How Do You Say Goodbye?

I enjoy my life in the Navy, and I am incredibly grateful for all the opportunities that it has given me. I love being at sea, and there’s nothing better than working with other sailors to get the job done. Over the years, the Navy has paid for me to get both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. I also earn enough money to support my family and provide for their future. It’s been a lot of hard work, but the Navy has been very good to me.

With all that being said, there is one incredibly difficult thing that is always hanging over my head: at some point, I will have to leave the family for extended periods of time. This is starting to come to a boil in our house at the moment because my shore duty is getting ready to end. While I still have a good chunk of time before I’ll be back on a ship, I have about 6 months of school where I will be on the other side of the country from my wife and kids. This is much different than a deployment because I’ll be able to use a phone at night and Skype whenever there’s time. I may even be able to fly home for long weekends or bring the family to me during spring breaks. It’s still going to be incredibly hard on me, and it’s brought one very clear thing to light: the next deployment is definitely going to be the hardest.

I’ve deployed 3 times in the past. My wife was pregnant with our daughter during the first one, Princess was 6 months old when I left for the 2nd, and she was about 15 months when I left the 3rd time. They were hard. They were really, really hard. No matter how much you enjoy your work (and I do enjoy mine), it is incredibly difficult to wave down at that pier while your ships throws off the lines. There’s no way to accurately describe how much it hurts.

There are many reasons that the next one will be worse. First, there are now 2 kids, so my wife will have to switch to zone defense instead of man-to-man. Second, I’ve had nearly 4 terrific years at home. Everyone has gotten incredibly used to having me around. Third, I’ve never left our son for more than a couple days. Fourth, while our daughter was too young to know what was happening with the first 3, both kids are now old enough to get it. Little Dude may not have a firm grasp on how long 6 months is, but he gets the general idea.

This last part is the hardest. How do you look into the eyes of a 3 year old and tell him that you’re not going to be around for a long time? You won’t be there to tuck him in at night or read a story. You won’t be able to coach soccer anymore, and you’ll probably miss his birthday. How do you make him understand that you’re not abandoning him? How do you let him know that you’re always there for him when you’re going to be 12 time zones away?

How do you look at your 6 year old daughter and tell her that you won’t be able to help her with homework anymore? How do you tell her that by the time you get back, she’ll be a 2nd grader? How do you tell her that you’re measuring her because you want to have an accurate picture of how much she grows while you’re gone?

This all goes for your wife as well. How do you support her through e-mail? How do you relate to her when she has had to do every single chore around the house for half a year? How do you sit down after dinner with a glass of wine and just be with her?

I certainly realize that I’m not the only person going through this, and it’s not even unique to the military. Many divorced dads go through the same thing, and lots of people have work that involves travel. My goal certainly isn’t to complain. I’m mostly just venting and getting my thoughts straight. If you’re curious about why I continue to do it, please check out the post that I wrote for Ordinary¬†Parent awhile back. It sums it up pretty well.

I really do enjoy what I do, but it certainly comes with a price.

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