Prior to my wife’s enlistment in the Army, I was a real man’s man. For the better part of a decade, I put on my boots every morning before getting in a hot, smelly work truck in Florida–a loud and beefed up 1984 F-150 pulling a lawn trailer. I was self-employed; my days were spent inhaling the exhaust of lawn equipment or enjoying the smell of fresh dirt while I planted trees and shrubs, or laid down sod. When I wasn’t working or spending time with my family, I fished, played poker, bowled, and did all sorts of other fellowship things with other men. I even camped alone in the wilderness. My life was filled with all kinds of manly activities.
When she shipped out to boot camp, I became a military spouse, and everything I thought I knew about life changed. And that change was drastic. In March of 2010 I was Wayne “Doughboy” Perry, just your average landscaper running a weed-whacker and pushing a wheelbarrow. By October 2012, I was Wayne Perry, AKA TheArmyWife(DUDE), speaking at the Association of the United States Army(AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition as a voice for male military spouses.
Back then, I had no choice but to embrace my new life, my new role, and yes my new identity as a military spouse. The transition developed a “bloom where you are planted” perspective in me. Initially, I was planted in the military spouse community in very fertile soil at Fort Riley, Kansas. There, I was surrounded by individuals who tended to me and I feel blessed by the many hands who, quite literally, put blood, sweat, and a lot of tears in growing me. But somewhere in becoming who I was to be, I lost who I was: rugged boot wearing, poker playing, fish fileting manly man Wayne Perry. Instead, I became a butt and snot wiping, pedicure getting, play date setting, at home dad male military spouse. It’s not that I didn’t like what I became, I just didn’t like what I I lost.
I decided to do something about it when my wife got PCS orders. I even told a buddy something like this: “Dude! I am going to move to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and blossom where I am planted!” He laughed. Then he looked at me and said, “Man… you sound like a girl using those words.” So I said “Fine, then I will grow where I go! Better!?!”. He nodded his head–which is the universal sign for a man’s approval.
Shortly after our arrival at JBLM, we traded in my grocery getter sedan and bought my dream truck, a 4 door Dodge Ram. If you ask me, it was my first step towards rediscovering my manhood. Then I started doing some yard work around the house we bought. With each scoop of dirt I flung and (in this area of Washington) every rock I hit, I could almost feel my testosterone levels rise.
One of the reasons we bought a house when we PCS’d was so I could grow a garden. We marked off the designated area for my garden and then I expanded it. Then I decided I was going to build a greenhouse so I enlarged the area even more. That is how men do things, right? Just this week my wife surprised me by offering that I expand my area even a little more. I think saw what regaining some independence (and my love of gardening) has meant to me. And while I may not have the freedom I had when we were civilians, it doesn’t mean I can’t grow where I go.
Within six weeks of arriving, I felt like the man I once was.
I’m proud of my story, my growth back to my manly identity. But growing where I was planted (or where I went) required developing personal independence–which I continue to cultivate in my new greenhouse–in four main areas: Spiritual, Physical, Financial and Emotional.
Spiritual: In his self-titled movie, Shrek said “Ogres are like onions. They have layers.” I won’t say whether I’ve been called an ogre, but I will say that at my deepest layer, at my core, are my spiritual beliefs. My faith made me a little easier to grow when I was first planted in our community, and it helped me get through the maturation and growing period of initial deployments, TDY’s and our new military life.
Physical: The reason my wife joined the Army is to provide for our family, because my body wasn’t able to handle the physical strain of my old profession. Shoveling, raking, planting and moving things has reminded me of how much my body hurt four years ago, but even if I move a little slower, I am moving–a step in the right direction, and something I wasn’t doing before (except for chasing my toddler, of course). I gained 109 pounds as a military spouse, but I am proud to say I have dropped from a peak of 322 pounds to 255 pounds today. And I have a whole summer of working outside and eating fresh veggies ahead!
Financial: Let’s face it, men have expensive hobbies. But of all the hobbies I could choose, I couldn’t have chosen a better investment. Not only am I increasing our property value by building something both useful and appealing, I am producing things we can eat and therefore no longer need to buy at the grocery store. I also teach priceless life lessons to my boys through this experience. Working in the garden may be a chore, but we do it together and learn some independence along the way.
Emotional: At Fort Riley I struggled with anxiety and depression. Since arriving here I have battled them in my mind and won more often than not. I have a place of my own (the greenhouse) and a job to do there; if things are stressful I can retreat there to work through any issues that bother me. My greenhouse is my “happy place.” It reminds me of the balance between the man I was, the man I am now, and the man I want to be.
I am a military spouse. But I am an independent military spouse. I may be dependent upon my wife’s financial contribution to our family, but my independence is forged in my own identity and my own contributions, not by who puts the bread on the table. It took me a long time to realize that. It took me doing what many military spouses have done before: plant a victory garden.