As a military parent having the opportunity to share a first time with your child is wonderful. A little while ago, I had my son Leonardo write Santa Claus a letter. It wasn’t the easiest project in the world, but I enjoyed every minute of the experience. I relish these moments because I’ve missed out on almost every single “first” my son has had. I was working while he did his first flip in bed, took his first steps and even deployed when he swam by himself. For some these events might not hold a lot of meaning, yet I consider them significant milestones in the development of my child. Even more, I consider them an achievement of all the things my wife has managed to do by herself.
But, if she has managed to do all of this by sheer willpower, where do I fit in as a parent? What is my role as a father when I deploy for more than half of the year? Who is my son going to be after I return from my constant deployments? These are questions I struggle with on a daily basis. The ongoing fight to be a parent, spouse, sailor, and individual amongst a sea of conformity is something I deal with every day. For this, I have not yet found a single answer which could satisfy my curiosity.
My son is now four years old, and I’ve missed a cumulative of one and a half years of his life due to the military. Every single time I’ve returned from deployment, he is a different person. But, in my mind, he’s the same as he was when I left. This is especially hard now that he’s no longer a toddler, and yet in my mind, he’s still the same three years old he was before my departure. I don’t know how to behave around him, how to treat him, what he likes or even the things he doesn’t enjoy anymore. This can be stressful for anyone in an already demanding career. However, I can’t sit around and do nothing. I take the time to cherish every moment spent with him. To share beautiful moments with Leonardo and create unique experiences that only he and I will understand. Being in the military has given me a thorough understanding of the value of time and how fickle it is.
But, is that enough? Can I expect him to forgive me continuously as I am absent in his life? I couldn’t say, a part of me is broken, torn between responsibility to family and work. I know that if I want to have that time with my son a sacrifice must be made. But, am I willing to sacrifice everything I worked for so far to start over? I want to say that the answer is yes… I am willing to make that sacrifice just to watch him write a letter to Santa.