The Military Father
A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads
By Armin A. Brott
Abbeville Press Copyright © 2009 Armin A. Brott
All rights reserved.
Excerpt from The Military FatherIntroduction
Over the years I’ve received more than a thousand letters and e-mails from fathers (and mothers) asking for advice on every conceivable parenting topiceverything from What are some workouts I can do with my pregnant wife?” and Help! I’m about to be a new dad but I’ve never touched a baby before” to Should we pay our kids to do chores?” and My teenage daughter came home with liquor on her breath! What did I do wrong?” Although each question is a little different, what the writers really want to know is how to build strong relationships with their children and be the best possible parents.
But starting in late 2001, I also began getting very different questions, things like, I’m in the Marines. My unit is shipping out to Afghanistan next month, and I’m going to miss the birth of my baby. What can I do to remain close to my wife?” and My husband is deployed in Iraq. How can I help him continue to be part of our children’s life when he’s 8,000 miles away?” and I’ve been gone for so long. Will my wife and kids still need me when I come home?”
As a former Marine myself (I know, I know, once a Marine, always a Marine), these questions hit me especially hard. And I was reminded of the day, back when I was in boot camp, that my chief drill instructor barked to a fellow recruit who’d made the mistake of revealing that he had just gotten married, If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a family, you moron, they’d issue you one!” Fortunately, things have changed quite a bit since then. (Although there’s still an awful lot of camouflage floating around.)
Until about 1973, the United States used an involuntary draft to bring in the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines needed to staff the military services. Almost all of them were unmarried men without children. But today, well over half of active duty, reserve, and National Guard personnel are married, and nearly 40 percent have kids. Given that the vast majority of these service members will be deployed at some point, there are literally hundreds of thousands of dads (and quite a few moms too) who will be separated from their family. Looking at that from another angle, nearly two million childrenthree-quarters of whom are under twelvewill be separated from a parent (and that doesn’t include the children of civilian contractors).
Like their civilian counterparts, deployed military fathers want to be involved, play an important role in their children’s lives, and feel needed and valued by their family. But they face some additional challenges: Is it possible to stay connected across time and distance? How can you build or maintain relationships with people you can’t even touch? If you’re divorced and your children are with your ex-wife, you may feel at an extra distance from your kids. How can you stay involved with them?
I wrote The Military Father
to answer those, and many other questions. Perhaps more importantly, I also wanted to reassure every one of those deployed fathers (and mothers too) that he plays a vital role in his children’s livesone that goes well beyond changing diapers, driving the carpool, and being a living, breathing ATM machine. And finally, I wanted to give deployed dads the tools they need to keep those relationships strong.
Of course, being thousands of miles and a dozen time zones away from each other complicates things. Teaching your child to ride a bike or throw a curve ball is going to be tough, and good-night kisses are out for a while. But with today’s technology, you may be able to read bedtime stories to your children, help them with their homework, tell them silly jokes, show them how much sand you dump out of your boots every night or dust you have to wipe off your sunglasses, teach them about geography, see their science fair projects and school plays, and remind them of how much you love them and how proud they make you.
Bottom line: you are irreplaceable. Being deployed is going to be an adventure. An exhausting, difficult, rewarding adventure. Sure, there will be all sorts of challenges, mistakes, and emotional ups and downs. But it can be doneand this book will help. It is possible to stay connected to everyone in your family, and it is possible to remain a major influence in their lives. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Who’s This Book For?The Military Father
is written primarily for dads serving on active duty, in the Reserve, or in the National Guard in any of the five branches of the U.S. military: Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. However, there are two other very important groups:
Deployed civilian contractors. At any given moment, there are well over 100,000 civilians working in a variety of capacities alongside the U.S. military. The majority of these civilians are men, and quite a few are dads.Dads who stay home while their wives are deployedsomething that’s happening more and more often.
What’s in This Book?
Like the other volumes in the New Father
series, The Military Father
is organized chronologically, but rather than using the child’s age as a way to measure the time, I’ve structured the book around the three broad phases of deployment. Part I is devoted to predeployment. We’ll talk about how to prepare yourself, your kids, and your wife for your absence and how to put systems in place that will help keep those relationships strong while you’re away. In Part II, we’ll focus on what happens during the actual deployment, how to implement those predeployment plans, and specific ways to stay connected and involved with your wife and children. In Part III, we’ll look at what happens when you get home. Yes, the deployment is officially over, but sometimes it’s harder to reintegrate back into your family than it is to be gone. Each of these three parts includes several chapters.
What’s going on. Each of these chapters is divided into three main parts:
What’s going on with you, where we’ll look at what you may be feeling and thinking, and how those feelings and thoughts may play out in your behavior.What’s going on with your wife, we’ll focus on your wife’s emotional journeyWhat’s going on with your children, where we’ll explore what your children are going through.
The more you know about what’s happening emotionally and psychologically on all fronts, the easier it’ll be to help them and yourself cope with the deployment. (Oh, you'll still go through the ups and downs, but this way at least you'll be expecting them.) It will also allow you to keep your expectations reasonable and prepare you for how theyand youwill have changed over the course of the deployment.
Oh, and in case you were worried, being deployed isn’t all bad newsnot by a long shot. The tax benefits and salary bonuses can help relieve some financial pressures, and deployments tend to be good for career advancement. Deployments may make you and your wife feel more competent and confident. After all, if you can make it through this, you can make it through anything
Staying involved, This is where we get into the concrete steps you can take to stay involved with your wife and your children. As with the What’s going on chapters, each of these is divided into three sections:
Looking out for number one. Knowing you’re making a difference in the lives of your wife and children will make you feel more like an integral part of your family. In addition, knowing they’re doing well will keep you focused on the job at hand. You’ll cope with the stresses of deployment much better if you’re confident that your family is okay. Plus, if your worries about what’s happening at home distract you too much, you could jeopardize your life, your buddies’ lives, and the success of your mission. Not a good thing at all. In these sections we’ll focus on things you can do for yourselfgetting in a little me time” now and then is very important. But don’t count on having the time for a bubble bath
Staying involved with your wife. Your children aren’t the only ones who are affected by your deployment. In fact, almost 60 percent of service members say that the number and length of deployments has hurt the stability of their marriage and put strain on their family. Yes, you’ll be apart, and not it’s not going to be much fun. But deployment is definitely not a death sentence for your marriage. In fact, supporting each other and knowing that you’re both working toward the common goal of keeping the family strong often brings deployed couples closer. The more support she gets from you, and the more you reassure her that you love her, the happier and more confident she’ll be (it’s actually mathematically impossible for her to hear I love you” too many times). That’s good for her, good for the kids, and will be good for you when you get back. Your wife is also the link between you and your children. If she feels that you’re making an effort to keep your relationship with her strong, she’ll be much more supportive and encouraging of your relationship with the kids.Staying involved with your child(ren). When you’re a part of their liveseven at a distanceyour children will cope better with the stress of your deployment, have fewer behavioral problems, do better in school, think more creatively, get along better with peers, be less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and be less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. Since the majority of children with deployed parents are under seven, I'm focusing mostly on that age group. However, there’s plenty of valuable information on staying involved with kids from seven through the teen years.
But wait, there’s more. Throughout the book I’ve included a number of special sections, including:
What deployment is, who gets deployed, for how long, and where.Unique issues that affect civilian contractors.Challenges facing Reservists and National Guardsmen when they leaveand then return totheir civilian job life.Knowing your legal rights. A number of laws offer special financial and legal protections to reserve and active duty military. These are very useful to know about. Oh man, are they useful.What to do if your wife is going to have your baby while you’re deployedbesides worry.How to stay involved as a single parent.Dual service couples, where dad and mom are both in the military (and may be deployed at the same time).Dealing with combat stress or physical injury.What happens when Mom is deployed and Dad is the trophy husband. (Congratulations on that, by the way!)Detailed, easy-to-use predeployment checklists.A detailed overview of child development, from pregnancy through eighteen.A whole chapter written just for moms, on how to support your husband during the deployment. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Military Father by Armin A. Brott. Copyright © 2009 Armin A. Brott. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
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