Dear Mr. Dad: My husband is deployed overseas right now and we just had our baby girl. He was home for the birth, but had to leave only 20 days after. He really doesn’t seem to take much interest in her.
We talk over Skype all the time, but he still keeps some emotional distance between him and our daughter. How can I let him know that he’s a father and help him actually feel like one?
A: First, my sincere thanks to you and your husband (and your daughter) for your service to our country. Thanks also for trying to help your husband – he’s lucky to have you in his corner.
Unfortunately, there are almost no resources that focus on the needs of the deployed service members themselves. That’s precisely why I wrote my book, “The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads.”
Military dads (and moms) need as much support as they can get to help them maintain strong relationships with their children and spouse.
Research has shown that when service members feel connected to and needed by their family, and feel like they know what’s happening at home and are an important part of it, some of the effects of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) can be reduced.
On the flip side, feeling disconnected, unimportant, unneeded, unloved, or unappreciated aggravates PTSD and contributes directly to the increased rates of divorce and suicide in military families.
Sadly, the dynamic you so poignantly described is very common among young military dads. There are a number of things that could be going on.
Your husband may be feeling rather useless and he may be putting up all that emotional distance as a way of protecting himself. In his mind he’ll never be able to catch up, and his daughter will never love him as much as she loves you.
There’s also a good chance that your husband has heard stories from some of the other dads in his unit who’ve been through multiple deployments. They may have told him how painful it is to come home and have your baby or toddler cry or run away and hide instead of giving you a huge welcome-home-daddy hug.
He also may be trying to protect your daughter. If he’s concerned that he won’t be coming home, he may have decided that there’s no sense in getting too attached to her.
So what can you do?
Remind him often how important he is to you and your daughter and how much you need him.
Tell him that you show the baby his picture and talk about him every day.
Send him pictures, handprints, and other reminders. But don’t try to get the baby to say “Hi” to Daddy on Skype. Babies are notorious for screaming or crying when they’re supposed to be performing.