Military families know all about this: It’s hard being away from family for long periods of time.
Although I’m not military, I work for the government which requires me to be deployed to remote areas for anywhere from six to twelve months.
My main heartache comes from missing my two sons, ages 13 and 11. I get a lot of benefits for volunteering for deployment, but it’s still really difficult to miss one of my son’s birthdays, to miss their summer vacation when they go with my wife to the beach or water park, and other occasions.
It’s just plain difficult not being able to see them while they’re still young.
A previous supervisor (who I hated) told me once that I should stop working volunteer overtime and go home to my kids because “they’re only young once.”
There is so much truth in that. Earlier this year I missed my oldest son’s birthday. Ever since he turned 3, he has always wanted to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe. We have continued that tradition up to now, except for the first time in 11 years, I wasn’t there at the festive table in the middle of mechanical jungle animals that come alive ever so often.
And later this year, my youngest, my little baby, will turn 12. 12 years old! I can’t believe it. I won’t be there for that as well.
I won’t see their first day of school; my youngest will start middle school this upcoming school year.
And, most of all, I will be breaking a promise I made to them before I left for the Middle East: I won’t be able to take them to grandma’s house for Christmas. It’s the highlight of their year.
I won’t be there to watch the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX. This has been a family tradition ever since my mom took my sister and me to the therater to see the original (Episode IV) back in 1977.
I know it sounds weird, but I was looking forward to coming full circle and seeing Episode IX with my mom and my sons, especially my oldest who has become a Star Wars fanatic.
But none of that will happen, either.
Being in the middle of the desert, stuck on a fortified military compound (I’m still able to see the local sights; it’s just hard to get clearance, and it’s a challenge to actually get off the compound) has given me lots of time to think.
I spend my free time exercising: going to the base gym or walking laps around the compound in 110-115 F (43-46 C) heat. On weekends I’ll grab a “battle buddy” and we’ll go into the local city for shopping, going out to eat, and just enjoying the freedom to move around that the compound doesn’t offer.
Before I was deployed, my psychiatrist took me off everything except Xanax and Quetiapine. They don’t help much when I’m feeling down, though. For the most part they make me feel tired and groggy. That’s why I’m trying to exercise daily: to make up for my lack of effective medication. I’m getting by.
All I can say is thank God for Netflix. I don’t know what I’d do without it in the evenings.
My wife’s birthday was recently, and I was able to get her present in the mail weeks ago so that it would arrive on time. It was fun imagining her opening the box and seeing the gift that I bought for her over here.
This may be my last deployment. As a civilian, I have the luxury of volunteering. The money is pretty good, but at my age (and at my kids’ age), is it really worth it? I mean, it’s true. They’re only young once, and I’m missing out on some great times in their lives.
I guess the true test will be to ask myself 10 years from now: Was it worth earning a few extra thousand dollars while missing precious time in my children’s youth? Was it really worth breaking my promise by staying overseas instead of spending my family’s favorite holiday away from them?
I’ve read many studies where senior citizens on their deathbeds list things that they regret. Usually at the top of every list is regretting not spending more time with family. I think we can really learn from this.
My wife has a friend whose husband spends years at a time in Eastern Europe working for a contractor because he’s raking in tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. However, he has two daughters that he never sees.
They have gotten to the point where they’ve become numb to it; they prefer him staying there and sending all that money home. The girls seem like they’ve lost connection with their father. To me, that’s very sad. But that’s them. It’s their choice.
Speaking of Netflix, I really like a series called Black Mirror. There’s a melancholy song that is recurring throughout the series. It sort of sums up my mood. It even makes me feel better after listening to it, like I’m not the only one going through hard times. Click here to listen: Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is