When Mom Goes To War, Families Fight Own Battles

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
USA Today
June 11, 2008
Pg. 11
By William Kistner
This Father's Day, many people will honor those military dads who are among the more than 35,000 casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are a growing number of men like me who also pay a price for war, although we fight our battles at home.
We take care of the kids and manage the households while our wives are deployed by the military for months. And there is evidence that our marriages are often under the most stress. RAND Corp. studies have found that female servicemembers have more than twice the divorce rate of their male peers. The highest rate of divorce is in my group, civilian men married to women in the military. Why?
No one really knows. But experts believe a major factor is that military family support programs are traditionally geared toward women, making it harder for men to develop a strong support network.
I know, because my family recently went through it. Just before Thanksgiving, my wife, a Navy doctor, left on a six-month deployment to Djibouti. I thought we were prepared. We wrote our wills, bought extra life insurance and sat down with our daughters to watch military deployment videos featuring Elmo and his gang. I wasn't too worried because she wasn't going to an area of combat. We could communicate regularly via phone, e-mail and even see each other on computer video-cam calls.
But it didn't take long for the dark, cold winter and the incessant demands of the kids to overwhelm me. I had no one to complain to when someone pooped in the bathtub or the laundry piled up. After the nightly battle to get the girls asleep, I'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night fully clothed. Still, I thought I could get through it on my own.
In Djibouti, a hot and desolate place near the Red Sea, my wife missed our family terribly. But she could work out daily, took yoga lessons, and sometimes snorkeled and scuba dived in nearby tropical reefs. She went out to restaurants and relaxed with her buddies at the base cantina. She planned to climb Kilimanjaro with friends, and was invited on a parachute jump with some Special Forces guys. Fortunately, the top brass nixed that one.
At home, resentment began to build. I was glad she was safe and could have fun, but every time I changed an exploding diaper or faced a meltdown at home, I got more peeved. I found myself jealous of the male friends with whom she worked, played and even partied. Who were these guys?
My wife reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. But I still had trouble sleeping and lost weight. I felt isolated and overwhelmed by anxiety and exhaustion.
I finally reached out to friends and experts for help. A psychologist told me my feelings were normal. He said I was suffering from a sense of loss and grappling with the classic stages of grief. The fact that my wife was stuck in a foreign, testosterone-dominated world only made it worse.
I felt a sense of relief. I learned to focus more on my kids and less on what was going on in Africa. I built up a better support network and asked for help when I needed it, something many women — especially military wives — know are essential to keep families together.
In the end, we were lucky. This deployment helped us communicate better and built even more trust and understanding in our marriage. But it was one of the most stressful situations I've experienced. And I now appreciate how it can tear families apart.
Many men and their families have it far worse. Six months ago, one of my wife's medical school friends was sent to Afghanistan for a year, leaving behind her husband and six kids. I think about him when I'm having a hard time.
On Father's Day, people like him deserve more public recognition, the dads who quietly fight the war at home.
William Kistner, a former radio and TV reporter and producer, now works as a full-time parent. His wife is expected to return from her deployment around Father's Day.