Finally: A Story on Deployed Moms, Caregiving Dads

I am with you here, Tessa. Thanks for the diary! -Elisa

I don’t know about you all, but it has always bothered me that the MSM only seemed to highlight the trials and tribulations of the mothers who are left behind when their spouses go off to war.  I have repeatedly sat through Nightly News or CNN simply amazed that some producer hasn’t clued into the fact that the population of mothers in combat has jumped significantly in our latest conflicts; which in turn means there are husbands left behind as single parents.

Well, finally, Reader’s Digest has caught on.

At work, there is a daily clipping service of national news stories related to defense that is posted on the website.  I read it everyday as a routine, and today, this article was the top of the pile.  I have no idea what’s wrong with me, but I’ve been a bit of an emotional basketcase lately, and reading this made me cry in the middle of my work day.  Hooray.

I’ll start with a little humor:

Before Christine left for Afghanistan, Clinton Collins slept dead to the world. Now his sleep is fitful as he listens for his little girls in the middle of the night or an unexpected phone call from his wife.

Ah, so this is a skill that can be learned?  DH is in trouble now.

On to the tougher stuff:

But today, women account for about 200,000, or almost 15 percent, of personnel, and men are stepping into the caregiving role….They may be even more challenging for war dads. In the past three decades, the military has created a vast support network to assist wives and their families, providing counseling, child care, even lawn care. But the few men who have attempted to plug into the system say they feel awkward and often unwelcome.

This makes me sad, that even in such situations male caregivers are uncomfortable.  I was at a birthday party for DD’s friend this weekend, and there were three dads at the party, and the division was definitely there, although unintentional.  Since I had DS, I ended up hanging with the dads, and it was surprisingly awkward.  I’m a bit disappointed in myself.  I’d like to think if I had a neighbor in this situation with a deployed wife, I could reach out and find a way to help, but it seems to be harder than I thought.

This part of the story is what got me crying in the office:

As Kadet’s overseas deployment stretches on, her absence is keenly felt. On a spring evening at Hollo’s house, just outside Fort Campbell, Nick colors and watches cartoons. He squeezes a stuffed turtle’s flipper, summoning his mother’s voice: “I love you more than anything in the whole world. You’re the best little boy ever.”

“He used to squeeze it constantly,” Hollo says, then adds, only half joking, “I was afraid the batteries were going to die while she was over there.” Nick doesn’t squeeze the toy quite as much these days

What a daunting role for these men, to figure out the emotional pitfalls of the situation.  Since many of these men in the article are former service members themselves, they don’t exactly come from a culture that encourages men to be touchy feely.

Some dads are slowly realizing the upside of the situation:

There is an upside to all of this. Collins says his relationship with his children is now deeper (though he has not yet mastered hair braiding). “My 12-year-old was getting to an age where she was relying a lot on her mom for girl talk,” he says. “Now she’s more open to discussing things with me, like what boy she thinks is cute in school. We’re becoming better friends.”

I feel like these dads haven’t been given their due, so I’m very happy to see this article in Reader’s Digest.  Kudos to the editorial staff there:  finally, someone figured it out.  And I hope hope hope all of the moms come home, soon.


Mom and Son Share Special Moment- 12,000 Miles Apart

Carl Brown is in Iraq working for a private contractor, but he was determined not to miss his mother’s 50th birthday.

Thanks to technology and a little help from his friends, he didn’t have to.

On Saturday night, Carl’s mom Ginger wandered past a jewelry store window, only to see her son’s face staring back at her from a laptop computer screen.

“That’s my son!” she squealed to no one in particular, struggling to process how 33-year-old Carl Brown, currently working in Iraq, was waving hello from behind the glass.

Next to the computer was a Rolex watch. Next to the watch: a card that read “Happy 50th Birthday Mom.”

With that, family members emerged from behind pillars and kiosks, and cameras started flashing. Barnett’s birthday surprise had gone off without a hitch, and the Anaheim mother of three burst into happy tears as she was enveloped in bear hugs.

This was one of those stories that was a blast to report and write. I wandered around the jewelry store, doing my best to look nonchalant while waiting to spot this woman I’d never met and witness an intensely emotional moment.

Since becoming a mom, I’m a huge sap who will cry over anything. I had to work hard to fight back the tears as I saw the joy, surprise and longing in this mother’s eyes as she talked to her son via Skype. She said it was the surprise of her life.

What was your best birthday surprise? Mine would have to be my surprise 30th birthday party, orchestrated by my husband and mother and attended by about 100 friends and family members, including Markos and Elisa who flew in from Berkeley. My mom cooked my favorite foods, and there was even a mariachi! Good times.

I also think about all the years I spent living away from my mother, and feel a little guilt. I know children are supposed to grow up and fly the coop, but I eventually gave in to my urge to come “home.” Deep down, I hope my daughter will one day feel that way, too.

What about you? Do you live close to your parents, or far away? Where do you hope your kids might end up– next door, in the next time zone, or somewhere in between?


What a Dumb Ass

I am down with democracy and all that, but damn it is scary when guys like this vote.

Ed Hamilton, of Kerr County, Texas, is challenging fellow Republican Mindy Williams in the primary for county treasurer. His platform? He wants to eliminate the position, according to the Associated Press.

Hamilton said if elected, he would hand the duties to someone else and petition state officials for a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would allow any county to eliminate the treasurer position if it chooses.

Williams, who was appointed last spring to the $46,000-a-year post, said the job shouldn’t be eliminated. It provides accountability on the county’s spending, a check and balance that is “essential to county government.”

Hamilton says “check and balance” is “a euphemism for duplication of effort.”

Please tell me this made news because Hamilton is an oddball — even in Texas. One of the scariest things to come out of the Bush administration is how “check and balance“ is a four-letter f-word whether it’s in regards to war or our justice system. Ugh.  

In related news, two non-profit journalism organizations conducted a study that found that the Bush administration released at least 900 false statements regarding the national security threat in Iraq, according to AP. Hopefully, this will encourage traditional media outlets to once again act as “a check and balance“ to our government’s powers.


War dead and grieving

The war in Iraq ad its victims are there in the back of my mind like a nasty bruise that hurts when I press it by accident, but is not something I re-injure daily. It is a source of pain and shame and dread when I do think about it, but I don’t discuss it with many people, partially because it’s not part of my daily reality, partly because I almost feel it unseemly to play war pundit when I have absolutely nothing at risk in this fight.

But occasionally, it pops out and this time I want to talk about it with you. In this month’s Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens writes an essay about the death of Mark Jennings Daily, a soldier from Irvine, California who died in Mosul in January. Daily was 23, and left behind a family and a wife of 15 months. Tragic. But the reason why Hitchens wrote this essay is because Daily noted on his MySpace page that one of the reasons he volunteered for war was Hitchens’ writings in support of invasion, particularly his “Fighting Words” column in Slate magazine. The sad, sick “nut graph” to this sorry essay:

I don’t exaggerate by much when I say that I froze. I certainly felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic frame of mind about the war. Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.? Over-dramatizing myself a bit in the angst of the moment, I found I was thinking of William Butler Yeats, who was chilled to discover that the Irish rebels of 1916 had gone to their deaths quoting his play Cathleen ni Houlihan. He tried to cope with the disturbing idea in his poem “Man and the Echo”:

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot? …
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?

Abruptly dismissing any comparison between myself and one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, I feverishly clicked on all the links from the article and found myself on Lieutenant Daily’s MySpace site, where his statement “Why I Joined” was posted. The site also immediately kicked into a skirling noise of Irish revolutionary pugnacity: a song from the Dropkick Murphys album Warrior’s Code. And there, at the top of the page, was a link to a passage from one of my articles, in which I poured scorn on those who were neutral about the battle for Iraq … I don’t remember ever feeling, in every allowable sense of the word, quite so hollow.

Hitch has been one of the strongest supporters of the war in the journalistic space, and I believe he has displayed shocking leaps of intellectual gymnastics – eliding and glossing over fundamental facts that do not suit his argumentation, and, when all else fails, backflipping to explain away all failures and shift all blame from the neocons who sent the country down this fool’s path. Before his out-front war mongering, I respected him as an essayist, but now everything of his I read, I do so from the perspective that he is a man who was deeply wrong about the war and refuses to admit it.

Fine. We don’t agree. Live and let live. But then he uses this young man’s death as a platform and a chance for him to expend cheap emotion (how un-English). He weeps in the prose, so that we may forgive him his trespasses and I don’t buy it. He contacts Daily’s family, who show a remarkable gentleness of spirit and meet with Hitchens. Hitchens is invited to Daily’s funeral and manages to choke out some Shakespeare through (ostensibly) a tear-blocked throat  – tears the Daily’s own family manages to hold back. At this point, I really lost it.

My idea had been to quote from the last scene of Macbeth, which is the only passage I know that can hope to rise to such an occasion. The tyrant and usurper has been killed, but Ross has to tell old Siward that his boy has perished in the struggle:

Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt;
He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirm’d
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.
This being Shakespeare, the truly emotional and understated moment follows a beat or two later, when Ross adds:
Your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end.
I became a trifle choked up after that, but everybody else also managed to speak

I think this stinks. Honestly, Hitch, who gives a $hit about you being choked up? Who cares that you were touched by this boy’s life and death. It isn’t all about you; it is about a grieving family. Go expiate your guilt – and yeah, as such a pro-war pundit, you do bear guilt, you armchair hawk – somewhere else.

It is obvious that part of Hitchens is greatly troubled by the fact that his words caused another person to enlist and go to war and die. But I don’t think he’s entitled to use that man’s death as an opportunity to hash through his feelings publicly. To my mind, it’s being unfair on Daily’s family and widow, who have been through enough. I’ll close with another, far briefer and respectful expression of remorse and grief – Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby

In the fall of 1864, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew wrote to President Lincoln asking him to express condolences to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. Lincoln’s letter to her was printed by the Boston Evening Transcript. Later it was revealed that only two of Mrs. Bixby’s five sons died in battle (Charles and Oliver). One deserted the army, one was honorably discharged, and another deserted or died a prisoner of war.
The authorship of the letter has been debated by scholars, some of whom now believe it was written instead by John Hay, one of Lincoln’s White House secretaries. The original letter was destroyed by Mrs. Bixby, who was a Confederate sympathizer and disliked President Lincoln. Copies of an early forgery have been circulating for many years, causing many people to believe they have the original letter.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,–
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

How much more of this are we going to have to go through before our soldiers come home? Your thoughts, ladies?


Bush: Every Day is Mother’s Day

I’m shamelessly stealing this from BarbinMD at Daily Kos:

Bush can’t even manage a pep rally correctly:

Gold Star Mothers, got you, okay, thank you — Blue Star Mothers, Gold Star Mothers, all the mothers, yes. (Applause.) Every day is Mother’s Day as far as your concerned, isn’t it?

Hooray for them! Every day is Mother’s Day when your child is dead! Every day is Mother’s Day when your kids are in mortal peril! Aren’t they lucky we honor them so?

But I’ve done the math. My daughter just turned 7. I think it’s likely we’ll still have troops in Iraq when she’s 17.

I actually expect that many of those mothers were comforted by Bush’s remarks. Supporting the war means that their children are paying a price that will have a solid return. Honestly, I wish I believed they were right.

Meanwhile, we’ve lost thousands of Americans, probably a million Iraqis (if we could bother to count them) and we’ve made a bigger mess than we started with. My daughter asked me about this the other day, and I had to try to explain it to her. I said something that seemed to satisfy her, but there’s really no good way to capsulize it for a 7-year-old mind.


Daily Open Thread

I could not stop crying over this clip. The story, reported by Brian Williams, has to do with one of our soldiers in Iraq who pays a surprise visit to his six-year-old son in school after not having seen him in seven months. A real tear jerker.

Also, in case you missed it, Newsweek ran a debate between the Rev. Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life, and atheist Sam Harris. It’s 10 pages long, but worth the read.

I thought both men made good points, but was especially impressed and received comfort from Warren’s thoughtful approach to faith. I bought the Purpose Driven Life and am especially looking forward to reading it.

Finally, if you aren’t already sick of the Mommy Wars, Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote a review of the Feminine Mistake, a new book by Leslie Bennetts, which reprimands women for dumping high-powered careers for staying home with their children.

While books like these make me groan — imagine if men were lectured nearly as much for their “choices“ — Walsh agrees with the tenant that women must safeguard their and their children’s financial security. (To that, I have two words: life insurance.) She also thinks it makes the workplace more hostile to women who must work, every time high-powered mommas opt out and leave those positions to single people and men with stay-at-home wives. To that, I don’t have an answer as I do feel that many of these jobs are hostile to work-family balance and there’s a chicken-egg dilemma: do those of us who were able to opt out wait until our jobs become family friendlier? Or do we stick it out — even at the expense of our own family’s time? Not sure, but I made the easier decision — for my family.

Okay, now it’s your turn to yack away folks.