Serving as a husband, father and officer in the United States Marine Corps is a tremendous honor. These intertwined responsibilities have taught me valuable lessons over the past several years, and I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to serve.
Be that as it may, this call of duty is ripe with challenges and opportunities. One such opportunity has both stretched and strengthened my familial relationships – deployments.
Though technology has advanced over the years, I believe the challenges associated with a disaggregated family have persisted. Aside from missing each other’s affectionate touch, smile, laughs, physical presence and huge milestones, deployments present other often-overlooked challenges. One of which is the fact that many of us struggle to understand our role in the family while deployed and upon return.
I like to consider myself a problem solver. My confidence in my abilities and pride in my belonging directly correlate with the complexity of the problem. So what happens when I deploy or am away from home? Do problems go away? Have I fabricated chaos for “job security?” Of course not.
I’m sure my wife will agree that problems tend to increase when I am away from home. The children are often sick, there is usually a major appliance issue, the family’s work and extracurricular schedule becomes less tenable, the time difference is inconvenient – or worse – the house is overrun by mice, then termites, requiring evacuation and fumigation (true story).
The military has taught us to position ourselves at the “point of friction.” So even when separated by thousands of miles, we try to develop and (remotely) implement solutions. This is when many of us realize how resilient our families are, and though they may not solve the problems exactly how we would, they find a resolution. So where does that leave us? I can speak for many when I say that sometimes it feels like I have been fired.
‘Have I been replaced?’
At face value, one would assume we are having a prolonged melodramatic episode by asking this question. Underneath the surface, it is not a fear of being replaced by a physical being; rather, it’s a newfound search for purpose in our own home. To overcome this challenge, we must first shift our perspective and acknowledge that life is constantly changing, which requires us to adapt.
Be willing to adapt to change
Adaptability was one of the first, and most important, skills I learned when I joined the Marine Corps. The reality is our job is ever-changing. Even so, I like to imagine that life as a husband and father should be steady and unchanging.
Contrarily, many things change while we are separated from our families, and that’s OK. I had to learn to accept this fact as inevitable and use it as an opportunity to sharpen my adaptability skills to become a better husband, father and leader.
Create open dialogue and be transparent
It is so easy to hide our true feelings and emotions, especially while deployed. I challenge you to conquer that urge. Be open and honest about how you feel, and work collaboratively with your family to develop a plan for you to remain connected and integrated in your family affairs. Being open and honest helps to identify challenges before they arise and capitalize on opportunities. It may not be comfortable, but it’ll be worth it.
Trust the process during deployment
Deployments present many challenges; however, for every challenge, there is an opportunity. One of my favorite metaphorical quotes that I use to prepare for any challenge is this: “Life is like a weight room – full of things that can either crush you or make you stronger. It all depends on your perspective.” Choose to view deployments and time away as an opportunity to grow your relationship with your family and become a better and more resilient leader.
Make the best out of every moment
Whether virtual or physical, let your presence be a gift to your family. Actively listen to your spouse as he or she talks about the day. Watch your children as they demonstrate the same newly learned skill for the 100th time. Buy souvenirs. Handwrite heartfelt letters for them to cherish. Most importantly, have fun, and remember that it is an honor and privilege to serve your family and this great country.