Military life pulls fathers away from their kids, even at the moment of their birth

U.S. military fathers serve their country with honor and dedication, but their noble service comes with the high personal cost of missing out on many irreplaceable moments with their families. I have raised my children mostly alone, and while I'm grateful and proud of my husband's service, I am filled with grief for military families.

My husband has served our country for decades. We've had children all over the world and experienced a challenging, yet abundant, life. As wartime years loomed, so did my anxiety, waiting for something to happen. Because something always happened.

In 2009, I found out I was pregnant, in a Chicago hotel, on the last day of my husband's R&R. I was excited and devastated. After experiencing two miscarriages, I was pregnant a third time. But the day I found out about the pregnancy was the day he would fly back to war, instead of coming home with me. I get it, sacrifices must be made, and they have, time and time again.

When my husband returned from war, I was well into my pregnancy. He had already missed the baby’s first sonogram, the morning sickness and the growing flutters. As the days grew, so did my baby bump, along with the fear of loneliness and solo parenting.

I knew he’d leave again. I just didn’t know when.

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Adjusting to family life after deployment can be difficult for service members, as routines and dynamics often change in their absence. Their experiences in raising their children − learning the patience that must come with parenthood, experiencing joy in their child's achievements and the day-to-day rewards of helping a child grow and learn − are often stifled.

The bond between a father and child can be strained due to prolonged absences, and for my husband, building and maintaining a close relationship with our children proved challenging.

Military fathers miss out on experiences with their children

When away, military fathers miss out on so much. On my baby’s first birthday, my husband was on duty, and he stopped by our home on his lunch break during my son’s party. He was there long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" and watch my son attempt to blow out his candles, while his oversized birthday hat slanted so far that it nearly touched the cake.

Although I was hurt my husband could not stay and enjoy the celebration, we were surrounded by our military friends who had become family − my son was loved.

My son has autism. Schools misunderstand him. I fear police will, too.

Since joining the military, my husband has missed many a birthday, Christmas (and every other holiday), first words, first teeth and the birth of our third child.

On a cold winter day in Colorado, I went into labor. At the hospital, I was more focused on getting a stable internet connection so my husband could witness the birth of our baby than I was on having the baby. I just wanted my husband there, but I get it: Mission first.

The cost of service is high for military dads

Father's Day is hard for military fathers. There are moments when military fathers show up and the world stops, like the day of my daughter’s debutante coronation. To see the sparkle in her eyes as her dad reached for her hand and walked her down the aisle was priceless.

My happiness in that moment surmounted the years of grief and heartache solo parenting brought.

Marla Bautista's husband accompanies their daughter at her debutante coronation. Military life can be hard on fathers who face long deployments away from their families.
Marla Bautista's husband accompanies their daughter at her debutante coronation. Military life can be hard on fathers who face long deployments away from their families.

For my daughter, I wanted that moment, that feeling, to last forever. I wanted her to feel the love and connection with her father. I wanted that memory to be engraved into her heart and to reappear whenever she felt alone or unsupported.

The cost of service is high for military fathers. As they secure and support our nation, their families areoften left with feelings of loneliness, heartache and fear.

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Marla Bautista is a military fellow columnist for USA TODAY Opinion.
Marla Bautista is a military fellow columnist for USA TODAY Opinion.

For some children, their fathers never return. For others, they return with invisible wounds that make it hard for them to enjoy the precious moments of family life.

On this Father’s Day, honor the military fathers who are far away, remember those who did not return and think of their children, who have given up so much for this military life.

Marla Bautista is a military fellow columnist for USA TODAY Opinion.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Father's Day triggers mixed emotions for US military families