Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been deployed in Afghanistan for 13 months and am returning home next week. Being apart from my wife and children for so long has got me committed to making some major changes in my relationships with them. How easy will this be to do?
A: There’s nothing like being away from your family to get you thinking about making life better when you get home.
“I’m going to spend more time with the family; not get upset over minor things like spills on the carpet, clogged toilets or idiot politicians; and help the kids more with their homework.” All great goals.
The problem is that the guy who made those resolutions (you) may not be the same as the guy who’ll be trying to make them a reality (also you): Although things may look pretty much the same as they did before you left, being deployed has changed you. Lots of other things have changed too:
•Friends. You just spent the last year with some very close friends, living through the same hardships, facing the same dangers, and providing emotional and social support to each other. Friends back home are great, but unless they were deployed, too, they probably have no idea what you’ve been through, and you may not have much in common anymore.
•Roles. One of the hardest things for returning dads is to figure out how to plug themselves back into their family. It’s natural to imagine that you’ll jump right in and pick up as if you’d never left. That’s a lovely thought, but a completely unrealistic one.
While you were gone, your family had to create new routines, new ways of communicating and making decisions, new approaches to discipline. Mom has been the primary decision-maker, the kids have taken on some of your old chores, and no one may be interested in making any changes.
While you may be proud that your family came through your deployment in good shape, you may be a little surprised – and, honestly, a little disappointed. After all, the logic goes, if they thrived so well without you, do they need you anymore?
The answer is, Yes. A lot. They love you, too, and want you to be a part of the family again, to resume your duties as teacher, mentor, authority figure, fixer of all things broken, bad-joke teller and heavy-lifting guy. It’s just going to take some time.
Chances are, you’ll never get back 100 percent to the way things were. Instead, you, your wife and kids will end up creating a completely new routine that combines the best of the pre-deployment and during-deployment ones.