TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE – It’s 4 a.m., and a car parks outside the family home. Inside, a proud father of two takes one last look at his daughter and son before hugging his wife and walking out the door.
As the car drives off, he stares out the window, hoping his wife and children will be all right for the next six months. This scene was my reality in September 2015 when I left for my most recent deployment, a day before my son’s third birthday.
My children are everything to me. They’re my world. I live for them and work hard to provide for them. I want my children to have the best in life, like all parents do. Because I’m a military father, though, my children have to deal with unique challenges most kids don’t.
Since my daughter was born on Jan. 10, 2008, she’s moved four times, gone to three different schools and eight different childcare providers. My son, who was diagnosed with autism three months into my deployment, has moved twice and had five different childcare providers.
Add the uncertainty of temporary duty assignments, deployments, the occasional weekend shift and late nights in the office and it’s easy to see military families deal with a lot. It’s only a matter of time before the Air Force asks me to leave my family. Only a matter of days before I’m given an all-expenses paid trip to some foreign land.
So, what do I do? Cherish every moment. We are not promised tomorrow or even the next five seconds. It’s vital we take advantage of every second we have with our families and make the most of them. Cherish every single hug, smile, laugh and every moment in-between.
I do my best to make the most of the time I spend with my wife and children. Despite a busy work schedule, I try to make it to every school function I can. Every Monday and Wednesday I drive nearly 20 miles to take my daughter to her martial arts class. Watching her learn and grow in that environment has been such a great thing to see. She’s now a brown belt and is very close to becoming the first person in our family to earn a black belt. I’m so proud of her.
Wednesdays are long days in our world, as we also take the kids to their weekly gymnastics classes. Being there for them in those moments is critical. My children enjoy waving at me during their breaks or running over to give me a hug. I enjoy providing some encouraging words and watching them achieve every milestone.
Like many parents, I enjoy seeing my children happy. Their smiles could brighten up the darkest night. On July 1, I took them to see their first Major League Soccer game between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy at Stanford Stadium. The game was special because my kids were able to join me on the field for the halftime show when the Earthquakes honored the armed forces with the singing of “America the Beautiful,” pyrotechnics and an all veteran-formation umbrella display of the American flag. My children were excited and so happy in that moment. To see the joy on their faces, smiles from ear to ear, that glow in their eyes, that’s what I live for.
The weekend before that I took the kids to see their first NASCAR race at Sonoma Raceway, the Toyota/Savemart 350. Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag, but I felt like a winner that day because of how happy my children were. My son loves watching NASCAR races. He’s always glued to the TV any time one of the races is on and he’s always rooting for his favorites. His sister enjoys cheering right along with him.
The next day we hung out at the house, played and later saw the movie “Despicable Me 3,” followed by a visit to the California Great America theme park the next day. I love my children and I know, as a military father, my time with them is not guaranteed. The Air Force will call me to serve at some time in the future in some place that could be thousands of miles away. The last time I deployed, I missed birthday celebrations, holidays and so many special moments that aren’t the same watching through Skype or FaceTime.
Every moment with my children is special. I recognize this and try to do all I can for them, no matter how tired I may be. I enjoy reading to them, even though I do not do that enough. The other night I read my son “Curious George.” He was so focused on the story, the pictures and I believe the lessons the story was teaching. Spending those moments with him is priceless and so important.
I also pick him up from Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy three times a week and from daycare nearly every day. When he runs to me with a big smile on his face saying “Daddy,” my day instantly becomes better. No matter what I may be going through he can make all my frustrations seem to disappear. He has that power and his sister does as well.
I encourage every mother and father to savor and cherish every moment with your children. Yes, there will be times when they’re driving you crazy and you just need to get away, but the times they warm your heart far outnumber those moments. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so enjoy the time you have with them today.
Enjoy simple things like playing catch in the park or going for a walk. Enjoy big things like family vacations and taking them to their favorite sporting events. Cherish every single moment, large or small and make the most of them. You will be glad you did.
PHOTO: Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman, of the 60th Air Mobility Wing, shares what being a military father means to him and encourages all military parents to cherish every moment with their children. U.S. Air Force photo