Just in time (or not — keep reading), and on the heels of my previous columns about fatherhood and the military, comes Armin Brott’s book “The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads.”
Brott is a former Marine with a syndicated newspaper column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and radio show, “Positive Parenting.” He has built his post-military career around writing and talking about issues of fatherhood and families. But in “The Military Father,” he has written what might possibly be the most comprehensive and contemporary book about deployments that I’ve ever read.
I’ve been a military dependent since the day I was born 36 years ago, so you’d think I know it all. I don’t. I devoured “The Military Father” in the course of a day. And although the advice comes nearly one year too late for me, perhaps it can help someone else.
I knew “The Military Father” was no “Service Etiquette” rerun when I opened to the third page and found a cartoon that in one ink-and-paper sketch sums up many of my deployment experiences, and in particular the year in which we did our “Dinner with the Smileys” project. A mother and two children are eating dinner with a computer at the head of the table. Above the mother it reads, “Julie honey, please refresh your father.”
But of course Brott “gets it;” He’s been there, done that. In the beginning, he introduces himself as a “former Marine,” but quickly follows that up with, “I know, I know, once a Marine, always a Marine.” He was busy writing books (six of them, actually) about fatherhood in general, when he noticed an uptick in 2001 of parenting questions from service members. (Hmmmm. 2001? Probably not a coincidence.) So he decided to write a different kind of book about fatherhood, one geared toward the military family in particular.
Soon after the introduction, Brott further proves his military experience with a text box titled “When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you could still be in.” This made me smile — perhaps you are smiling, too — and my confidence in Brott was sealed. He’s referring to the military’s ability to recall supposedly discharged members who are automatically placed in the Individual Ready Reserve and the “stop loss” fine print whereby a former service member with special training can be called back into service at any time.
Later, Brott had me squarely in his back pocket when he addressed the pink-elephant of a question that surrounds nearly all military deployments. Maybe you are thinking it right now. “Why do military families need a book about coping with deployments? Didn’t they sign up for this? Didn’t they know all this before they married someone in the military?” Brott assures readers — even seasoned military families — that shock, sadness and fear are a natural response to deployments ... even when you know that deployments are bound to happen.
“The Military Father” is peppered with great moments like this to make you feel normal. It’s also full of what I’ve come to realize is Brott’s natural wit and humor.
His style is conversational and funny. “Having an argument by e-mail,” he writes, “is like skiing through a revolving door: neither fun nor effective.”
Although Brott makes a disclaimer in the beginning that he is not a doctor (nor a financial planner, accountant, lawyer or congressman), in the section titled “A Brief Overview of Your Child’s Development,” he pegs some of my children as if he lives next door to them (he doesn’t):
“There are pouts galore as your six-to-seven-year-old becomes increasingly taken with the notion that people are unfair and favor everyone else — especially younger children.”
The book is divided into three sections: pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment. Each section addresses the concerns of the service member (“What’s going on with you”), the concerns of the spouse (“What’s going on with your wife”), and the concerns of the children (“What’s going on with your children”).
There is page after page of advice and concrete ways to deal with deployments. Some of these ideas are tired (like counting down the days to homecoming with a jar full of M&Ms), but many of them aren’t, like writing a letter to your child and then cutting it up into a puzzle for them to put together first.
In any case, “The Military Father” is an easy and interesting read sure to make you chuckle. It’s a unique blend of parenting book and military how-to, and for anyone who is about to face a deployment, it will be on my list of recommendations.
Navy spouse Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.