Sunday, March 29, 2009

The responsibilities of military parents to their children

A very thoughtful response to a commenter by Raphael Alexander at Unambiguously Ambidextrous, in his "Your Daily Afghanistan" post today (good posts to take a look at):

The last thing I wanted to do was respond to a blog entry from a reader who left his address on one of my “Daily Afghanistan” articles. He writes:

Message to all parent soldiers: You do not have the right to leave your kids without a mother or a father. Think about this and make the toughest decision you will ever make in your life. Do whatever it takes and go home to your families.

I am sick of seeing picture after picture of slain Canadian and American soldiers and hearing their loved ones talk about how much these soldiers loved their kids. If you really love your kids, be there to teach them how to ride their bikes, be there when they’re sick, be there to read them books before they go to bed, be there to celebrate their successes, be there to help them cope with their failures, be there to see them graduate and be there to see them get married.

I repeat - you do not have the right to leave your kids without a mother or a father. Do you really think that your presence is essential to the effort in Afghanistan? Of course, it’s not. If EVERY parent soldier reported to their superiors tomorrow and conscientiously objected to any further participation (on the grounds that it would be immoral to leave their kids without a parent), do you know what would happen? The Canadian and American governments would have to entice more soldiers without children and probably pay more than they currently pay in order to keep the ranks properly bolstered. Of course, you know that every parent soldier won’t heed this call. In fact, you might be the only one … and the fact that you make this decision might be the difference between your kids growing up with you or not.

This post actually interested me a great deal because in some ways I feel a lot like the writer. I have two children that I feel I could never leave behind either. I work construction, which is dangerous in it’s own way, and during this week I went to the edge of the building, 450 feet in the air, forgetting I was not tied to my harness. If I had fallen, while pretty unlikely, my children would have been orphaned of a father. I was thinking about it while lying awake at night. Having children is a reason I know I couldn’t be a soldier.

But that’s my decision, and that’s my choice. The Canadian military is a volunteer Army that is has soldiers of all ages and status. Some were married when they joined, and some had kids. Others met their wives after being soldiers for a long time, and had children with the full knowledge that their careers could bring them into harms way for their country. Many families prepare for this, and they discuss it, and they accept the responsibilities of their duties. Ultimately, however, it is the choice of every soldier to decide to put their lives on the line for their country, but also for their children. Many parents are in Afghanistan not just because it’s a job, but because they feel their service is a service to their children’s future.

It’s a difficult question, and one I’m not really qualified to answer as a civilian, but here’s an excerpt from a thread on the Canadian Military website by a soldier:

In our family, we are now the surviving 4th generation of CF children. My dad was the son of a Royal Marine who during the war, was a POW in Burma. My dad didn’t hear from his father from 1941 until 1945 when the camps were liberated. Before my grampa left for the far east, he told my dad to look for pennies on the street and when he saw one, he was to pick it up and know that was a signal that his dad was thinking about him. By the time my grampa got home, my dad had a whole jar of pennies near his bed and when he missed his father, he’d just look at all the pennies and know his dad was thinking about them. (my grandma told me years later that with all the shortages during the war, that sometimes she’d have to resort to dropping a penny or two outside the close so my dad would find them.) My mom’s dad was an RCHA who also was gone during the war and it was just expected back then for the kids to deal with it.

When my dad joined the Navy, he used to sail from Jan until Nov every year. Back in those days, all we had were letters, a monthly telegram and the odd phone call when they hit port. My dad introduced the penny to his children and we each have a jar of pennies and coins by the time he got back. Once I found a ten dollar bill on my birthday and boy, did that make me feel special! (mom carefully placed it for me to find - but hey I was 8.) My dad would also speak to my teachers before he left and he’d get copies of all our school assignments to take with him. When he did call, my mom would be waiting patiently to speak to her husband as he went through each of his children’s homework questions with each child. Sometimes my mom would only get a few seconds to speak to dad before the call was over but for us kids, the call meant everything. When I was very little, I used to think my dad was magical as he always knew what we were doing in school before we told him. We would never see the ship, plane or train leave, but we’d always be there to welcome my dad home. My mom felt that the goodbyes were too hard on the kids and I tend to agree with her. The welcome homes were always such fun. We’d make cakes, and cook like it was Christmas, all the relatives would come over (they’d end up taking us kids home with them so my parents could have their own time alone).

When it came to my own kid, there was a service couple in the works now instead of just one parent. We had to work extra hard at smoothing things for the kid. I introduced the penny idea as well, and once again there were always jars of pennies when we each got home. I did the homework calls just as my dad did, we went armed with lots of story time stories to read over the phone (in our case it was recite). When hubs was away, we’d always pick one spectacular place to visit once a week whether it be the shoreline at sunset, a forest, a farm, castles, or chalk drawing. We felt it was important for the kid to experience good stuff during a deployment or overseas posting. It also gave the kid something to be excited about when she got her phone call or wrote her letter. If you task the kid now what they remember about deployments, they remember the trips and outings.

Now we have grandchildren who have just said goodbye to dad as his prepares to do a NATO sail. Mom is also a CF member. Before dad left, we made a special jar to collect the pennies. So far, they have found a penny for every day daddy has been gone. They know that dad was thinking about them and while finding the penny, they stopped and thought about daddy.


Blogger Alex said...

He has since deleted that post. I got into an argument with him, which eventually degraded to the point where he flat out admitted to being against the war in Afghanistan, stated that Harper had "admitted that we can't win", and then claimed that the vast majority of CF soldiers were "the sons and daughters of janitors", who were only in the military because they couldn't find better work.

Needless to say, I let him have a piece of my mind. After which the entire segment was promptly removed from his blog.

The thing is, I'd still have some respect for the guy, even though he clearly holds views and opinions which are flat-out wrong. The thing that really pissed me off is that he was cowardly enough to hide his true beliefs behind a veneer of civility and concern for the children of military parents. I can get along with people who are wrong - I can't get along with weasels and cowards.

7:55 a.m., March 30, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

You'll note he came by here and dropped a link to his post into the comments of one of Mark's posts as well.

I disagreed with his position rather vehemently. Of course, it's all gone into the memory hole now.

10:12 a.m., March 30, 2009  
Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

I read that John Lennon-ish "Give Peace a chance" nonsense. I thought about writing a response but had already exhausted my annoyance-energy responding to a leftist elsewhere, on another topic.

Anyhow, Mark and the CF Soldier handled it most eloquently.

However, I do remember reading, from a Torch link, about a distinguished WW2 RAF fighter pilot. As I recall the story, the pilot was a bit old for combat duty and had to talk his way into Spitfires and an operational squadron, where he fought with great valor and distinction and was highly decorated.

This RAF pilot was a married man with several young children. His motivation was that he found the idea of his wife and children having to live under Nazi domination intolerable. So intolerable that he believed it his duty to his family to fight and risk death to help prevent their loss of freedom.

He could have served honorably in some safe desk assignment. However, the idea of expecting other men to fight and die to protect his family, while he declined to do likewise, was unacceptable to him. That, to my mind, is being a real man and a real father and husband.

And, to answer that profoundly misguided commentor: Yes, all the widows and orphans of fallen Allied warriors lost their husband and father. However, they kept the freedom that their fallen loved one had helped buy for them with his life.

Someone else expressed this truth about the cost Freedom sometimes has far more eloquently.

1:43 p.m., March 30, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

It is Memorial Day weekend here and as the parent of a United States Marine currently scheduled to deploy very shortly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Canadian people for their support. Your military are highly respected by our servicemen and particularly our Marines who are not known for giving that out too freely. But I wanted every parent, spouse, and the children of the Canadian military to know that their US counterparts remember their service, past and present, on this holiday weekend. We feel your losses as we mourn our own. We share more than just a common boundary line; we are Americans. Semper Fi from this Marine Mom.

7:59 a.m., May 23, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...


Thank you very much for the kind words.

Per ardua ad astra, what with the Marines having their own aviation and our son being in the Canadian Air Force.


9:17 p.m., May 23, 2009  

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