“Talking to a two- or three-year-old on the phone is a completely unfulfilling experience,” explained Marine reservist Brian Pate to the Capitol Hill audience. “The kid doesn’t know what to do with the phone. Daddy is an unknown quantity. Then its over.”
A lot of us nodded in agreement. Plenty of the members of the audience assembled to celebrate United Through Reading had held a phone to the ear of a toddler during deployment. Plenty of us had pulled said phone out of said toddler’s mouth as if it was a giant wet cookie.
Then Pate said something about military parenting I had not heard before. Pate said that the thing he appreciated most about United Through Reading was the way the books recorded on DVD by deployed parent were “persistent.”
Like any Marine, he said that word a couple of times to make sure we got it: persistent. Persistence as in continuing despite problems. Persistence as in incessant or unrelenting. Persistence as in sustaining continual growth.
In Pate’s example, he said that the DVDs recorded by United Through Reading were ready when the kid was ready. The DVDs could be played endlessly. Even after Pate returned from his 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2009, his son would ask about the vehicles and weapons he had seen in the background of the DVDs.
“It assured me I had a relationship with my son,” Pate said. “When I returned, my son knew who I was.”
It made me think of how often I hear young parents worry that their babies and toddlers won’t recognize their military dads and moms when they return from deployment.
I don’t think that is the most important worry during deployment. Instead I think the concern should be whether or not the military parent will be persistent. Will they be persistent when a crying toddler runs past daddy to get to mommy? Will they be persistent when it seems like everyone does pretty well without them? Will they be persistent in their willingness to reengage and reengage and reengage?
Fortunately, so many military members are persistent with their families. Persistent is something you learn in military life. The United Through Reading program offers one way to be present with kids during deployment.
Yet listening to Pate made we wonder what other simple things our deployed military members could do during a demanding deployment that would help. What other practices have you tried that truly helped your service member connect and reconnect with your kids?