Written By: Kara Smith, IVMF Student Intern and military child
I grew up constantly reminding myself that you can’t pick who your parents are, and you can’t decide their occupation. All too often I found myself wishing my Dad had been a banker or a teacher, anything with a normal work schedule. For 30 years (and counting), he’s been enlisted in the U.S. Naval Submarine Force. Despite all of the things he has missed, I couldn’t be more proud of his service to this country and I couldn’t be more proud to call him Dad.
You see, I’ve never known my Dad outside of the Navy. I was born into this lifestyle, and I’m still living it, even as a junior in college. My brother and I have gotten used to him not being around. In my lifetime, he has been on three six-month deployments, two three-month deployments and between those, dozens of at-sea trips that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to two months at a time. The worst part about a submarine deployment of any length is that he is somewhere under one of the five oceans and cannot be contacted. Being able to talk to my Dad is the one thing that can make an absence more tolerable, but when that’s not possible, the absence becomes almost painful, and miserable.
This made times especially difficult when he missed big events in our lives—like birthdays, holidays and family vacations. Of these, for me (being the biggest “Daddy’s Girl” known to man) the hardest to bear were the most recent milestones in my life. He missed me graduate high school and didn’t get the chance to send me off to college; the two biggest moments of my life so far, and I couldn’t reach him in any way.
Though he missed a big chunk of my life, compared to other military kids, I am fortunate that my life in a military family has been unusually easy. I was born in San Diego, and when I was three, we were re-stationed in Groton, Conn., where we have lived ever since. Luckily for my full-time, working (usually single) Mom, we have stayed in one place long enough to move out of military housing and make long-term, non-military friends who don’t pick up and leave every two to four years. My Mom has created a solid foundation for us and a stable support system for not only herself, but her children.
If anything, we made things harder for my Mom by not fully understanding the duties our Dad has to this country. I always wondered why he just couldn’t be home like all of my friend’s Dads or why he had to leave for so many months at a time. I remember watching my younger brother cry dozens of times because he hated being the only man in the house and wished Dad would come home, and then I would start to complain and cry, yet somehow my Mom never shed a tear. For 20 years, she has stayed so strong. Without her, I don’t think I would be so proud of my Dad and his sacrifices for our family and this country.
I’m not completely sure if my Dad strategically planned this life for me, or if he just got lucky, but I look back on my life now and I wouldn’t change a single thing. The hard times that came with being a “Navy Brat” have only made me stronger and more proud to call the current Command Master Chief of Submarine Group 2, my father.
My Dad’s Response:
“The hardest part for me in raising my children while being in the Navy was leaving for long periods of time. In this, I missed many events in my children’s growth and family development. I was fortunate to be able to spend years three to five at home on shore duty, so I was blessed to watch them grow so fast. But the next years were constant in and out, having to weave in and out of their daily routines. There were times that I often wondered if it was so worth this line of work. Sometimes it seemed like I was a detriment to the family life cycle, as I was such a disruption coming in for a few days then leaving for weeks at a time. However, when returning from deployments and seeing how proud my children were of me and my job, it did make it all very worthwhile. I wish I could have spent more time with them, but when I think about what I have done and the time spent with them makes it all so much more precious.”
Kara Smith is a junior in the School of Education at Syracuse University. She wrote this post in recognition of April being “The Month of the Military Child.” In 1986, U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger designated each April to recognize the contribution that the military child makes as their parent and/or parents serve our nation. Each April, all service branches provide special days and events to honor the military family and its children.