I Made A Veteran’s Wife Cry

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Robert and his wife and their service dog.

While at a KFC in Aberdeen, Washington, I made a veteran’s wife cry. On Veteran’s Day. And then she hugged me before he, the veteran, shook my hand. And it all happened because my two year old wanted a glass of water. I was heading home with three of my kids and we had stopped for dinner at KFC before the final 90 minutes of our drive. We were eating our food when I noticed that I had forgotten to get my little one a drink. (You’d think a Stay At Home Dad of six would know better, right?) So, I walked up to the counter to ask for a water cup only to find a couple already ordering their food. As I patiently awaited my turn I noticed that the gentleman appeared to be a Vietnam Veteran (based on the jacket he was wearing which stated as much). Being that it was Veteran’s Day, I spontaneously decided to buy their dinner as a token of my appreciation for his service to our country. As he prepared to hand his credit card to the cashier, I stepped in and offered mine instead. I simply told him that I would be honored to pay for his meal since today was Veteran’s Day. I didn’t even know what the total was for their meal. I was prepared to swipe my card, request a water cup, and go back to my kids. Instead, his wife started to cry.

She looked at me and asked for a hug, which I, of course willingly gave her. As we finished our hug, her husband extended his hand to thank me. colorsRobert Ash, the veteran, told me that he had served two tours in Vietnam and then served in the Gulf War while in his 50s. He explained that he’s the National President of the Combat Veterans International, “a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting all veterans to the best of [their] ability, with an emphasis on combat veterans.  [They] share a fellowship and a common interest in motorcycling.”

The Unforgotten Run

The Unforgotten Run

He explained that his group also holds a ride called The Unforgotten every Memorial Day to pay respect to fallen soldiers. (Click here to see a video about it.) He proudly told how they drive, as a group, over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from Bremerton to Mt. Tahoma Cemetery. I told them how much I appreciated and respected the sacrifices that countless men and women like him made in service to our country and how living in the PNW near an active military base (Joint Base Lewis-McChord, or JBLM) has really opened my eyes to the sacrifice and dedication of the loved ones of those who are serving. I’ve always held our veterans in high esteem as my grandfather served in the Navy during World War II and my uncle was a Vietnam vet. I have several other relatives and many friends who have served or are currently serving in our Armed Forces. Yet, there I was, on a rainy Veteran’s Day in a small fishing town in western Washington, shaking hands with a man who served at least three tours overseas. It’s crazy how life works sometimes.

As I returned to our table with my daughter’s glass of water, I was kind of shaking my head at the randomness it all. I share this experience with you not to draw attention to me doing something nice for someone else, but, rather, to show how easy it is. I don’t know about you, but there are few times in life when doing a nice thing for someone else is as easy, obvious and rewarding as this was for me. It was a chance encounter at the KFC counter that happened because my kid wanted a drink of water.

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Enough of the Dad-bashing already…please!

As a Stay At Home Dad over the last 15 years I’ve seen and heard a lot from others as I’ve been out and about with my crew. Over time I’ve grown accustomed to old ladies telling me how nice it is to see a dad out with his kids. I’ve been asked countless times if I’m giving Mom the day off or if I’m babysitting. I don’t get mad about it or reply with some snarky comment that’s equally ignorant. My normal response is to simply smile, look the other person in the eyes, and tell them that this is my job. All day. Every day. And I love it! My kids are old enough now that they even respond for me sometimes. I suppose that it also helps that I have three t-shirts that proudly proclaim, “Dads don’t babysit. (It’s called ‘parenting’)”. Somehow I end up wearing one of them nearly every time we go out.

I’d like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor about my career choice as a SAHD and that I’ve developed pretty thick skin about it all. But lately I’ve been seeing a spike in people – moms especially – complaining about their husbands being so incompetent when it comes to caring for their own children. While I’m not personally offended or hurt by such comments, it got me to thinking a lot about how such comments, even when made in jest, are hurtful to our sons and daughters. First of all, it shows our kids that moms are the only ones who know how to properly care for children. One mom posted this in a group that’s supposed to be for “families”:

Trying to sleep train my husband. As in training him to put baby to bed. Oye. Men really don’t have instincts on how to soothe a baby. No advice please just needed a place to get that out.

Really? No instincts? I’ve done that for all six of my children over the last 20 years. What was more disappointing was the fact that 97 people “liked” that post and roughly 85% of the comments were from moms who agreed with the original post. I thought about posting something snarky but instead waited a few days and started a different post in that same group.

I know it’s not diaper-related, but I really enjoyed reading (someone’s) post the other day bragging about her husband’s military award. As one of the few guys in this group (thanks to my wife for adding me a long time ago) I would love to start a “Spouse Brag” thread to combat a lot of the “ranting” that I read on this page, particularly that’s directed at the dads.

I’ll start. I appreciate how hard my wife works every day to provide financially for our family so that I can be a SAHD. I know that she misses out on a lot while she’s at work…

Amazingly, over 200 people liked that positive post and 45 moms commented something positive in response. I’m not sharing this to show how popular I am, but rather to illustrate that there are plenty of men who are stepping up and partnering with their wives. Sometimes what you’re looking for determines what you’re going to find.

papa-bioSecond, this dad-bashing comes from places that seem to promote family values. As a teenager I read the stories of the Berenstain Bears to my younger siblings. Most of them have some sort of lesson to be learned and they’re meant to promote good values. Once I became a dad I slowly began to realize how Papa Bear was marginalized in almost every single story as this incompetent man-child who was just as childish and immature as his cubs. And, thank God for Mama, who had to swoop in nearly every time to extract Papa and the cubs from their mess. Those stories perpetuate this myth that dads can’t possibly care for their own children without the ever-watchful eye of a mother. It’s almost as creepy as Big Brother from 1984. Except that these are passed off as cherished family books. While we still have most of our Berenstain Bears books on our bookshelf, I make sure to discuss with my kids some of the errors contained within the stories. We know, Dad. You told us this same thing last time we read this book. (At least I’m consistent!)

Third, if my daughters should choose to get married and have children I would hope that they would choose men who are willing and able to share the joy and responsibility of parenting in an equal partnership. I don’t want them to be the only care-givers to my grandchildren. Or to view their husbands as children. Yet, social media is littered with memes and comics which portray exactly this message. I hope that I’m modeling for them that it is, indeed, possible for a man to be nurturing, loving and competent in what’s been a traditionally female role. Heck, hopefully they’ve learned from my SAHD career choice that being a true partner in a marriage means sacrificing of yourself for the good of the family. While it was never my goal in high school or college to be a SAHD, I’ve come to realize that this is something that I love doing and that I’m pretty good at…and that it’s what’s best for my family.

Helping little sisters climb up the play structure near the Space Needle in Seattle.

Helping little sisters climb up the play structure near the Space Needle in Seattle.

Fourth, I’m trying to raise my son to be prepared to be a good father someday. Even though, at age 11, he swears that he’s never going to have kids and girls are still mostly gross. (He has three older sisters…so I can’t blame him!) Even if he never has kids of his own, he’s going to be an awesome uncle! While he’s far from perfect and gets frustrated at times, I also see a tender side of him with my younger girls, ages 5 and 2. (Sometimes.) I’ve been teaching him how to be a dad: change diapers (cloth even!), warm and give a bottle (not any longer, but in the past), prepare meals, and so on. It’s not easy. In fact, at times it can be downright frustrating when he doesn’t do what I’m asking of him. In those moments of frustration, I need to remind myself to show him the love, patience and understanding that he will need to have for his own kids in the future. I don’t want him to become one of those guys that the moms complain about, whether in person or on whatever social media platform will exist in the future. I want to equip him with the best skills to succeed in this important area: being a dad.

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us what we choose to promote. Dads and moms, are you listening to what your words and actions are teaching your children? My children? Our children? I’m trying to focus my time and energy on being the change that I want to see in the world. If I want the world to be more inclusive of all parents then that needs to start by teaching my own children and everyone else in my sphere of influence. While I will still make mistakes in this effort I know that, in the long run, it’s all going to be worth it. After all, the future well-being of my children is priceless!