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Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Tell My Dad That I Want To Enlist?

Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Tell My Dad That I Want To Enlist?

Dear Auntie,

I am a junior in high school and I have a problem with my Dad. I want to enlist in the military but I don't know how to break it to him. My dad has it set in his mind that I go to college no matter what and I get a career.

When I hinted it to him that I wanted to enlist, he made it very clear that he wanted me to still go to a college and become an officer in the military and not some grunt. It's not that I don't want to go to college, it's just that I feel like I need to do something for my country that will make a difference. The reason why I don't want to be an officer is that I don’t want the responsibility that it comes with. If I were to make one bad decision, just one, then that would mean that someone would die, and I don't want that on my conscience.

I feel like if I don't go to college right after high school then I will disappoint my dad. My mom wasn't able to go to college, and my dad wasn't able to go to the college of his choice, all because of money. I think that’s the reason he wants me to go so bad. But I don't know how to tell him that I want to serve before I go to college. Please Auntie, tell me what I can say to him so that I don't disappoint him, I don't want to make him ashamed of me.

And he won't be! Although before we get to that, Auntie has to say this: If you don’t think you can handle the idea of being even peripherally responsible for someone else’s life, then, um, you may want to rethink your decision to enter the military? Because being a soldier—whether you’re on the ground, in the air, behind a desk, or cruising around in a submarine—means being okay with at least the theoretical possibility that if you screw up, people will die. Being responsible for the lives of your fellow soldiers, even if it’s only indirectly, is kinda part of the job.

But hey, guess what: more thinking is what’s required here anyway! Because if you want your father to take you seriously, then you’re going to need to show him some initiative beyond your current vague mumblings about making a difference. I'll be honest: right now, your desire to enlist is coming off as half-baked at best (and your excuse for avoiding officer training school just sounds like... well, an excuse.). So, rather than re-approaching him with your plans, take some time—and as a junior, you have tons of it—to give this decision the same thought, care, and consideration that you’d put into any multi-year commitment.

Which is to say: now is the time for RESEARCH. Read up on each branch of the military. Get informed about enlistment requirements, duties, daily life, benefits. Talk to people you know who’ve already served or are currently serving. Make sure you know, realistically, what will be asked of you and what kind of life you’re embarking on. And while you’re researching your military options, make sure you dig deep for some self-knowledge, too. What are your interests? What are your strengths? What are you hoping to achieve in the next several years—and, in light of your painstaking info-gathering, is the military your best or only option?

If the answer to that last question is a definitive yes, then congratulations: you’re ready to narrow your options and have a preliminary conversation with a recruiter.

Of course, after really looking into it, you may also find that your desire to make a difference is better-served by another path—one that doesn’t require you to do approximately one billion pushups before you can travel it. And if that happens? Hey, it’s okay! Because to really think through a decision is to accept the possibility that you’ll decide differently after the thinking is done.

But if, when the time comes to discuss your future, the military is still what you want, then you’ll be ready to approach your father with a plan that’s well-informed, supported by research, and obviously the result of a mature and considered decision-making process—and when you’ve got all of that in your pocket (plus the guidance of a recruiter who’s helped hundreds of kids deliver the news that they’re joining up), you won’t need me to tell you exactly what to say. Because whether or not your dad loves your choice to serve, he’ll know that you made it wisely—and that’s something no decent parent could ever be ashamed of.

Are you thinking about enlisting? Worried about telling your parents? Share your thoughts in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Love and War

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, jobs, careers, dads, decisions, the military, army, enlisting

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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