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"Terrestrial Man"

'Hey, bud, uh, just checking in

If actually, if you want, I'm, uh, in between flight

We're all flying and I'm gone heading out to the north

And, yeah-yeah, bye, love ya'

While a military parent is deployed or on temporary duty (TDY), differences in time zones mess with the ability to communicate. Voicemails become the best option to hear a loved one's voice. As the son of a pilot, Jack Van Cleaf discusses the struggle to communicate with his constantly moving father in his song, Terrestrial Man.

Starting the piece off with a personal voice message from his father, Van Cleaf depicts the desire of military brats to maintain small connections with their parents, no matter how far away they may be. As military kids, we latch on to any contact we can have with our service members, even going as far as preserving text messages and calls that are years old. The tiniest efforts and smallest actions always end up meaning the most in the long run.

Hey, bud, just calling from Seattle

How are you living out in Nashville?

Prepared for European travel? Will you be leaving soon?

When a parent is away, they miss out on many big moments of our lives. From music recitals to high school graduation, our service members are missing out. They seem to ask us endless questions about our lives, but really, they are just trying to know everything about us that they would when not deployed.

I'll be back in a few days, it'd be great to see your face

If you're busy, that's okay, what are you up to?

Our serving parents often feel so distanced physically that they do not feel like they are an important part of our lives anymore. In feeling so, they apologize for “invading” our time and our daily routine. It is important for military teens to realize our need to keep our parents involved in our day-to-day lives so that they recognize how crucial they are.

I've been jumping back and forth

Between Oakland and New York

There are limitless airports to keep me on the move

Deployed parents are in a constant state of change, not unlike the airports that Van Cleaf’s father is stuck inbetween. The bases are never ending and their duty to the United States is the same, keeping them “on the move.”

And I've come to undеrstand

That I'm no terrestrial man

Military parents are not normal parents and military teens are not normal teens. We are not “terrestrial,” in the sense of being on the same ground for more than a few years. Military life is a process to understand - understanding that we are different in the best ways possible. Never be ashamed of being a “Terrestrial Man.”

My home's a location in bеtween destinations

Sometimes I wish that I'd never land

Often, for anyone who moves with the military, it feels easier to keep the flow of moving rather than stop and make connections. It is a major transition to start focusing on long-lasting connections as opposed to short ones that match how brief a duty station may be.

Hey, bud, just calling you from Dallas

This terminal's an earthly palace

For every pilot lacking balance in his sleep routine

This line is where the song hits my personal experience. My dad is retired Air Force, but he now flies for United Airlines. I’m not sure how many readers share the same situation, but it is relatively common for former government pilots to retire and work for a commercial airline. My dad always seems to be in a different airport; I can never keep track of where he is. He’s always complaining about his lack of sleep and so the idea of admitting to the understatement of “lacking balance” makes me smile.

You're going to London, ain't it funny?

You'll fly through here to leave the country

I'll leave behind some foreign money at security

So, when you drink in Camden Town

You can afford to double down

Military parents often show their love in the most peculiar ways. Even to the point of leaving money for their kids indirectly, like Van Cleaf’s father doing so for him to spend overseas. There are times when you can feel so close to your deployed parent but so far away, with that sentiment of “ain’t it funny” how close you were.

Don't leave your head up in the clouds

More than it needs to be

Sometimes, the thought of having their distant service member back home can take over the mind of a military teen. From afar, their parent can remind them to still remember them, but continue to live their lives for themselves, not simply hoping for their loved one to return.

‘Cause you'll come to understand

That you're no terrestrial man

Your home's a location in between destinations

Do you ever wish that you didn't land?

What was the cause when you thought that you'd call me an a**hole?

I'm sorry that I'm sleep-deprived every time that I come home

Though many of us do not have this aggressive of an experience, we, as military brats, can get angered by our parents, more for them having to spend so much time away than for any of their actual actions. Our service members end up exhausted, limiting how much we can really be around them. Even still, military parents are the ones that apologize and feel sorry for their short interactions with their kids.

Remember when you were a kid? Brought you gifts from Tokyo

I lived for the light in your eyes, you were five, where's the time go?

You thought I knew this world like the back of my hand

And this is the verse that makes me tear up. I can vividly remember my dad bringing me home little trinkets and toys from his TDYs and how excited I would be to see him and hear about his adventures. He will always be my biggest idol, but there was just something magical about him flying a plane and working for the United States directly when I was a kid. This verse shows that those memories stuck with our parents too, just instead with them remembering the connection that they made with us. We were always their biggest fans, no matter what they did at work on a daily basis.

But I'm no terrestrial man

My home's a location in between destinations

Sometimes I wish that I'd never land

Do you ever wish that you didn't land?

This song hits me in the heart, each part is so easily understood and simple in a father’s love for his child while being constantly out of town for work. Though I can specifically relate to Van Cleaf’s sentiment, his lyrics directly connect to the experience of military teens through the perspective of their serving parents. The deployment has almost the same impact on them as us emotionally, with this song forcing us to take a few steps in their shoes and appreciate the bonds we have with them. Thank you, Jack Van Cleaf, for writing a song that made me feel seen and pushes military teens to look through their parents’ eyes. Please, to all readers, give "Terrestrial Man" and all of his other music a listen.


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