What do you mean he’s at war?
Last night I called home and was talking to my wife. It was about 11:30 pm her time and our 8 year old daughter was having a hard time falling to sleep. My wife handed the phone to her to talk to me. The first question she asked me was, “How are you doing at war?”
“I am fine. How are you?”
“I didn’t know you were at war.”
“I told you I was going to Iraq.”
“What if you were driving and had to shoot a bazooka at a tank?”
“They aren’t using bazookas here and the bad guys don’t have tanks. We just catch bad guys now.”
“What do they use?”
“Like atonic bombs?”
“It’s atomic, and no, they’re lot smaller.”
“So what did you do today at war?”
“I went on a convoy to get supplies for our team.”
“Oh. Goodnight, I love you. Here’s mom.”
It was “matter of fact”.
It’s not that she didn’t know I was in Iraq. And it’s not like she didn’t know there is a war. It was like the two things never occurred to her simultaneously.
At that point, it occurred to me that I haven’t spent a lot of time at home.
Let me explain; you know you’re not home, but it becomes the norm so you really don’t think about it. The military for our family is a way of life. It’s what we do. We are a blended family, so my kids have always known me in the Army, and my wife’s kids have always known me in the Army. If I stay in the military long enough, the kids we have together will know me as being in the Army.
The last 5 years, I have been home very little. I was in a 9 month long military school. Then I spent a few years stationed with a unit that spent over 200 days per year traveling around the country training other units. When I did get home, it was usually on a weekend. Then, I went to several months of pre-deployment training, and now I am in Iraq. I have been to Iraq before in 2003 and Korea before that.
I realized that in the eyes of the kids, I am the guy that they see once in a while. I am the guy that catches up on chores around the house, and is usually tired. I am the guy that as our kids say “his belly is full of hamburgers and beer”. Then I leave again. No matter if I am traveling around the country, or traveling to another country, to them, it’s just another time that Dad is gone.
Our 10 year old is the only one that showed any outward signs of realizing where I was going. I hadn’t talked to her in several weeks, and then my wife sent me an email that she was crying during class. I was able to call the school and talk to her; it put a Band-Aid on the problem, but who knows what effects it will have on the children over the span of a lifetime.
Our 6 year old doesn’t understand the scope of it, so when we talk, it’s about whatever he is doing at the moment. If something else is holding his interest, he is quick to get off the phone.
Our 13 year old daughter is, well, a 13 year old that is moody whether I am there or not.
Our 19 year old is in the Marine Corps, and has volunteered to go to Afghanistan on a Transition Team (which is what I am on), as a Humvee Gunner. Of course I am proud of him, but I know better. Transition Teams are a tough place to be right now, especially Afghanistan.
Finally, there is my wife; most of the time I take for granted that she is the one who holds it all together.
So, in a couple of years, I will likely retire and try to find some sort of a new kind of norm in our lives. Until that time, being away has become the norm.