Monday, July 24th, 2006
A Military Dad Talks About Family Sacrifices
"I wish that you had a perspective of what it means when you give up so much."
That comment was left by "Richard" on my Daddy Dolls to Remember Deployed Dads post. Daddy Dolls feature a full body photo of a distant parent. The idea of these dolls gives me the heebie-jeebies, but saying "heebie-jeebies" seems to rub military families the wrong way. (Also see the Huggee Miss You doll, which is a similar product.)
I exchanged e-mails with Richard, who is currently serving in the Middle East, and asked him to share more of his perspective. Richard’s response is below. Think about it the next time you throw your child a birthday party.
AJ, thanks for the reply and I understand more your position and your comments. Here are some points to help illuminate what my family, as a fairly typical military family gives up and how it changes our life. In no means is this description of the cost to us meant to be a session of pity, but an honest look at what we can expect as we, as a family, serve our country.
I work over 60 hours a week during a normal week, and that number of hours goes closer to 70 when we are busy. My wife has said it best when she tells me the Army gets me in my waking hours and my family gets me during my sleeping hours. These hours mean that I miss all the school functions, after school sports, or the activities little kids do. I can cut out from work, but the work will need to be made up at some point.
I know that many families outside the military struggle with the same challenges, but with the military, it is never ending and you do not know when your family time will become the military’s time.
I have a 3-year-old daughter and I have never been home on her birthday. For my 5-year-old, it has been like that for 2 of the last 3 years. The same for my anniversary and my wife’s birthday. As you miss these events, it is obvious you can never make them up.
Missing these dates also creates a gap in the personal history and memories of the family. I constantly step into and out of the lives of my family. As they change, or as I change, it creates gaps, tensions, and resentments.
A military family has to work harder to retain itself as a unit in my mind’s eye than a family not in the military. Maybe the doll will be a tool to help me stay connected and to make my return smoother and faster into the lives of my family.
The danger, uncertainty, and lack of communication is probably the hardest part of our family’s military experience. The first responders in the civilian world or in other dangerous jobs can appreciate that truth. It really can wear a family out and test their ability to stay together.
We volunteered for our jobs, and many of us truly love what we do, but the family suffers. In the world we are in today, a constant deployment cycle provides little down time to release this tension. The programs that the military has developed and has provided for the families and the soldiers has made a huge improvement in our ability to deal with these stressors, but the programs will not remove it all.
One way we in the military deal with what we have to do is to find any way possible to connect with our families. Phone centers, internet cafes, free mail, and video teleconference are priorities to us and we get them established and funded early.
I try to call, write an email, or send a letter every day that I am gone. Not always possible, but I make it a priority. Even the smallest touch in a word means more when you are 10,000 miles away. When I heard about the dolls, it was just another way that we as a family could impact each others lives and stay as a family.
I hope this helps to give you a sense of what it means to be an Army family and how this fight against the terrorist world is impacting our lives.
I will gladly get you a photo of my children with the doll when I get one from my wife. By the way, the doll is her way too of trying to keep the family on course. In many ways, the family, especially the spouse at home, have it tougher than we do when we are deployed.
I hope that you do not get the impression I am whining, but I do realize what my job is doing to my family. The doll is going to help.