Dealing with Deployments: Dad’s View from Away

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A few weeks ago, I shared my perspectives about the difficulties in dealing with deployments here.

So I thought it would be interesting to have my husband Steve write a follow up- from his point of view. He’s on the USS Essex, and is almost finishing up a  2 1/2 month deployment.

So from the deck of the Iron Gator, here’s a dad’s view on being away. I like to think that being away from my family is not a choice I have made. Before I leave for a deployment, the same questions, each with their rationalizations invade my mind every time. Why did I choose a career path that I knew would lead to not infrequent separation from those I love? Isn’t it most important to take care of my family? At the end of the day, what else matters?   I tell my wife to remind me that we all have to support ourselves and our families.

Being a physician is a privilege. That life is unpredictable and regardless of our decisions, we are likely to face difficult times in one form or another. My wife is a teacher and has always been generous with her compassionate availability to emotionally needy students. Her life is richer for it. My career is certainly not boring. And I suspect that many with jobs different from my own in the military find great reward in their work and opportunities. That is not say that it makes it any easier to leave. My son was 2 years plus a few months when I first deployed. Although I was anxious about leaving, I had the sense that it would be much harder on myself than it was for him. And knowing that was comforting. As he gets older ( now about 3 ½ ), I worry more about him noticing other fathers holding their son’s hands. Sebastian ( my son ) sleeps with his mom when I’m gone. I can’t help laughing out loud remembering Sebastian’s first unpleasant vivid dream after watching a video about bees. “I don’t like my bees”, he said as he was swatting phantom swarming bees from his arm. Missing experiences like that and the chance to reassure him and provide a sanctuary is difficult. Before I go, I am afraid to be away from him. As if by maximizing our time in advance, we are losing less time later.

After leaving, in order to preserve my sanity, I don’t turn my thoughts to getting home for quite awhile. Work and deployments are good distractions. When I can reflect, it’s usually happy thoughts about our threesome ( soon to be 4 ). Funny moments and cute pictures remind me it’s all worth it. Knowing my wife and son enjoy their lives overseas in Okinawa makes it easier. I’m lucky to have a family that makes it okay for me to be away. Wondering whether your spouse will be ok in your absence is maybe the most difficult aspect of leaving. It’s the unexpected things that come up. My son getting sick or my wife getting the flu. Me not being around to perform manual labor and mental pick-me-ups is testing for my pregnant wife. She deserves my help, and I can’t offer any.

Gluttonously eating and drinking in foreign ports seems pretty selfish. But I’m able to enjoy my “guy time” or “me time”, in large part due to the fact that I know my wife is able to make a life for herself when I’m gone When I see a sunset or an electrical storm from the ship’s deck, or a family walking together in a foreign port, I think of my wife and son and being home. I reminisce about our past adventures while I’m gone, knowing that I want more of the same life I’ve had. Because each time I get home, I’m reminded of why I want to come back. The extra time together after a deployment makes it all seem worth it. I really do believe that the most cherished things in life come only with some reluctant sacrifice. And I think that my life and that of my family is somehow more meaningful despite my frequent absences.

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