As Father’s Day approaches, I am filled with great appreciation for my husband, Rob, as well as a growing sadness.
The reason for the sadness: he is deploying for a year in early August and our two boys — Ryan, 12, and Andrew, almost 8 — will be virtually fatherless for a fairly good chunk of their young lives.
As an Army wife, this should not come as any surprise. Rob and I have been married since 1999, and in those years, we have been through two major deployments and numerous TDYs as well as other separations. This is all part of the deal when you are a military family.
But somehow, this is easier to swallow as a theoretical fact than a reality. The last time Rob deployed was in 2009, to Afghanistan. Back then, our boys were considerably younger, and though it was still very difficult at times, I suspect they might need their dad now more than ever.
There’s been a lot of recent research that has determined fathers are far more important than originally thought. Dr. David Popenoe, a sociologist, has done a lot of study in the area of fathers and how they impact their children.
He says, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”
From a more intellectual point of view, fathers also serve a crucial role. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children with involved, loving dads are more likely to flourish educationally.
“A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities,” the study states.
It goes on to say that these benefits continue into a child’s adolescence and young adulthood.
“Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fatherhood is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents,” the study states.
I hope all of the above is true, because Ryan and Andrew definitely have a caring, involved dad. In thinking about the coming year, as a single parent I am doing that “project into the future” thing where I’m trying to anticipate what will happen and how I will cope alone.
Again, I’ve done this before and am not sure why this time it feels so daunting. Maybe it’s because the boys are less pliable. Maybe it’s because my older son is swiftly approaching the teen years and has suddenly become almost lawyer-like in his glib responses and excuses. (During these times, my husband laughingly refers to him as “Ryan Dillon, attorney-at-law.”)
Or maybe it’s simply because I will miss my best friend terribly. And let’s not even discuss how our dog will manage. (He’s fond of me but he adores his “dad.”)
I think about wives during World War II who endured months and often years without even knowing the whereabouts or condition of their husbands.
How did they do it? Many of my friends are currently dealing with deployments and I am in no way trying to say that my case is different. I guess I and “stiff upper lips” never really got along all that well.
When I feel down, it’s as evident as if I wore a sign around my neck proclaiming this emotion. Same goes for happy times.
Deployments are just simply hard, no matter how much you prepare, mentally plan, and try to numb yourself to the dreaded moment when your spouse gets on that bus or that plane and there you and the kids are, waving and sobbing on the sidelines.
We will get through this, as we always have. And on the positive side, technology is better than ever so there are countless ways we can keep in touch.
Also, he will come home halfway through his year (more or less) for a well-deserved two weeks of “rest and relaxation.”
I would like to salute all the dads out there, whether civilian or military, who have to be away from their children for any reason. I am thinking about you this Father’s Day.
Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, journalist and Air Force veteran, lives at Fort Hood with her husband, their two sons and a Goldendoodle.