Military families face a unique and difficult set of challenges. Service members with kids quickly learn that a predictable family routine is one of many things they need to sacrifice in the name of duty. While advances in communications technology have allowed military dads to keep in touch with family members half a world away, they’re still, well, half a world away. They miss the daily occurrences other fathers take for granted. Like watching their kids savage a bowl of cheerios. Or talking through the Ninjago universe with them. Or consoling them after they strike out in Little League. These fathers must work harder to be part of their children’s — and spouse’s — lives.
Here, Major Nick Lozar, a 13-year veteran of the Marine Corps and father of one, reflects on the sacrifices required to be both a Marine and a father and why he hopes one makes him better at the other.
[My daughter is] young enough that she doesn’t remember the time I was far away, which was a lot. I’m very grateful for that. She doesn’t remember when I was working as general’s aide and I basically lived in the Pentagon Monday through Friday. She doesn’t remember me being in Afghanistan for eight months and in the field all the time. She remembers it because I talked about it. She knows that I went to Afghanistan when she was younger. But she doesn’t remember me being gone.
Now that she’s getting older? The absence is noted much more significantly than it used to be.
When I was deployed, we were able to strike a balance of how often I was going to call and scheduled it around what our battle rhythm in Afghanistan was at the time. We had a regularly scheduled time that we would get on FaceTime together or that I would call on the phone and talk to them back home. It made it easy but you’ve got to kind of set those expectations otherwise.
It’s a balancing act and it doesn’t get easier the older they get. It doesn’t get easier the longer you are in the military. It’s tough.
And life happens. I’ve had friends that they have had to watch their kids struggle through a life event. Something as simple as he struck out in a baseball game and dad wasn’t there to be there to help him lick his wounds and had to watch them do that over the phone from the other side of the planet. It’s very difficult, but it’s gratifying though because at the end of the day, you know what you’ve done to try to keep the country safe. Then you come home, knowing that you’ve done everything you can to be a part of your family.
Some people try harder than others. That’s absolutely for certain, some people try harder than others. But, like I said, it’s a balancing act and it doesn’t get easier the older they get. It doesn’t get easier the longer you are in the military. It’s tough.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson. There’s a scene in that movie where one of his young officers ask him, “How do you manage being a dad, a father, and a soldier?” and Mel Gibson’s response is, “I only hope that one makes me better at the other.” That’s kind of something I’ve always thought of. I hope that being a father makes me a better Marine and being a Marine makes me a better father.
Our time is not our own. There’s a lot of dinners left in the fridge with microwave instructions and there’s a lot not seeing them for weeks, months, or up to a year at a time because of deployments and field ops.
Time will tell on that one. I can’t tell if I’m succeeding in that or not, but yeah, it’s one of those things where you’ve dedicated your life to cause greater than yourself but you also have the responsibility of raising a good citizen at the same time. Those two things tend to tug on each other as far as time constraints. It becomes a really difficult thing to do because, at some point, one is going to get more time than the other.
I look at it as a positive. I’ve seen good examples and bad examples over my 17 years in the Marine Corp and it’s difficult because being an active duty military officer is very, very time-consuming. It often requires more time than you thought you were going to need to give and that time directly conflicts with the time that you want to spend nurturing your family. And not just your kids, but your family at large.
Our time is not our own. There’s a lot of dinners left in the fridge with microwave instructions and there’s a lot of not seeing them for weeks, months, or up to a year at a time because of deployments and field ops. It’s a balance and it takes constant work. There’s no formula. It’s just one of those things where you constantly have to work at it.
There’s a lot of times, I know at least in my case where I’m like, man, I’m really falling short in the dad role because I’m just not there. And so you got to make the most of the time we do have.