From the day children come into the world and begin to carry a piece of their parents’ hearts around with them, they are molded and shaped them into the vessels parents hope they become.

It isn’t uncommon that all the while they are molded they are also being shaped to walk out the door and leave. This is a natural progression of growing up. For one Bridge City man this Father’s Day will be very different from any other he has experienced.

Kirk Ellender will celebrate this Father’s Day with one child taking up arms in a dangerous providence of Afghanistan. A soldier, Micah Ellender or “Big Mike” as he is called these days, is walking in harms way with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team with the 25th Infantry of the U.S. Army serving in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.
Kirk has been a long time resident and active community leader along with his wife, Brenda, in Bridge City for several decades. All of his three children attended and graduated from Bridge City High School where he has also been a member of the school board serving as its president for three separate seasons.

He was a ‘father’ to dozens of children when he and Brenda owned and operated a day care her parents built as well. A stop by his current office where he is financial advisor with Edward Jones leaves no doubt that his priority of being a father is one of his most vigilantly sought after treasures. Photos of family adorn every wall.

There is a price to be paid for raising independent children. This is not to say there isn’t pride and boasting but it costs in hours of sleep and testing of faith. Kirk and Brenda are also membership pastors at Triumph Church in Nederland where they have attended for over 25 years.

“We really never suspected Micah would wind up in the military,” he states frankly. Kirk then qualifies this statement a bit, “He was born literally at the beginning of the Gulf War. I mean literally Brenda was in and out dealing with her labor as we watched the breaking news that we had declared war. She dreamed Micah was in the Army before he was even born.” He smiles.

It is a bit of an ironic smile as he thinks back. According to Kirk the only other time there may have been a hint that Micah would go the direction he has was when the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11.

 Kirk being a part of the school board went from school to school to check on his kids to make sure they were okay. Reaching Micah’s class full of ten year olds, Kirk recalls he said, “Hey Dad! How old do you have to be to join the Army?”
Time past after that with a proper amount of teen rebellion and typical sports injuries, finding Micah looking at his options for the future.

From Afghanistan via modern technology, he say, “ I had plenty of options, too many in fact, but the one that stood out the most was serving my country. I’ve always looked up to our American heroes, and frankly I couldn’t find a reason not to join.”

He admits it most likely his decision, as it happened suddenly, took his family by surprise. “I grew up in a strong Christian home surrounded by great people. To put the icing on the cake I was also raised Republican. You get that many church going Republicans in the same room and you might as well have your own talk show.” 

He is speaking not only to religious convictions but being raised to voice his own opinions.

While Micah claims he gave his parents at least two opportunities to talk him out of signing on for a four year ride, Kirk knows there was not any ‘talking Micah out of it.”
He explains, “After Micah was recruited he needed to decide on an area of the Military. He asked me and I told him, if you choose the Airforce or the Navy, you will reduce your chances of getting shot at. He then chose Army. He then asked, what area of the Army should I sing up under? I said anything but the infantry will reduce your chances of being shot. He immediately chose the Infantry. After that I didn’t answer any more questions.” Kirk says light heartedly.

It is his and Micah’s senses of humor that help sustain them. It is a difficult thing to understand that human nature sometimes uses laughter to deal with pain, fears or grief but it has long been the case. Kirk believes it is one of Micah’s characteristics that buoys his spirit being in a dangerous region of a war zone.

“This is the ‘fighting season’ in Afganistan,” he explains.

Season vary from here to there and the season there is a spring time.

For Kirk, who also uses his sense of humor, he is held together by writing letters to Micah. A father’s words, tender and poinent about each goodbye they have had to say in this process.

Their faith is mainstay. Early on, they, Brenda and he, knew he would be deployed and knew where. They went to God diligently asking for protection, answers and peace. In that time, as in now, they feel strongly they have a word that speaks to them about Micah’s well-being.

Kirk says firmly, “It is safer to be in a dangerous place in the will of God, than is a safe place out of it.”

As for Micah, he believes he is right where God wants him. His attitudes are interesting, the words and information he choses to share enlightening. He believes the whole process to be a great experience for the whole family. He is a man, he is a soldier, he is a son. He sees every day humans in Afganistan. Not everyone who meets his gaze does he see as an enemy, but he also knows he cannot let his guard down.

In one of his communications home he tells it like this, “Last night I slept on top of a stryker, looking up at the Afgan sky, surrounded by people who want to kill me. Funny feeling.”

And there have been some scares. Communication to home is cut off for two reasons. Either a technical difficulty or a death. Recently Kirk tells of a four day span when they received no communication from Micah. They knew it was most likely a bad situation and it turned out to be so.

One of the men from his unit had made the ultimate sacrifice. Reality is hard hitting when you are at home in your bed, or sitting at you place of work trying to carry on.
For a father like Kirk, who has completely emersed himself into obtaining any and all information on equipment, badges, flag or any other various parts of what his son does, where he is, what he drives, there is no rest.

“Big Mike” is on night missions when its 2 p.m. here, Kirk’s mind drifts to that, when laying down he thinks, when he rises he thinks, and prays without ceasing. He has great faith in the son he raised. Great joy in the laughter he brings others. Colossal pride in his son.

“Sometimes, it is hard to believe its our son, because we’ve watched it (this conflict) so long and heard about it so long,” he shares a sentiment shared by all those who watched Micah run around the aisle of church, or crash to the grass at a high school football game.

“It is taxing. It’s weighty. I couldn’t be any more proud as a father to have a son willing to do this. Signing on willingly. Which is not to say his mother and I don’t count the days until he is back so we can be proud of him over here.”

The goodbyes have been a watermark of sorts. Each one leading closer to his deployment. The last being the hardest. The last being the one that was impossible to prepare himself for. It is a father’s burden to carry.

Sons are raised with the intent to one day become men and then they must be allowed be one. It is a price that must be paid. It is the bittersweetness of life.

The Ellenders are now a military family. They fly flags, they receive honors, they wear military rope bands, dog tags adorn Kirk’s neck that Micah handed him when they prayed and sent him off.

“Our son is off doing what he can to honor his country. We are doing what we can to honor our son,” Kirk said. 

That is the heart of one father this Father’s Day. It is the heart for many who have given a son or daughter to any of the conflicts we have been afflicted with. But there is not pity, there is honor, faith, courage and hope. A family modeling what it means to live a life well lived in troubling situations with dignity and integrity.

There is one more thing, a Father’s Day gift.

“Tell my dad I can’t wait to get back to the states so we can go on a long overdue Harley ride around the town. Love Micah.”