I recently spent most of two weeks in Pittsburgh for business.
Leaving the kids was tough. I have a 6 year-old and a 1 year-old at home and they are my pride and joy. I hadn’t been away from the little one for more than a 1 night at a time -- I had even slept in chair next to him when he spent a couple of one-week stints in the hospital during his first few months. So, this was, in essence, our first time apart.
One night, as I talked to them on FaceTime from my hotel room and wished I was there to hear how my daughter’s school day went or to see what new tricks my son picked up, I put into perspective: It was just 2 weeks. It’s nothing compared to what military fathers go through.
I couldn’t help but think about those young men in our armed forces who are deployed overseas, far from their loved ones for long periods of time in places within or next to war zones. The lengths of their assignments vary by branch of the military but in the Army and Marines, for example, the typical deployment is 12 months and can be up to 18 months depending on the mission.
During my short trip, I might have missed some tiny moments. When those men are away from their kids for a year at a time –protecting us and the oppressed people of other nations -- they are missing many magical moments.
Suppose they, too, have a 6 year-old. Those dads would miss out on school concerts, sporting events, family vacations, the first loose tooth, glowing report cards, and so many simple things that define childhood from playing in streams to visits to the local ice cream stand.
Or, what if those dads also had babies? It’s a good probability, because more than a third of military kids are ages 0 to 5. Those dads wouldn’t be there to hear the first words, see the first steps, feel the first teeth, and develop a powerful bond. A lot can happen with the youngest ones in a year’s time. Missing a good chunk of a baby’s first few years has to really hurt a man.
Despite those damning circumstances and painful experiences, those military dads press on. Somehow, even in their stressful environment, they make it all work with Skype, videos, emails, phone calls, and more, doing their duty for our country while not shirking their duties as fathers.
Half a world away they can still manage to instill their paternal values onto their kids, checking on them often and talking to them about character and good behavior. I’m sure you’ve met some military children and have been enamored with their positive energy, resiliency, respect, and unwavering patriotism. That’s a result of some incredible work by mom on the home front and some difficult remote parenting from their soldier dad.
These powerful and loving souls are in good numbers -- fathers make up a good portion of our fighting forces. 49% of men in the Army have children and that rate is at 45% in the Air Force, 42% in the Navy and 31% in the Marines. There are approximately 1.1 million children who have active duty dads and another 700,000 who have reserve-component parents. That means at any given time 1.8 million kids could have their fathers deployed. To put that into perspective: The entire population of the Buffalo-Niagara metro area is 1.3 million people. A number more than a third greater than that are kids across the country who have a dad in the armed forces. Wow.
So, as we celebrate Father’s Day and cherish the men in our lives who made us who we are, take the time to reflect on -- and thank -- the men who make America what it is and do that for us while being a dad. It takes a special man, a good man, a strong man, to sign-up to serve and protect our country – all while serving and protecting his young family, too.
From the 18 June 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News