A minister and educator recounted his upbringing in a military family, and how the “toxic masculinity”-filled Army culture ultimately turned him away from serving his country.

Ruben Rosario Rodriguez was born into a military family, and at the time of his birth, had been the only male not to serve. A native of Puerto Rico who grew up living on military bases around the world, Rodriguez was related to high-ranking military personnel, including a general who was commander of the Puerto Rican Army National Guard.

From a young age, the pudgy lad was nicknamed “Macho” by his career military father, in hopes that he would become a tougher man.

One day, Rodriguez’s family tried to toughen him up by teaching him how to box. While he didn’t recall landing any blows, he certainly remembered taking them.

While “Macho” wasn’t a terribly athletic person, he was a surprisingly good marksman, something that kept his father at bay.

Rodriguez’s father was frequently deployed to Panama, where he taught troops and insurgents from Latin American nations how to overthrow Communist regimes. This didn’t sit well with the Soldier’s son, and arguments would frequently erupt on the topic.

When Macho came of age, it was time for him to follow in the family trade- the only problem was, Macho had no desire to become an officer.

“My father wanted me to attend the US Naval Academy,” he said. “I wanted to attend the College of William and Mary in Virginia and maybe study history.”

Meeting his family halfway, Rodriguez promised to join Army ROTC at William and Mary, with expectations of accepting a commission when he graduated.

“I hated ROTC,” he said, recounting a recently Ranger-qualified cadet instructor telling him he had been “trained to kill with a folded newspaper.”

Enduring the self-described “torture” of ROTC life for two years, Rodriguez finally snapped during a combatives class.

“The whole time, one thought kept running through my mind: I could sneeze at the wrong time and accidentally kill my partner,” he said. “That’s all it took…The simple realization that one misstep would make me responsible for the taking of a human life made me realized I couldn’t keep living this lie.”

Stripping off his uniform and dropping from ROTC, “Macho” became the first man in his family not to serve.

While it is commendable that Rodriguez knew his limitations and dropped out (as he could have been a threat to himself or others as an officer), he and his father had issues from then on, and stopped talking to each other around the time of Operation Desert Storm.

Graduating with a philosophy degree, Rodriguez would eventually attend seminary and was ordained in 1995. His father, who had been silent for years, attended the event, telling his son, “Now you’re in an Army of a different kind.”

The two would resume communication and did so until his father’s death in 2017. Until his last day on earth, Rodriguez’s father would never stop calling him “Macho.”

Ruben Rosario Rodriguez, Ph.D., is an associate professor of systematic theology in the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University.

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