ran down his right eye. He chugged the remaining whiskey in his glass. J3 smiled and stepped closer to his father, took his hand and said with genuine love, “I do respect your hard work, and our family, and this country. It is for that very reason, that G.I Joe and Sons, will from next year never sell a single gun or bullet. That part of our business will be shut down. For ever. We meant to empower people, but we have done quite the opposite. Not another drop of blood, father. Never again."
More tears filled Joe Jr's eyes as felt his teeth grind. J3 kneeled before his father humbly, taking his other hand. "The wealth from our gun business will be channelled into our G.I Joe Foundation. I will run it, Melinda and Bill will partner with us and mentor me personally. This is for our family father, our generations to come, and our country. Most of all father, it is for you. You have always wanted me to be strong and stand up for myself. Now I am doing just that. Even if you don’t see it. Come now father, the turkey won’t carve itself.”