Being a father has its challenges, but being a military father, with changes of duty station every few years, periodic exercises, and short- and long-term deployments, often requires an effort beyond the call of duty.
Stars and Stripes asked some military fathers how they balance the responsibilities of fatherhood with those of being in the service. Not surprisingly, they often noted, with gratitude and admiration, the support received from their wives as well as the sacrifices borne by their children.
In true military fashion, they viewed their own efforts a bit more modestly. But behind their words, one can clearly see a devotion to both family and service, and a desire to fulfill their responsibilities to both masters.
Thoughts from military dads
“My wife has taken the art of tactical planning to a whole new level.”
My family’s balance is a result of my wife being a great Mother, partner, manager – in short, the CINC Home. Military members easily get caught up in the people and functions we are responsible for as well as those we are responsible to. All too often the family comes up on the short side of that fulcrum. As a working mother, my wife has taken the art of tactical planning to a whole new level and keeps this GI on track with what is really important each day. My sons are 14 and 18; being a little older they understand the world outside of themselves and are very gracious and forgiving of the times I can’t [don’t] spend with them. But I know I have let them down on several occasions.
Chief Master Sgt. David Duncan,
Andersen Air Force Base
“I am not only doing this for my country, but I am working for my children’s future.”
It is never easy to be without your loved ones that you care so much for, but there is a job to do and thankfully my wife understands this too. My oldest son, Dayson, has grasped the fact that daddy is at work and can’t be with him. Every day during lunch, I call home to talk to my wife and my son and see how they are doing. We video chat at night and at I talk to them for an hour or so. It is hard being a typical dad from so far away, but when I do get to visit them, I try extra hard to try and make up for the time lost.
When I am away from the family, I keep busy by completely engulfing myself with work and activities; but when I am with them, there is nothing else I would rather be doing. Being away takes a toll my emotions. Some days are harder than others, but I just remember that I am not only doing this for my country, but I am working for my children’s future also. All I can suggest for fathers in the military away from their children is remember that hopefully the time moves fast, have faith that they will understand why, and when you do get back home to your family be the best father you can because they were also missing you the whole time.
Senior Airmen Benjamin Wiseman,
Andersen Air Force Base
“Being a father in the military has its moments.”
Being a father in the military has its moments. Going home to my 10-month-old son brings me joy and a little bit of stress for the fact is that I just want go home and relax; instead I have to help my wife with my son. Although it sounds negative, this is where the joyful part comes into play. This part is where I can spend time and enjoy his company, to cherish every moment and to be a father to my grown son. My job as a military father is very demanding. There’re times where I have to work late or wake early in morning, and to do my job and finish the mission in ways that take away time from my family. But I don’t mind, I am doing my job as a father to give my son the opportunity in his life. My job as a father never stops at work or home. That’s what makes a military dad in my opinion.
Sgt. Aramis Andrade,
“I commend all the good fathers out there.”
Being a military dad just doubles that commitment especially when you have a little one running around the house, waking up like five times every night and crying a lot when sick and not able to explain their feelings to you and you have to sit there and try to comfort them. Being in the military differs a lot of ways from a day-to-day job, depending on what your specialty is, and I can relate to a lot of times when I get off of work being tired and having to attend to the needs of my little one at home, which is more of a second job. It is not an easy task and I commend all the good fathers out there who in spite of the difficulties still find the time to even things out between work and their personal lives.
Sgt. Lateef Akesode,
“Being a Marine has made me a great father.”
I truly believe being a Marine has made me a great father to my two daughters. The Marine Corps has taught me to give one hundred percent at all time, consequently I bring the same mentality and energy at home. My two daughters help me be a good leader as well, due to the fact that the Marines under me are someone else’s child. Therefore, I treat them as my own. I know sometimes being deployed can affect a child greatly, and as service members we must recognize the burdens we lay on our children. In addition, my wife supports me and does a great job in helping them cope during my times of absence. The fact of the matter is, it all comes down to how you spend your time when at home. As for me, I try my hardest to make whatever time I spend with them worthwhile.
Staff Sgt. Mark Andre Dorcemus,
“You have to make the opportunity to spend time with your children.”
First and foremost you are a Marine and a father. To me family comes first, but in order to take care of your family appropriately you have to excel and demonstrate at your duty. Regardless of what you do by your MOS you have to show your children proper morals. … You have to make the opportunity to spend time with your children. Make the most of what you got; if you only have three days, optimize those three days with your children … spend the time with your kids. You have to make sacrifices. The military wants someone ready to move at any time. OK, plan ahead.
I can’t say this enough: spend whatever time you have with your kids. I have kids that span from nine years old to three years. And every time I ask my children what they want to do, they respond “anything” as long as it’s with me.
Make every event you have with your kids a great memory, don’t frown on accidents they’re just that, accidents. ... They will remember the bad more than the good “don’t make bad memories” have fun with your kids. Make events that your kids will like. You will be surprised when they want to go to museums. It doesn’t hurt to learn new things either.
Last: never deny love to your children everyone wants to be tough but always show your children you love them.
Sgt. Jose P. Gonzalez,
“You’ve got to know your kids.”
With four daughters, I can’t do it alone. I get a lot of support from my wife. I always have to be one step ahead of everything. You’ve got to know your kids. You have to predict what’s going to happen. It’s hard. You’ve got to give a lot of attention to your kids.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Juan Luis Rivera,
Yokosuka Naval Base
“You have to have a strong wife.”
Being flexible (is important) because the military won’t be flexible. Mission requirements are set in stone. You have to have a strong wife when you’re deployed. You have to have trust that everything will be OK. Communication is a big thing between partners and parents. You will certainly miss certain milestones when you’re in the military. At an early age, they have to learn there are things you are going to miss. In the meantime, just hang in there. It’s temporary. Kids have their expectations, their frustrations. I have my war wounds, so does my family. Freedom is not free. I have no regrets. My wife is holding the family together. When I come back and everything is good to go.
Danilo de la Dingco,
US Navy retiree after 20 years
“it’s still worth it – big time.”
For a military father, shore duty is fine, but sea duty is a different story. Sometimes you’ll be gone for three months or six months. It’s hard, especially if you have a kid. It’s hard for me, too. The ship is going and you have no choice. As far as possible, I take leave and try to take them places, like an amusement park, to recover the time I’ve been gone. The Navy has email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype. They say, “We miss you, Daddy.” Oh man, it’s like your tears are coming down. Being in the Navy, that’s my decision. Life is stable, you don’t have to worry about medical, pay, other things for your family. (Despite the separations), it’s still worth it – big time.
Chief Petty Officer Mandy P. Francisco,
Naval Air Facility Atsugi
“Daddy’s job is to protect people.”
I would have to give a lot of credit to my wife for taking care of us, disciplining my son, financial things. The important part is never let a problem build. If I know I have to deploy, I spend a lot of time with him, doing what he wants to do so he has something to remember while I’m gone. As much as possible, I communicate with him through email, and call once a week so he can hear my voice. I say to him, “Hello, son. How are you doing? Any problems?” Nothing serious about my situation because he’s worried already.
I want to make sure he’s happy and laughs at least once. He asks why I have to go away. Daddy’s job is to protect people who can’t defend themselves. I feel like I have a strong relationship with God and that he has blessed me in many ways. My son is No. 1 in my life. I only leave because I have to and not because I want to. We walk the dog together and he asks me things he wouldn’t normally ask. I try to be as honest as I can.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Nick Francis,
Naval Air Facility Atsugi
“Their love, support, and understanding keeps me balanced both at home and at work”
Fatherhood has inherent responsibilities in which I have seen the military lifestyle accelerate the need to foster. To quote Bill Cosby, “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.” Engagement with, and commitment to my wife and four children draws their love, support, and understanding that keeps me balanced both at home and at work.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Winovich,
Andersen Air Force Base
“The Navy wasn’t always family smart.”
It’s very difficult. All the time you have at home, you dedicate every single moment to them. Taking the girls to the hairdresser, to school to help with a project to do “daddy duty.” Every time I returned from a long deployment there is an adjustment period. It’s not always a happy time, especially with teenagers. She gets angry when I try to play catch-up. I get information ahead of time so when the reunion starts I can begin on the right foot and at least appear up to date.
Do I think about my decision to join the Navy? Every single day, because my family needs me. Fleet and Family Support has programs, such as pre-deployment briefings to help families understand the rigors and everyday routines of what the military parent is going through. The Navy wasn’t always family smart. I think now we get it and are making the appropriate changes.
Master Chief Carlton Duncan,
Naval Air Facility Atsugi
“I spend as much time as I can with them.”
It’s very difficult. I usually spend most of my weekends with my boys. At night, throwing the ball with one hand and rocking the cradle with the other. I drink a lot of coffee (to stay awake). It’s hard working late when you have an energetic four-year-old. It keeps you on your toes. I spend as much time as I can with them till I pass out on the couch.
I was deployed from Camp Lajeune from early to late 2009 and again in 2010 to Afghanistan. I missed the first, second and third birthdays of one child. A lot of telephone calls, photos, letters and emails make it easier. But it’s difficult sometimes because they shut down all connectivity when something bad happens outside the wire. There is a program where we can read books on video – United through Reading – and I sent them home so my son could hear Daddy read him a book before going to bed.
Do I regret being a Marine? Not at all. I love being in the Marine Corps. My wife also loves that I am in the Corps. She supports me 100 percent. If I had the option of doing it again, I would do so without second thoughts. No regrets.
Sgt. Richard Atkins,
“I have to put the Navy first.”
I have to put the Navy first because that’s my job. When I’m on shore duty, there’s lots of downtime, so I try to do things like pick my daughter up at daycare. We all know how the Navy is: six months in and out. I try to maximize my weekends with them, make sure they know I’m reliable. You have to work it into your schedule, not treat it as a chore. My wife plays a big role. She shows pictures of me to my kids and I can sometimes speak to them on Skype. My wife buys something specifically for them from me to let them know I know what they’re doing.
If you do your job, the Navy tries to help you. The Navy offered to fly me to San Diego for the birth of one of my girls. It’s a little hard, but I can’t complain. The Navy has given me a good living. I think it’s a fair exchange.
Petty Officer Rico Davis,
Yokosuka Naval Base
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