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"I Serve FOR My Children"

Blogger and Army wife Sis B just went through an ugly custody battle for her son.  At the trial, her ex-husband's lawyer came at her current husband, Soldier Boy, with this line of questioning:

At the custody trial a few weeks ago, my husband was attacked for his decision to join the military even though he had a daughter. [The ex-husband]'s attorney came at him and asked accusingly, "So your military service is more important to you than your children!?"And my husband sat up straighter, talked just a smidgeon louder, and said, "I do this FOR my children. I do this so that maybe one day they won't have to. I do this so that they have a better future. So no, my military service is not more important than my children. I serve FOR my children."His answer was succinct and eloquent (and poorly paraphrased here), and completely lost on everyone else in the room who have never served, who do not understand we are a nation at war, who do not comprehend the meaning of duty or sacrifice. It kills me that he had to stand up to that attack, that he was ridiculed, that they made light of what he has given up.

I find it disgusting that a lawyer would try to use military service to paint someone as an uncaring parent.  I don't know all of the details of the trial, or of Sis B's life and previous marriage, but according to the posts on her blog, it sounds like the judge counted the military lifestyle as a negative strike in making the custody decision.  And that sets my blood boiling.

Deployment does not make you unfit to be a parent.

Soldier Boy's response rang true with me, as did Sis B's assessment that others in the room just did not get it.  A couple of times after I got pregnant, civilians would ask me if having kids would change how I felt about being an Army family.  If I'd still feel OK with my husband trying to volunteer to deploy once baby joined the household.  If we'd rather get out of the Army and have a more "stable" life.  If he'll be more cautious about his assignments in the future.

My husband and I have come up with an answer to this question: Yes, this does change how we feel.  It makes it more important.

My husband said that changing his priorities now -- saying that he would've sacrificed his life back then but not now -- would be a terrible lesson to teach his children.  He wants to be the best man he knows how to be as an example to his progeny, and that includes soldiering on in a job that he thinks makes a difference in the world.  Like Soldier Boy, my husband thinks that means standing up for what you believe in and doing what you think needs to be done to protect your way of life for future generations.  It also means teaching your children that sometimes there are things that are bigger than you, things worth sacrificing comfort and happiness for.  And that, yes, that means daddy won't be home all the time.

That does not make him unfit to be a father.  Quite the contrary.

When I got pregnant, I had a long conversation with my husband about how he felt about potentially having to miss a lot of the kids' lives.  He might not be there for baby's first word, or step, or piano recital.  He won't be there to tuck them in or give them a hug.  I think this must be hard for the deployed parent, to miss so much.  And I wondered how my husband felt.

His answer brought tears to my eyes.  It's the reason I married him, the reason I love him.  It's who he is.

He said that seeing your kid's first step or first word is the adult's need, not the child's.  The kid won't remember whether dad was there or not on the day he started crawling.  Thus, my husband said, he was willing to sacrifice being there for those types of milestones; he would give up his own desire to be at home for what he considers a greater good.  He then said that, as the children age, they will notice more that dad is not around.  But, he said, what's important is that the kids know that dad loves them, not just that he's in the house.  Plenty of dads are home all the time, but they'd rather be watching football or playing video games than spending time with the kids.  They're not better fathers simply because they are in the same building as the children.  My husband said that his kids will know that he loves them, regardless of whether he can say it to them in person every night.

My husband continues to impress me with his maturity and wisdom.  He will be a great father and family man someday.

I feel sad that Soldier Boy even had to answer that question, that he had to explain to someone that being a soldier and a father are not mutually exclusive pursuits.  They can, in fact, compliment each other: soldiering on for your children's future is the greatest motivator some of our servicemembers have.

I am proud of Soldier Boy and proud of the answer he gave.  I am humbled that men such as him serve.But if I ever met that lawyer...well, I think swear words would be involved.

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