Advice For Military Dads

Looking back over my military career, I can honestly say it was easier carrying out my duties on the job than it was being a good father to my two children.  In part, this was because my professional training prepared me for the demands I’d face at work, but I learned about being a dad mostly by trial and error.

I now recognize just how many errors I made—though at the time I thought I was doing the right thing.  Hopefully, some of the lessons I learned will help you to better accomplish your fatherly duties.

Years ago, my wife and I attended a seminar at our base chapel.  Watching a video featuring Dr. James Dobson, we were stunned to learn the average father spent 37 seconds interacting with his children each day.  Considering the time demands at home station and during lengthy deployments, I wonder what that figure is for military dads today.

Some fathers rationalize their limited interaction with the kids by claiming it’s not the quantity of time we spend that matters; it’s the quality.  This simply isn’t true.  We should engage in quality activities with our children, but we should do this frequently.  As in any relationship, the more time we spend with our kids, the deeper our connection grows.

At home, we should sit down with our children occasionally for a chat.  When we’re away for extended periods, we can use a variety of technological aids to stay in touch with the kids.  Home or away, we shouldn’t wait for our children to come to us.

Many of my military bosses said they had an “open-door policy,” but few of their subordinates dropped in for a chat.  I often heard people say the boss may have had an open door, but he didn’t have an open mind.

It’s not enough for dads to tell their kids we’re available to talk with them at any time.  Our children are likely to store away that offer and never act on it.  A better approach is to initiate conversations with the kids from time to time, asking what’s going on in their lives and how we can help.

While we must walk the fine line between honest interest and prying, our periodic chats communicate that we care.  If we begin this practice at a relatively early age, chances are it will continue into our children’s teen years when they’re typically reluctant to be open with their parents.

Another way we can spend time with the kids is to support them during school or other events.  From the time our children entered kindergarten, I did my best to attend their activities.  I arrived at work early or stayed late—occasionally both—so I could attend a ceremony, an academic competition, or an athletic event.  My bosses allowed me this flexibility as long as I put in a full day completing my duties.

One morning, I proudly arrived at a school assembly to witness my daughter receive an award.  After an hour, the principal closed the event, and my daughter hadn’t left her seat.  We later discovered there were two assemblies that day, and my daughter was scheduled to pick up her certificate in the afternoon!

Despite this minor hiccup, my children were always pleased when I attended their events.  It’s not easy asking the boss to be away during the duty day, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get time off.  In my experience, though, it’s worth the risk of disapproval when you consider how important it is for the kids to see dad in the crowd.

 Something to think about:  How much quality time do you spend with your children?  How can you rearrange your schedule to allow you to invest more time with them?

 Something to share:  What have you done to maintain effective communication with the children when deployed or away from home for long periods?

A resource that may interest you is Defending Your Military Family.