CONTRIBUTED BY RJ HOWE
This last month was very difficult for the family and me. Apparently, the joy and excitement we have been experiencing about PCSing to Kadena has not been shared by most of our extended family.
When I called my mother to tell her about our PCS, she nearly started crying. Unlike us, her first thoughts did not include happiness we received an overseas assignment nor excitement we were leaving Texas. She was upset because she wasn’t going to see her grandchildren. Rather than ask if we were excited, she wanted to know if I planned on bringing her grandbabies back to see her. For her part, she did admit she was being selfish — but beyond that, she didn’t care.
It was right then and there my old friend, Guilt, reared his ugly head. I found myself trying to justify my excitement to my mom. I was saying all the right things: travel, experience for the girls, better schools, and the warm sense of community. She wasn’t buying it at all. Again, she wasn’t being mean or condescending; she just didn’t want to hear it. Additionally, my wife went through a similar experience with her mother and sister, and the kids went through some drama with their friends. Everyone was less than happy we were leaving.
The guilt I had been battling was multifaceted. I felt bad for being excited about my assignment while knowing it was causing my extended family grief. I didn’t like knowing my actions were causing stress between my wife and her family, and I did not like the fact my kids and their friends were having issues because we are leaving. All things considered, I felt like I really fouled things up.
However, one member of my family was singing an entirely different tune: my older brother, Jeremy. We don’t talk as much as we should; he’s busy with his life, me with mine, but he’s always been one of my biggest supporters. I called him to get his take on the whole guilt issue. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this:
RJ, I know you want to go to Japan and because it’s something you want to do you have my full support. You didn’t join the Air Force to sit in Texas; you enlisted to see the world. Why wouldn’t you be excited to go to Okinawa? As for the rest of the family, forget them. You have your own family to look after and if you guys are excited, that’s all you should be worried about. You know what is best for you and your family. Besides, you’re not like the rest of us back home…you need to travel. You’re not supposed to be in one place too long.
See why I love my brother? Anyway, I felt 100% better after we talked and have been doing a lot better knowing I’m doing what’s best for my family.
When I sent the idea for this post to Joelle she mentioned how she had to admit to her family she was CHOOSING to go overseas. Most of us choose to PCS overseas and it got me thinking about someone I had met while I was TDY in Germany. It was one of those random conversations that can only take place at a bar. I sat down and the man next to me asked if I spoke English. I said yes, and he began to talk. He was well over 70 years old, but his mind was sharp as a tack. We talked about all the different places we had visited, where we wanted to go and swapped travel adventures. We must have talked for over two hours. When it was time for him to go he said something that really struck a chord. Paraphrasing once more, he said:
Us travelers are a unique lot. Travelers take trips while others take vacations. When travelers return after a trip they immediately begin thinking about where they are going next while others focus on where they’ve been. The others will never understand us and we will never understand them. Nothing we can do about it.
I think this applies to most of us who freely PCS overseas. My family and I want to experience new things, different cultures and meet interesting people. Our families are happy where they are and have no desire to “leave home”. They don’t understand why we want to go and we can’t understand why they want to stay. Borrowing the phrase of the day: It is what it is.
Like I said, it’s been a rough month. There have been many peaks and valleys over the last month and I’m sure there will be more, but in the end I know I’m doing what’s best for my wife and kids and that’s enough for me.
We’ve probably all dealt with the guilt of being away from “home.” As RJ mentions above, I once had a conversation with my brother that went something like this:
Me (with great excitement): There is a chance we might get stationed in Italy next!
Him: Why won’t they let you come home??
Me (after a long pause): Uhhhh. We actually requested it.
Silence and shaking of head.