Love

7 Ways The Army Made Me A Better Husband And Dad

Photo: George Pak | Pexels  
Army dad with son

Serving in the U.S. Army may not be for everyone. I remember 12-mile road marches with gear totaling 40 pounds, sleeping in the woods (with and without shelter), working 24 hours straight, and jumping from a perfectly good airplane in pitch-black darkness. I also remember my superiors and the various experiences that fostered my professional development.

I've been responsible for millions of dollars and countless soldiers and am proficient with an M-16 assault rifle. I've also provided humanitarian aid, served in a foreign country, and learned to be ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours.

Although these experiences taught me to become the best leader I could be in the world’s greatest army, I have been able to apply many of the lessons from being a soldier to my personal life.

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Here are 7 ways the army made me a better husband and dad:

1. It's best to work smarter, not harder

As a husband, I have learned to paraphrase this into "love smarter, not harder."

For example, since a white chocolate mocha with soy, no whip from Starbucks, and sleeping in on Saturdays are my wife's favorites, I don’t buy her whey protein and creatine shakes and wake her up for a morning workout on Saturdays just because that's what I like.

Loving her the way she wants to be loved is efficient and smart.

2. You're on duty 24/7/365

Your haircut, place of residence, a military ID card that you must carry at all times — these are all constant reminders that you are a soldier every single day. So you must behave in a way that's becoming of a soldier on- and off-duty.

Similarly, I am a husband 24/7/365. My wedding band, which serves as my "marital ID card," is a constant reminder of my obligation to be a husband at all times. Whether I am out with the guys, my wife and I are "at war" with each other, or my job relocates me somewhere without my family, I am still obligated to behave like a husband.

This also holds as a father. No matter what might be happening in my children’s lives (i.e., school, medical appointments, behavioral issues, illnesses), I'm always responsible whether I am home or away. And I must behave in a way that will ensure that the relationship stays intact and their needs are met.

   

   

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3. You make sacrifices and trust they're the right thing to do

Being a paratrooper is one of the "HOOAH-est" (I made that word up) things a soldier can become. When a soldier decides to jump out of an aircraft, he or she accepts two main things: military life requires some substantial life or death sacrifices, and fear is not an option; trust your training, trust your chute, and trust your God.

As a husband and father, I have sacrificed money, career, and friends for the greater good of family life, and as a result, I've become a more effective leader of a family that includes twins on the autism spectrum. After risking my life to jump out of an airplane, how can I fear anything about being a husband or father?

4. Don't make the same mistakes over and over

Most soldiers' training activities are followed by an "after-action review" that looks at what went well, what needs improvement, and what needs to be done in subsequent training activities.

As a husband and father, I've made some good decisions and some not-so-good decisions. But what has kept me from making the same not-so-good decisions has been my receptiveness to feedback from my family. I also ask myself if my actions went as planned, and what I could have done differently, and then I informally plan what I will do differently next time.

Once, when my twins were infants, I was rocking one of them to sleep at about 1 AM sitting on the edge of the bed. Unfortunately, I rocked myself to sleep instead, and he fell to the floor. Who does that? An angry wife and an informal review process helped me develop a completely rocking strategy.

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5. Lead by example

If you are in leadership in the military, this is your mantra. It is common to hear the phrase, "Your soldiers are a reflection of you." And when your soldiers get promoted to leadership, you must be the example they strive to emulate.

As a family man, I won't ask or expect my wife to do anything I wouldn't expect of myself. That doesn't mean that I expect her to do everything I can. For instance, I don’t expect her to fix broken appliances because that just isn’t what she does.

But when kids wake up at night or get sick and stay home from school, have medical appointments, and do grocery shopping, and laundry, I am fully involved. I also continuously strive to lead from the front including apologizing and forgiving.

6. Pay attention and work together

"Attention to detail. Teamwork is key!" In basic training, we'd yell this phrase during corrective training.

But now, "attention to detail" speaks to my marriage. By paying attention to details, I know when my wife's had a rough day. And without saying a word, I know when she's "too tired," which is code for "not tonight," means it's time for us both to get some sleep.

The second part, "teamwork is key," means we both will have to give 100 percent to maintain a healthy marriage and that if either one of us is away from the family, our family’s needs don’t go unmet.

   

   

7. Obey your commanding officer

When attending the weapons qualification range, we were always reminded to take all commands from the tower, which is where a superior worked to ensure the safety of soldiers. In my marriage, God eventually became the tower in which I trusted instead of myself. This took some time, but resulted in both my wife and I following the commands from the same "tower."

I was also able to view parenting similarly. As parents, my wife and I are the "tower" for the twins. We have to ensure their safety and preparedness for life as an adult.

I am not perfect at these seven, but I can see the impact of employing them as often as I do. Also, I know that my family experiences a significantly better version of me now than the one before my military service.

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Dr. Eric Williams is a counselor and marriage and family therapist specializing in both interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships who helps individuals and couples reconnect with their inner selves and partners.