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‘Doing Daddy’s job’ – and other ways kids cope

Submitted by on Monday, 27 June 2011 No Comment

It started out as a joke between a 7-year-old and his mom. A few weeks after his dad deployed, the boy sat down on the couch, grabbed the  remote and began flipping channels. “I’m doing Daddy’s job while he’s gone,” the boy grinned.

It grew into an elaborate ritual. The boy leaves the house and walks back in every morning about the time his dad would come home from PT. “Whew! I’m tired,” he’ll say. He repeats the routine in the evening. “What’s for dinner? I’m starved!”

It’s sweet and hilarious and heart-breaking, because it doesn’t take much depth perception to see the pain lurking not too far below. Sometimes it bubbles up to the surface, such as when the boy ranted at a birthday boy recently. “This is the worst birthday party EVER. It’s lame. You’re lame.”

This was not the way the boy acted a few months ago. He was zany and exhuberant, but he wasn’t cruel. The cause and effect are as obvious as a dad no longer channel surfing from the couch. It’s not that you let kids use deployment as an excuse for bad behavior – the guys and I had that talk many times – but deployment does factor in to how you deal with it.

My heart hurts for him, as it does for the children of  friend who are living with a father they haven’t seen for two years while their mom’s deployed. I ache for a teammate of Big Guy’s who cried after a loss because he’d been dreaming of Skyping his dad later and telling him that the team had won the championship.

Yet, I know that all these children will settle in and find their way, just as the guys did a year ago. It’s hard getting them back on course, because the navigation is different with each child.

Art projects and Daddy Dolls helped Boots, as well as the occasional Skype blow-up at his dad. It took Elmo to get Big Guy to let out his anguish.  I suspect a friend of Big Guy’s is going to be like that, too. When Big Guy asked him at school how he was feeling the day after his dad deployed, the friend said he didn’t want to talk about it.

We didn’t do a lot of things that other families rely on. We never did a countdown – that’s kind of impossible anyway since seldom do you have a date specific for the return – and a count up seemed too depressing. We did use maps and globes to track Dad across the world, and the guys developed a ritual of saying “good morning” to Daddy every night when the hamster woke up. The animal’s nocturnal schedule dovetailed perfectly with Afghanistan’s time zone.

Mostly, we kept busy. Hyperactively so.  There were swimming lessons, nights at the drive-in and afternoons with friends during the summer – it helped that the guys’ two closest friends had a deployed parent as well. There were sports and school activities in the fall and winter.

And there were friends far more experienced at the deployment game than I, pals who would nod knowingly when Boots would throw a fit after a practice or game. “He’s having a time adjusting, isn’t he?”

That’s the advice I gave the guys when they complained about their friend’s recent antics. “We need to remember what he’s going through. He wasn’t like this before. He’s just having trouble now because he misses his dad.”

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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