This time of year I always remember mid June 2004, the day my husband and I took our 18 year old son to the recruiter’s office for him to begin his journey to boot camp in San Diego. As we walked away, both with tears running down our cheeks, I was wondering how I was going to deal with the fact that my only son, the youngest of four I felt had been ripped from the nest. My heart ached. The drive home and the next couple days we were both quiet, thinking about Brian and all that was ahead of him. It was in those quiet hours I started to think about my husband and how this was affecting him; after all he was the dad and loved Brian just as much as I did.
The young man he left at the recruiter’s station was the son he had rocked and fed as an infant. The son he had read to, and who, as a toddler, followed behind him with his toy lawnmower while he mowed the lawn. This was the son that he taught to play t-ball, catch and how to ride a bike. The son he shared his love and knowledge of cars, especially the classics with, and winter camped together with the boy scouts. The son he taught to drive and then helped find his first car when he saved enough money. The son who helped him paint the house and learned the proper way to use any tool. The son in whom he instilled the value of hard work, honesty, respect for others, and the importance of family. The son, like him, who doesn’t talk much, but thinks a lot. The son he nurtured, encouraged, and supported in all he did, including enlisting in the Marine Corp. His son was preparing to be sent to war.
A couple weeks after Brian left we were at a small café having coffee when I asked Mick how he was really doing since Brian left. As always he thought about his answer then proceeded to tell me that it was harder than he thought it was going to be. At work he’d wonder what Brian was doing and at times his co-workers would ask how I was handling Brian being gone, but no one asked how he was doing. He said I was actually the first one who asked about his feelings, which broke my heart a little. When he thanked me for caring enough to ask, my heart ached even more for him because he was the dad.
He’s a man yes, but he’s a dad who loved and missed his son. A dad who was just as worried about this son as I was. A dad that wanted to share with others how he felt about everything his son was facing, but wasn’t given the opportunity, because no one ever asked.
Throughout our son’s enlistment including his two deployments, this same pattern continued. I was approached by friends and family asking how I was doing, and if I’d heard from Brian, and my husband was asked the exact same things. No one asked how he, the dad, was doing. This really saddened me.
Prior to his second deployment Brian asked his dad if he could help him design and them make out of steel a small gauge that would measure the accuracy of the machine guns. After they sat down and figured out exactly what Brian needed, Mick made several of them for Brian and his buddies. My husband, being a machinist, felt so good about being able to do this for Brian. Just like I needed to continually send packages in order to feel I was doing what I could to take care of my son like a mother should, making this tool for Brian and his buddies made Mick feel he was more connected to Brian by doing what he could for him. He was the dad; he needed to be involved in whatever way he possible.
I understand that moms have a special bond with their children, and emotionally it may be a little harder for us to cut the apron strings, while dads are usually the more practical of the parents, but all too often when a child is in the military, the dad’s are forgotten.
In the years since our son’s honorable discharge my husband and son have developed an even stronger bond and respect for one another as men. When our son was deciding whether or not to make a huge move, he asked his dad. Then when my husband was considering a large purchase, he discussed it with our son. We may live over 1000 miles apart, but Brian knows that his dad will always be their for him, and my husband knows that his son, has not only become a man, but also his friend. Our son needs his dad and his dad needs our son. That’s the way it’s always been.
After seeing and experiencing the ups and downs my husband went through, during Brian’s enlistment and even after when he moved away, I do what I can to make others aware that if the dad is a part of the child’s life, the dad lives with the same emotional uncertainties that the mom does, just processes them differently.
We know society caters to the fact that the dad needs to be the macho guy, going to work, never showing emotion, the one that’s supposed to be strong for the rest of the family, and can handle anything. None of which is true. As the friends and families of those with a child in the military we need to make that extra effort to encourage and support the dad letting him know he’s just as important as the mom. A pat on the back, an encouraging word, a quick, “How are you really doing?’ will give him a chance to open his heart and validate his emotions.
I personally am extremely thankful for all the dads of those in the military and the immensely important role they have in their child’s life. So to them I send out a warm Happy Father’s Day and thank them for having such a strong supporting role in making the United States military what it is today.