I learned from my father, Colonel Russell S. Hahn, a highly decorated Army officer that “service” can be joy. As a youth, I witnessed my dad’s dedication to his country. At times, he was away from home engaged in the latest international conflict or military operation. Being young, an only child and not growing up with an extended family, I thought then that his long absences were that he didn’t want to spend time with us. The “bottom line” was that my father’s calling was to serve his country. “The Colonel” was raised by his grandmother until he entered the U.S Army. My Parisian mother left France at a young age after WW II to start a new life with my father.
I was fortunate to call
“The Colonel” my dad.
An inspiring male figure.
The Presidio of San Francisco was my father’s final military assignment and retirement. I remember the day of my father’s retirement ceremony because it ushered in some dark years for my dad as he transitioned from military to civilian life. I was dressed that day in a blue suit to honor the occasion and listened to the Commanding General bestow accolades on my dad’s 30 years of service. Following the ceremony, our family of three and close friends took a short walk to the Presidio Officer’s Club to celebrate.
My father was in his mid-50’s and eager to take on a second career. He was a “go getter” who had put behind him a broken childhood. He rose through the ranks from enlisted private to “bird colonel” with only a high school diploma. He would say to me: “Bobby, I work harder because I have to compete with these “West Pointers.” He soon discovered in his job search the liability of not having a college degree. Also, public opinion at that time was shifting due to the Vietnam War raising questions that the management skills of an officer could be transferable to the private sector. Watching my father’s struggles and successes, encouraged me to value service in my community.
He would mail resumes only to receive rejection letters. He tried sales positions and worked as a private investigator, neither of which suited his style. He had self-educated himself, was refined and having a French wife by his side added to his air of sophistication. He was elegant in a masculine way, and it was painful to see him in these job settings.
He joined Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty working at a Job Corps site. My father was conservative and to associate with what became one of the oldest government social programs was ironical. Targeting disadvantaged youth to gain employment skills and complete their high school education was the mission. He empathized with the life circumstances of the black youth in the program and could relate to the Corps core values of respect, integrity, and commitment, ideals he had built his life around.
At the time, I was a student at UC Berkeley and after school I would tutor at-risk youth in Oakland. We had deep discussions on the topic of racial injustice and I do remember feeling connected with him and that we were being of service to the community.
The good news was that after working at the Job Corps he went on to work in banking. He started as a teller and true to his nature worked himself up the ladder to become a bank executive and retired with a second career. I am convinced that the time he spent in the Job Corps training these young men helped him find his way again.
My father died before the birth of my two grown children Tessa and Baron Hahn. As a father, I’ve taken many deep dives to sort out my feelings and emotions for my father and our relationship. All the pieces came together on a Sunday afternoon 10 years ago, when my wife and I were strolling through the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. We came upon an artist’s tent displaying a photograph of a Chinese “reed farmer” hunched over, shoes worn, and carrying on his back a pile of harvested reeds. Below the image are the words of the Indian poet and author Rabindranath Tagore:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
The art print hangs in our living room. It reminds me of my father’s life long service, commitment to his country and love for his family.