In defense of fathers who serve

  • Published
  • By Gene Kamena
  • Air War College
As Father's Day approaches, I would like to offer some personal thoughts about fathers who serve in the military. This article is written particularly for fathers who are now deployed or had to be away for frequent periods of time in the past. In my own case, and I have the best wife in the world, from time to time, when speaking of my son's upbringing, the phrase "How would you know? You were never there," enters the conversation.

These words are absolutely true and serve to remind me of two important aspects of being a military dad. The first aspect is the time I missed in my son's early life, and the second is the great burden I had placed upon my wife. Sandy, my wife, did a great job of raising our son in my absence. She balanced being a mom, working in family support organizations, volunteering at school and running a household, all on her own. She filled the roles of both mother and father for many years.

Balancing the responsibilities of fatherhood against the call of duty to serve our nation is difficult. I must admit that I did not always choose wisely, but I always did what I thought was right. There were times -- too many, upon reflection -- when I could have done better, when I might have stayed home longer or returned from work earlier. I wish I could have experienced more of my son's youth. Kurt, my son, is a great young man and is a sophomore at the University of Alabama. I think he now has pardoned my long absences.

No words that I can write will ever rise to the level of a satisfactory defense for the charges of "You were never there, you missed important events and you would rather be at work." In fact, many of us military fathers have been tried and sentenced long ago in the court of family opinion. Yet there are matters of extenuation and mitigation that must be stated, matters that children and wives should take into account before verbalizing or even thinking of the charges mentioned above. The points offered below are provided from a father's perspective, a father who did his best to balance obligations to family and nation.

Separation affects all. No military father wants to be away from his child. Undoubtedly, separation affects fathers as well as children. Loneliness and guilt are the constant companions of a military father while he is away from his family. This is especially true when children are involved. Please take into account the phone calls, letters, video teleconferences and emails received from Dad while he was away. Military dads work hard to stay as connected as possible while being physically separated. Intentions and effort should count for something.

Remember the reason for the absence. Although it is never easy to be away, there are good reasons for military fathers to be absent: defense of the nation, bringing freedom to other parts of the world and providing a better future for children, all children. Unfortunately, military children do bear an additional burden, as do their military fathers.

However, all children who live in freedom owe some degree of gratitude to fathers who serve. Fathers who must deploy or be separated from their loved ones do so in the hope that their children one day will not have to worry about the threat of attack or war. Military fathers serve so their children will not have to.

Remember the times when Dad was there. Do not focus only on those periods of division. Recall the times when Dad came home early or left work behind to take a family vacation. Please recollect the good times as well as the times when Dad was away. Remember, too, that Dad did his best to fulfill duties often in conflict.

Finally, I respectfully offer some advice to all military fathers, advice I wish I had received many years ago. First, remember that time passes quickly. While you are away, your family marks birthdays, holidays and graduations. They also mark your absences, none of which can ever be made up.

My second and last point to military fathers is to remember what matters. One of the main reasons you serve this nation is for your family, to offer them something better, a brighter future. Therefore, as a military father, you must work hard to balance the here and now (your family) against what will be (the future). Do not make the same mistake I did by thinking that you will somehow make up for lost time later. It just does not work that way. Time and events passed are gone forever.

To military wives and children of military fathers, please go easy on Dad this Father's Day. He is not perfect, but he is doing his best. If he is home this Father's Day, make the best of your time together, and if he is away, remember the reason for his absence and that he really wants to be home with you.