Nine years ago on the 4th of July I was at our firebase in Northern Afghanistan. The team had decided to throw a party for the 4th and we invited the Afghan troops we were training to come take part. It was pretty festive and damn entertaining. The men who would eventually be turned into police officers were enjoying themselves pretty heartily. They were letting loose in a way we had never seen before. Normally they were uptight, anxious, and of course scared, as we were training them in things they knew absolutely nothing about. We pounded them daily on the range in tactics and weapons procedures. They were learning how to go into buildings and take down enemy forces. Most of them just wanted to tend to their homes and their fields that they worked in. But on this 4th they embraced it all and had some fun for a change. It was a unique experience, something I had never done before and have not been a part of since. The mood that 4th of July amongst the team was excitement but also apprehension. Because after this party we would be jockeying up in our kit and preparing to roll down into the town below our firebase to conduct combat operations for the first time in over a month.
We expected it to be a loud, rambunctious 4th of July when the team went down to do our mission. There was a heavy enemy presence, high value targets within our reach, and a team of 12 SF dudes who hadn’t been able to do their job like they wanted to in a very long time. We had aircraft available for support and also an escort. We expected IEDs to lace the roadways. We had gone over our risk assessments, our evac plans, our QRF, all our contingencies. We were ready for an American 4th of July in Afghanistan. And then, while waiting at the gates in our vehicles, word went out. Mission was canx. At this stage of my SF career I was still young. I didn’t always fully know what was going on at levels above me. I also didn’t always care. I cared about what was in front of me. So I can’t fully explain why the mission was cancelled. I have my theories, but I wasn’t part of the decision making process so I can only guess. Bottom line, no fireworks this 4th of July. And when the mission was a go the next night, it was far less exciting than any of us had anticipated, or even hoped for. It was pretty much a bust.
I bring this up because on that 4th of July in 2007, far away in the Northern valleys of Afghanistan, I had no idea where my life was headed. I was 24 years old, already a member of the top 1% of all American military servicemen. I was raw, naive, but a hard charger and ready to do whatever I had to for the team. I left every mission nervous about getting my ass shot (I was a turret gunner, we make excellent targets) but was always looking for someone to shoot and was damn prideful of being the guy in the turret ready to protect the convoy. I didn’t want anybody else in that position but me. Gladly, my team felt the same, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there. I hadn’t even hit my prime yet. I was learning so much and felt like I was going to be an excellent SF Warrior heading into the future.
But shit changes. After another year I would be out of the military. And here we are, in 2016, the years now far removed from those times. Instead of being in my 14th year of service and staring down the possibility of retiring before the age of 40, I am now a suburban Stay-At-Home Dad. I will admit, sometimes that is a swift kick to the ego-nuts. Let’s face it, being an SF Operator is like nothing else on earth. The training, the deployments, the pace, the company of men you keep. It is all at a level you just cannot experience anywhere else. It is the greatest thing on this planet. It is part of me and always will be. Because of that, there will always be that part of me who feels like I should have kept going with it. I see former teammates on social media who went on and kept pounding, who kept fighting, and I get a little jealous. They had long careers and were able to do what they could. The stories I am sure they have. The new teammates and friends for life they made. Not even friends. Brothers. SF is a brotherhood. I missed that. I MISS that.
When you come from that community and then leave, you feel like you must do something even greater to justify your not being a part of it. I went on to train other guys, like many of us do. I went to school and then worked on veteran legislation. I did my part. But at 33 years old, I should still have more to give. I am young enough. What could possibly keep me from doing my duty and going to war with my brothers?
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Not everyone who reads this will be an SF guy. However, I am hoping that many of you reading it are dads who can at least relate a little bit. Maybe you had a job you worked your ass off for, or were part of a business for years that you built up only to abruptly leave it. Perhaps you were just a guy who was part of a circle of friends who partied hard all the time, watched football together every Sunday, and went to Vegas for ridiculous golf outings only to end up with unforeseen circumstances putting a stop to all that. The point is, a lot of you dads may have these feelings that you still have so much to give to your old life that you feel guilty for not being a part of it anymore. Why give it all up just to stay at home with your kid?
And that’s just it. It’s your kid. What the hell could possibly be more important than your kid? Send them to daycare they say. Why should I have to send my kid to daycare? If given the opportunity, why would you not raise your child yourself and prepare them for life? Would I love to be out running and gunning with the guys, going to freefall school and skydiving on the weekends? Of course I would. Just like we make sacrifices to do things like serve in the military, we must also make sacrifices and do things for our kids. I served with my brothers for years while my wife got the short end of the stick. So today, while I am jealous of what my brothers are doing in their lives carrying on the good fight, I can’t say I feel guilty for not wanting to give my daughter that same experience. She doesn’t deserve that.
I have my stories. I didn’t deploy forty times like so many other guys were forced to do. I didn’t kill 300 dudes with my sniper rifle like those warriors who write books. But I did my job and I loved every second of it. I’m 33 years old and in a few weeks my daughter is going to turn 1. The time that I have left I am giving to her because that’s what she deserves. Being a Stay-At-Home Dad is not glamorous. It isn’t cool. It isn’t flashy. But it is rewarding and deeply personal. I wish my brothers luck in their endeavors. However that life is past me now and I have new responsibilities that I cannot pass off to anybody else. I hope that all you dads out there that have given up something that defines you to become a Stay-At-Home Dad have come to this realization.
“Mr. Mom” is a popular target to poke fun at. This is what most people think of when they hear Stay-At-Home Dad. Even if they haven’t even seen the damn movie. Michael Keaton plays a hell of a roll in that movie. It’s not a summer blockbuster by any means. It is absolutely dated yet still relevant. And every time I think of Michael Keaton and “Mr. Mom”, I just remind myself “Hey, Michael Keaton was Mr. Mom. But he also became Batman.” And that’s pretty freakin’ awesome.