Enjoy this guest post from Brendan, a MANspouse.
Brendan O'Conner is a male military spouse(or as they prefer to be called, MANspouse). He is a stay at home dad to 5 children and has been married to his Air Force wife for 13 years.
My journey as a male military spouse(or as we liked to be called-MANspouse) began in 1999 when I married an Airman. We were dating before she went to basic training and ended up being one of the few relationships that made it through the separation. I remember hearing my wife tell me about all the girls in her flight were getting dumped. We became engaged the same weekend of her graduation. She left shortly after that for Tech School and we spent the next several months separated, the wedding had to wait. We chose to elope and save the money on the wedding; a decision I regret still to this day.Upon completing Tech School she was stationed in Maryland for her first assignment, so we made a short trip to Annapolis and tied the knot.
We moved in together and the adventure of a lifetime had begun for my new bride and me. I had to leave a good job for a 24 year old with only a high school education. So the search for a new job had begun. It was difficult at first. A new state. A new life. Heck, a whole new way of living. The military life.
We lived in a little 2 bedroom on post, at that time pre-911 we had to maintain our own living quarters. We had some neighbors that we really only would say hi to as we passed by. A little shy and a lot unsure of things, we made our way through the 2 year assignment. This ended with the birth of our 1st child and the conception of the 2nd one after 2 months. Yes we had a 2 month old and were heading to Misawa Japan with the 2nd on the way. Talk about scared.
I had no clue of this life even after 2 years, see as a MANspouse, no one approached me or talked to me. I was alone in this and I knew it. I felt inadequate. The looks I would get when I said I was married to active duty and the dependant. So the life continued, I tried to make the best of it at the time. We figured that I wouldn’t get a job because whatever money I would make would have to go to the daycare, so that is when my career as an at home dad had begun. It was pretty easy at first. Taking care of the babies seems to have always come naturally to me. The house cleaning on the other hand has been my arch enemy for all these years.
Another child was added to the list in Japan. So 1 born in MD 2 born in Japan. On to the next assignment, Alaska.
So we get sent to Elmendorf Alaska for the next duty station. This was going to be awesome I was thinking, being and outdoorsman, so I thought. Well turns out I like to do things in the outdoors but those guys in Alaska, they ARE outdoorsmen. This was the next leg of the journey. Again the neighbors didn’t really talk to the MANspouse, but boy did I get some weird looks, and still do at times, I just got a little more confident in who I am to even let it bother me now. So the cold, OH the cold, even in the summer the cold. But we started to make friends, well she was making friends and I was kind of part of the package. Great people and friends who we still are very close with even being scattered across the globe. The bonds between the military are strong for the active duty and the spouses as well. We have learned through hardship the true value of friends and helping when someone else needs it. We found a great church where we went and grew in faith and maturity.
Yes, we added yet another child to the mix in Alaska.
So we are currently at 4 children in Alaska. While in Alaska the stresses of being home with 4 little ones and not getting away-time took it’s toll on me. So I luckily found an old man who agreed to give me some part time work in the evening to help me out. I was now taking care of 4 kids during the day, home schooling and leaving an hour after my wife came home from work. Like two ships passing in the night. The lack of quality time with my wife took it’s toll on our marriage for a little while, then we got introduced to an Air Force program called Give Parents A Break, A GREAT PROGRAM. (Look into it if you’re at an Air Base) So we started to date again for the first time in 7 or 8 years. And yes, that ended up with another child on the way and we were heading back to Maryland were it all started.
So we are at Ft Meade, MD again, familiar area, kinda close to our home town, 6 hour drive. Close for military standards. At least the same hemisphere anyway. So I am back to no job and 5 kids now, oh yeah, we were homeschooling too. Boy what a trip that was. That lasted 3 years, a couple in Alaska and 1 I think in Maryland. Some people can do it, I couldn’t, I tried, and it was best they went to public school.
With the annoucement of our first ever deployment coming up(that’s right ,12 years no deployment). We were blessed and not so blessed as well. I had no deployment experience and she was looking at a 12 month deployment to Afghanistan while I took care of 5 kids on my own . Needless to say I was absolutely terrified, scared to death. I CAN’T EXPRESS TO YOU ENOUGH HOW MUCH FEAR I HAD.
So we go to the FRG brief on support for family and what not. Again you must remember as a MANspouse I seem to get ignored or over looked or something in between. Well none the less someone screws up some paper work and she finds out that she has to leave a week early. And not just a week early, but that very night she had to be in Virginia. Yup, pack up and off she went. A very short good bye. The single hardest thing I have ever done was watching my wife walk away from me not knowing if she’ll be back or if she’ll come back the same person or the list goes on and on… The tricks your mind can play on you during a deployment. Hence the needs for a deployment buddy. But therein lays one of the problems we MANspouses have. We are few and far between in the military world. We know that and we accept it. But none the less we need help getting through this life. At least I do. I went 2 months without a break during the deployment. It was 4 months till someone in the military even called to check on me. So month 4 and those good friends I talked about earlier that becamse lifelong friends, they literally drove down from Ohio to visit us for 4 days. What a great time that was. The 4 bedroom base house we currently live in was filled with 8 kids and 3 adults. Cramped, yes, but fun definitely! And yet another one of those elusive breaks I got to take. Well my wife was at Bagram so I was lucky enough to have fairly regular contact with her.
The loneliness really sets in. It’s getting close to Christmas time and I am feeling very worn out. My body is aching from months of stress, the pain has been stuck in my shoulders and neck. The fear of so many things have been weighing on me. I am all alone. I have no one to talk to. I talk to my wife for 10 minutes a day if I’m lucky then she’s gone. I am exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically. I am spent. Low and behold I catch a cold, a viral cold the Doctor said there’s nothing he can do about. So I am sick, still have 5 kids I have to take care of, get ready for school, take to school ,feed, bath...... you know the routine. Well I ended up having a 103 temperature for 3 days straight and I was sick for 11 days all together. OK God, I get it, I called some old friends who were in the area still and asked for help. Yup, I felt like I was on my death bed before I asked for help, but ya know what? If someone offered or asked me if I wanted help, I would have accepted it in a heartbeat. Yes, my male ego kept me from reaching out to another, but at that time is when I found a group online called 'male military spouses'. Then I found Military Spouse Magazine. Then I found this interesting group called MANning the Homefront-Military Style. Well, finding that group, that I felt was the answers to my desperate pleas to God for help. I found my place, or our place, somewhere that the MANspouse doesn’t feel so awkward, so out of place. A place where we can share our experiences and knowledge and humor. A place for us MANspouses to be.... well guys.... and shoot the $#@%, get together with other MANspouses and make this experience a lot more enjoyable. A memory shared is always better with friends and a beer. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go make a sammich.