19 is a great age to make a career choice! You’re young, fearless and full of ambition! But what happens later on, when you’re life and circumstances have changed? When you’re no longer just looking out for number 1? How do we cope when we have a family that deserves our time and attention?
I like many other parents around the world, have a job that takes me away from home. Sometimes for a couple of weeks, other times for months on end. And far from becoming easier, it gets harder every time; saying goodbye to your partner and children, knowing that it will be 7 months before you see them again, doing your best to ignore the possibility that you may not come back at all. If you’ve never experienced it, then thank your lucky stars because I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
It’s a challenge. I love my children more that I could have ever understood before becoming a parent, and I treasure every second with them. The last thing I want to do is leave, but I and others like me find comfort in the fact that we’re doing it for a reason. We’re doing it because we want what’s best for our families and if it takes personal heartache to achieve their betterment, then we are willing to make the sacrifice. But will they understand??
My youngest daughter is 4. I missed her 1st, 2nd and 3rd birthdays deployed overseas and so was thrilled earlier this year to be there at her 4th and relished every second of it. But does she get it? Does she know that I would’ve given anything to be there, or does she simply remember that I wasn’t present? When they look back as young adults at pictures of Christmas without Daddy, will they know how much I wanted to be there, or will they feel unwanted by their father who wasn’t there? That’s what really worries us.
We do our best to explain it, and our children do their best to take it in, but their perfect little minds can’t possibly understand at such a young age that we’d rather be there that it hurts us to go. Even as I write this I’m deployed in Southern Asia and have already missed my 14-month-old son’s 1st birthday and his first steps. Next week is my eldest daughters 16th birthday and I’m not due home until October. Their mother, my long-suffering wife makes sure that they feel loved, that they’re not neglected and that they have a good time without Daddy. But who takes care of her? I talk about the children, but does SHE know? Does SHE understand how much I’d rather be there with them? I hope so.
Like most families in this position, my wife and I have a ‘master-plan’ that will mean it doesn’t always have to be like this. Another few years and we hope we’ll be in a position where we can safely pursue a career-change that brings me home to them for good. And in the mean-time, we continue to make the most of our time together. I suppose in that respect we’re lucky? That due to the time apart, it really makes us treasure the time we get together. Our bond is certainly a strong one, as it has endured years worth of strain.
I have also set up email accounts for the youngest three (who are too little for me to explain to right now) that I write to as a means of contact. They don’t know about it, but I’ll give them the login details when they’re 16 and they’ll have a back catalogue of love letters from their all-too-absent Daddy. It will be nice for them, but it’s also very cathartic for me. I recommend it to anyone in a similar position!
I know there are many mothers to whom this applies, but I have a few messages on behalf of the dads in my position:
To our Wives/Partners:
Thank you! Thank you for doing the job of mummy AND daddy, all alone, for so long. Too often Father’s Day rolls around and the credit goes to us when in fact it’s you that’s held everything together while we’ve been gone. And thank you for the comfort we feel knowing that the children are safe, loved and looked after while we’re gone. You’re an inspiration.
To our children:
Don’t thank us, forgive us. Anything we do for you, we do it because we love you. It is a pleasure, not a chore and if we could do it ten times over, we would. The greatest gift we could ever receive is that one day you might say “Dad, I understand. I understand why you weren’t there”. The peace we would receive from hearing those words is greater than any shop bought present in the world.
To those lucky enough to live together:
Make the most of your time together. Remember that there are those who crave what you have; unlimited access to those you love. So use it. Hold them, kiss them, play their games, listen to their nonsense and when it’s Father’s Day wear that ugly tie with pride!