by Julie Snyder
Father's Day for Military Families
When one family member is enlisted, "the entire family serves, too." Younger members, trying to understand a parent's long absense or that empty chair on big holidays, make the biggest sacrifices. It's even worse when these weeks stretch into months during deployments.
This year, thousands of military dads will celebrate Father's Day far from their loved ones. We've tapped our own Pregnancy.org experts and our enlisted families for top tips as they maintain closeness across the miles.
"When my Dad was deployed to Haiti, stationed through Paine Field, the unit's families got together and baked cookies, filled the packages with notes from the kids and letters from loved ones," Megan Goff, who grew up in a military family, shares. "It's to show we understand they're doing something important overseas and send love and support from home."
Caring can be granting that person a wish or desire. Create that "package" for love that's all wrapped up in a box!
Practical tips: Consider using Priority Mail. Delivery may take up to 20 days, but according to a postal worker whose son is deployed, most packages "arrive in 10-12 days." Include pre-paid calling cards or gift card(s) and batteries for CD players and other items in your care package.
"Any package I sent, I would try to send out well before the holiday and then write all over it "do not open until..." That way he got to celebrate on the day of the holiday. Whether he actually followed the rules, that's another story!" ~Pamela aka MrsHooah2U
Kids sign a card or write a letter: Depending on the children's age, the text can range from adorable first words to colorful scribbles -- which are all dear to a dad's heart.
A touch of home: Does your three-year-old love kitty stickers? Share a few with Daddy! Is your six-year-old mesmerized by dot-to-dots? Create and send dad a special masterpiece. Include sunflower seeds, beef jerky or other family snacks and a bit of your local newspaper to complete the package.
Picture of dad and kids: Make a cardboard framed picture of your husband/partner and the family. A collage of everyone or individual pictures with dad in the middle can be a heartwarming addition to his cargo pocket.
Artwork for the weeks away: Have a budding or prolific artist in the family? Bring home a small art pad, encourage your little one to fill it up with pictures and notes for Daddy. An older child can use a calendar and create personalized pictures for special days.
Dad's favorites: Have a special "memory evening" with the kids. Jot down all of daddy's favorite memories, gather the bunch together and send!
"Put together a care package with a favorite beverage, a cupcake in a plastic jar or other baked goodies, cards with sweet words (or scribbles) from the kids. Include an undershirt or pillow case plastered with kids' hand prints for daddy to wear to bed." ~Nadine aka mom_to_monty
Themed packages: Children and imagination play well together. As a family, decide on a theme and create that special package!
- "Under the sea" could include goldish crackers, tuna packets with crackers, sea monkey sponges that grow when you add water, salt water taffy and a go fish game.
- A "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" box might be filled with cracker jacks, peanuts, sports magazine, nerf balls, a team pennant, sports highlights DVD.
- "Movie night" could be DVD that he and the kids can watch "together," microwave or stovetop popcorn, movie sized candy packs and pictures of the kids in sunglasses as movie stars.
"Staying connected during deployment can be challenging for many military families and is often the most stressful during holidays like Father's Day," says Steve Missimer, VP of Programs for the USO. "Through programs like USO Photo Book, United Through Reading's Military Program and Operation Phone Home, the USO helps families stay connected and ease those feelings of separation."
Webcam and Skype: Connect with webcam on special holidays (if available; not all Soldiers get to use internet while deployed). "After [an active day of walking, biking, playing games,] Army Staff Sgt. Jason Himel's children select a story for him to read to them. This year will be different, as the Himel children will use the computer to read to their father, who is currently on a duty tour in Kabul, Afghantistan" ~American Forces Press Service
USO Photo Book: Those with friends or family deployed overseas can create personal photo albums for free, courtesy of RocketLife. Family members can complete the book in fewer than 10 minutes or spend longer completely personalize their book. These 20-page albums connect troops stationed overseas to their family lives back home.
Share a video: You Tube and Facebook may be considered too public, but private companies such as Topia Technologies of Tacoma, Washington share their "Troop Skoot" technology with military families.
Chat on the phone: Deployed troops are able to reach out to their families and stay in touch with pre-paid international calling cards. Trouble accessing a phone line? The USO launched a satellite-based connectivity network in 2009, providing a private phone network, dedicated high-speed Internet bandwidth and WIFI access points for deployed troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
Familygram: Because submarines normally maintain radio silence to avoid detection, personal messages from the outside world are restricted. A "familygram" is a personal, but not private, message sent to a sailor of the United States Navy on a submarine by their families.
Families Together at Home
Specials for military families: Many communities show their appreciation with programs and discounts. For example, this summer Blue Star Museum across the country are offering free admission to active duty military personnel and their families.
"Joining Forces": "[The initiative] aims to education, challenge and spark action from all sectors of society to ensure military families have the support they deserve," a White House statement explained. "This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families," First Lady, Michelle Obama said.
Large companies, non-profits, churches and local community have responded with career opportunities following a move, summer camps for kids, help adjusting to new schools, entertainment, tech support and even household help.
Grow Friendships: Meet up with another family who is missing dad this weekend, picnic, barbecue or discover community activities. You and the kids will be glad you did!
A special thank you to the Haskell-Gallegos family for sharing the picture of dad's homecoming.