A Letter to Military Dads

I have more than a few heart wrenching scenes engraved within my memories spanning my short 28 years, but perhaps the most poignant I can recall occurred on a cold morning in February.

I watched you, a father I had seen develop first hand, hold two toddlers fiercely. I watched you breathe in every trace of innocence and memorize every freckle. And then I watched you hold our sleeping infant. Your tears fell on the most angelic of cheeks but the sweet babe continued his perfect rhythm of sweet breathing. I was sure my heart would break when you handed the sleeping baby over and whispered the tenderest of goodbyes. It was this moment that caused me to fall more in love with you not only as my partner, but as a father.

As we approach Father’s Day there are a few things, as a military dad,  I want you to know that I hope you will hold close to your heart and, more importantly, believe.

1. The BIG STUFF, is not the big stuff.

I’ve heard the heartache in your voice when you can’t be present for the big events, the birthdays and even the catastrophes. The truth is, however, I would rather spend a Tuesday night in the backyard eating tacos on paper plates than hosting a party for a million 7 year olds. Our kids will never remember the first time they walked, but they will remember the random wheelbarrow rides and Nerf gun wars. The REAL big moments don’t have assigned dates. The memories worth more than bouquets on anniversaries are spontaneous and ordinary. They tell the story of genuine togetherness. This is what our children (and I) hold on to.

2.  You are a hero … and not because you wear camouflage.

I know you hate being called a “hero,” but I need you to hear me out. One day our children will understand the essence and sacrifice of your service, but for right now, they only see the man they love fighting to be present even when he is absent. I watch you make efforts to remain relevant in the details. The flowers sent from half-way around the world before a 5-year-old dance recital. The handwritten letters with drawings to depict your interest and love for someone so small that he thinks you’ve only been gone a week. Some heroes wear capes, some wear camouflage, but arguably the fiercest heroes wear handmade bracelets that are seven times too large. You are their hero simply because you show up for them even when you can’t show up for them.

3. Fatherhood and military service are not diametrically opposed.

There’s a line in the movie “We Were Soldiers” that describes the correlation between being a solider and a father. In the film, Mel Gibson profoundly states: “I hope that the one makes me better as the other.” Fatherhood means sacrifice. Sacrificing your space, your steak, your drinks, your interests and your time. Military service means sacrifice. Each sphere demands devotion, selflessness and a fierce dedication to protect and love someone other than oneself. Your role as service member can reinforce your role as a father.

4. Perhaps the most important thing you need to know is this: I SEE YOU.

Everyone always talks about the obvious obstacles: the “you have to miss the milestones and the important occasions,” and the  “you’ll be absent from the memories.” These are the poster struggles. But these hardships merely brush the surface. I see your other struggles. The ones you bring home from “work,” and war.

I see the struggles you make to fight between two worlds that sometimes create a gravitational pull in two different directions. I watch you push through. I watch you put forth an effort to be the best you can be for the people you love and the people you serve. I see you. I admire you. Thank you for being willing to do two of the most difficult jobs on the planet.

Your example is one that I am so proud to have our children emulate. Today and everyday I hope your heart is full in knowing that your efforts as a both a father and service member are appreciated and celebrated.

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