The rigours of active service and long absences can exact a heavy toll on military dads. But FNS Development Manager DAVE DEVENNEY learned that love and nurture weren't dependent on constant proximity...
Imagine working every day in searing 80c heat, where the desert terrain shimmers and the powdery dust kicked up by the wind clogs your eyes and nostrils, making them constantly stream.
Imagine having to carry around 80-100lbs of kit every day at work, every bit of which your life or another’s may depend upon.
Imagine a place where you are never, ever ‘off’ and you know that determined people are eager to see you dead, your next step could trigger a landmine or a snipers bullet can end your life in a heartbeat…
Imagine Helmand Province, in its day, one of the most hostile places on the planet. Imagine trying to be a good dad for the six months you are just trying to survive there. Just imagine.
AN ACTIVE ROLE
One of the central tenets here at Fathers Network Scotland and something we recognise as a growing reality across society in Scotland and the wider UK is the awareness that an increasing number of fathers are, and want to be, playing an active role in their children’s upbringing. Its a role we know to make a real and practical difference, providing a positive role model that benefits children’s development, communities and our country at large.
This is taking place against a background where in everyday conversations around parenting we still tend to think of the mother rather than the father, often leaving fathers feeling of secondary importance or worse, excluded altogether. Perhaps nowhere more so than where fathers have separated from the mother of their child and no longer share the family home. This of course can happen in a variety of ways, most often as an outcome of separation or divorce. Sometimes though, this also happens when the demands of society, whether it be the Criminal Justice System or military service abroad, means that fathers will be separated from their children often for extended periods.
Being an effective father does not depend upon financial resources or having a particular personality
I have enjoyed a long career in the Royal Marines, served some time as a Parish Minister and worked in the Third Sector leading a project delivering a groundbreaking self development/life skills intervention within three High Security Prisons. Having recently taken on the role of Development Manager at Fathers Network Scotland, with a background like mine, my remit is understandably specific. Research and engagement with Fathers in Military Service, Fathers in Prison and Fatherhood and the Faith Communities. I
DEPLOYED NOT ABSENT
In this first blog, I’d like to narrow down the focus to the first of those three. As a former military dad with multiple tours at home and abroad and often for extensive periods I came to understand that in many respects my experience whilst deployed and that of a dad serving a prison sentence shared striking similarities. True, the reason and locus of the separation were radically different, but the challenges around being a good dad at a distance remained the same – good fatherhood is never a question of proximity but of love and nurture.
Military service can provide several benefits for families, such as economic stability, early retirement, health benefits, and an existing social structure. However, long deployments, post-deployment adjustments, frequent operational moves, the possibility of death or injury for the father and other life changes and challenges can make military life difficult for the whole family – especially children of military fathers. Conflicts come and go but the consequences often have lingering effects on our military families for years to come. Building a strong family resilience can help grow a family and make them stronger during times of deployment.
Children’s needs and dad’s abilities usually exist together within the context of family. Attention to context is invaluable when considering men who need to integrate fathering with the specific challenges of serving in the armed forces faced with the possibility of extended and often dangerous deployments. Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan myself I understand all too well the limitations and challenges of maintaining my role as a father often without the benefit of regular phone calls, email, Skype conversations or mail drops.
In the midst of all the challenges much good work is being done among service personnel across the UK Armed Forces in individual units and among service related welfare staff. I aim to cover some of this work in more details in future blogs but for now it is important to realise that the quality of the relationship between dads and their children is a powerful predictor of exactly how well the family will adjust not only to the deployment but also to post-deployment reintegration. If a military father can creatively maintain a loving, involved relationship with his children, then this can help ensure family success during and after deployment.
The bottom line? Good fathering can be challenging and intimidating for many men at the best of times and also hugely rewarding. Fathers serving in the armed forces must also contend with the challenges of being a dad within the context of military life with its own unique set of struggles and difficulties. Part of my development remit within Fathers Network Scotland is to creatively engage with our military fathers in Scotland and seek to explore ways to support them so that they can build strong relationships with their children by understanding and addressing their individual needs, understanding the importance of more flexible gender expression at home (for example taking on some housework roles), and creatively working around the unique challenges that military service throws at them and.
In the words of the old British Army recruiting strapline - helping military dads ‘Be the Best You Can Be’.
Want to hear more about being a dad in the army? Check out our interview with Angus McNulty...