Sometimes I get way too big for my “breetches.” (And yes. That was said in my best Southeastern Kentucky accent.) Sometimes I think I become so good at this lifestyle that I have a tendency to phone it in.
It hurts me a little to be that honest. But there it is.
I don’t mean phoning it in on the big stuff. Deployments. KIA’s. PTSD. Wounded. Wars. All of that catches in my throat and burns.
All of that feels burned into my core. Wrapped around pain that is tightly guarded and protected. All of that brings tears to my eyes without warning or compassion.
So, what is it I phone in?
Pieces of my relationship.
See why that hurt so much to say out loud? But, out loud it is. On a plate. For all to read, see, and hopefully hear me beyond those words. Because there is so much more. So much there. So much waiting to be unwrapped with my calloused hands.
I have become so independent and good at this side of military life that I often forget why I am so good at it. I initially began this journey with my husband in the vein of proving to him how great of a partner I can be. I can handle the house, the kids, the life, the yard, the cars, the Murphy—I can do all that. Why?
“Because I love you and I support the job you have chosen.”
And I do. I love this man beyond comprehension sometimes. And sometimes, I love him so much and do it out of love to the point that spite begins to creeps out.
You see, he loves his job. He loves his job because he is needed. If he doesn’t do his job, horrible things can happen. As they can for any person in a uniform. Without him, a piece is missing in the team.
And what have I done at home? In supporting his love for his job, my love for him, I have created a team that looks, seemingly, like he isn’t needed.
Now…if you ask me, I will tell you, I need him. I want him. I love him.
But what does it look like when you feel a strong pull from your job, a strong sense of responsibility, and at home, well, home functions like a well-oiled machine. How does that make a person feel needed?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a martyr here. I am simply finally figuring this out. I can tell everyone, “I do this for love and look what I get? Alone. Army first. Never time for us.”
But have I made it easy for that habit to fall into place? All for the sake of love?
Hmmm. Who wound up being a little too good at this lifestyle?
The truth is I can function without him. I can help our kids function without him. But it is time to let him know, out loud, this team needs him to feel happier. To feel fuller. To feel more complete and like we are living out loud.
Are our lives on the line the same as at his job? No. Of course not. And there will be times when I can beam with pride and say, “You stay and do what you need to do. I love you. And I’ve got this at home.”
The difference is I will be saying it out of complete honesty rather than habit.
And, there will come times when I say, “I need you to show up for this because I want you in my corner. Without you, we are not complete. We are missing pieces of our hearts. And while we stand behind you when you do your mission and we sacrifice, we will be here when you can choose us. Because we choose you.”
No more phoning it in. No more doing what I know I should do. Instead, I will tell him what it is that keeps me here.
He keeps me here. The same heart that won mine.
The one who still holds it every day. That piece of me will never be whole when he is away. And he needs to know that. No matter how “good” at this I am.
I openly admit that I am institutionalized by the Army. I find it difficult to take time off and not follow a rigid timeline, and I find it even more difficult to take time off and not think about my job. I always wanted to be a Soldier and I enjoy the Army culture because it has a healthy mixture of structure, physical fitness, violence, and cohesion. I have also always wanted to be a family man, and unfortunately, the two lifestyles often conflict with one another. Each time we go to the field or deploy I have a bittersweet feeling inside of me. On one hand I am excited to train and do the things that Soldiers do. But on the other hand I am disappointed in myself for leaving my wife and kids at home to fend for themselves.
The most difficult part of my life is how to find a balance between my personal life and the chaos of my daily duties, deployments, training, schools, and PCS moves. However, there is always one area of my life that remains the same each day – My wife and kids. They are always excited to see me; always ready to tell me what they did during the day; and most importantly, always able to forgive me after I have made them come second to the Army. They have proven their consistency each time I have left them for a school or foreign country and have returned to open arms and a bombardment of hugs, squeals, and “Daddy watch this”, “Daddy can we do something together”. The best part for me is that they always seem to forgive me for leaving them.
It recently hit me like a ton of bricks that I truly have no idea of what it feels like to be placed behind anything in their lives. If I really think about and try to count all of the times I have placed the Army in front of my family, I would lose count. There was the time Melissa was pregnant and having complications, and I went to Fort Polk (now Fort Johnson) for a training exercise; there was also the time when I volunteered to be part of a ceremony on a day off instead of spending time as a father; or the countless times that I was physically present but mentally still at work.
I live my life each day knowing that they will be there when I come home. I thrive off of their consistency, and love that they support the job that I have chosen. But there are times when I develop an exaggerated sense of self importance and let my job as a Soldier go to my head (because let’s face it, I am the best and only person who can do my job – place sarcastic undertone here). Often times I find that it is so easy to place the Army in front of family because I know that my wife and kids will always be at home waiting for me so I take their love for granted. In the grand scheme of things, I only have a short period of time that I am assigned to each job, which makes me feel like I continuously have to start over and prove to myself that I can be the best at my job. As far as family goes, I only need to give them my attention when I have moments of opportunity (or when they get angry with me and I am told that I have to be there for them).
But what if my family wasn’t there when I came home? Instead of being greeted with hugs and opened arms, there was silence. I can think of nothing more somber than coming home to a house that is empty of their love. When I leave the Army, Soldiers will not remember what I did or did not do. But my wife and kids will be there for life, and I will remember how loving they were when I walked in and out of their lives. They can’t be replaced and I know this. The quicker I realize that I can be, maybe I would treat them with a little more respect.
I should never believe that I am the only person who can do my job, because the Army is designed to function even if I don’t show up for work. I need to come to terms with the fact that although I might be doing well with my job, I can and should do a better job with my family. I don’t have it in me to be a substandard performer as a Soldier, or to become what some refer to as an “empty uniform.” However, there is nothing wrong with identifying the fact that there will only be one first tooth; one elementary/middle/high school graduation; one first soccer goal. The Army and my family are both constants in my life, but it should be a no brainer as to who I express is more important (in case I have left this answer somewhat ambiguous, family is who should be more important). Oftentimes in the Army we develop a strong sense of family, which leads to us relying on one another. However, none of my Soldiers will ever ask me to read a story before bed time (it would be weird if he did), none of them will ever ask to borrow the car for their first date, and no one in the Army will ever say, “I love you.” I need to get my act together and balance my life because always might not last forever.
There will be times that I have to leave them. I will have no choice. They know this and have come to find a way to live with me through it. However, when I do have a choice, I want them to remember I chose them. Just as they have chosen me.
About the Author
Each woman has a story, and she has the right to tell it. This is the heart of HWHV, a group of women who choose to support those who love someone in uniform. No matter the branch or affiliation. HWHV believes that a voice can change a moment, but unified voices can change the world.