I had a good cry this morning, watching the video above. It touched nerves on many levels, the first being that I was once a Navy wife awaiting the return of my own beloved. While it was always difficult, it was obviously more challenging when I wasn't waiting alone, but responsible for children who were also missing The Man. The solitary wife can fall into moods, grumble, distract herself and do a variety of things to while away the months until the warrior returns, but when little ones are present, those indulgences evaporate. That's when some semblance of a schedule must be maintained, good cheer is essential (at least til they fall asleep) and a daily chit-chat about the missing family member must continue. As important as fathers are, the children grow hazy on the details, and the gap has a tendency to close around who he was and what he did with the family.
This is the job of the mother -- to keep dad alive and predominant in the hearts and minds of the children, no matter how much it hurts sometimes. She tells stories, revisits memories, explains who he is, and most importantly, provides constant reminders of his passionate love for his children. This happens at the breakfast table, in the car, while pushing the swings, while singing lullabies, amidst putting away groceries and when tucking the children in at night.
I realise it's a little different now, with skype, youtube and emails (no more hanging about the mailbox as the only point of contact) but children still drift. The children in the video above aren't thrilled because it's the guy they saw on the computer screen, but because some lonely mother kept his love alive in their family circle until he could return to embrace them once again. She kept the torch burning and maintained his place in relation to his children until he could prove his affections in person.
The daughters' signs of joy were especially poignant as each was swept off her feet by her own shining knight. No matter the age, the gawkiness, the distractions of the moment -- daddy was home to find his little princess. The sons' hugs spoke to me of a mixture of vulnerability (gosh, I'm glad!) and relief (no more being the little man for the family!)
I think every wife and mother could ponder what helped these families endure the distance and what we can incorporate into our own family circle. Obviously the wider community offers tremendous support that wasn't necessarily there decades ago (there were many families in my town who lost fathers for years in Vietnamese prison camps with little civic acknowledgement or assistance) but even in the civilian world we can do more to build support for fathers.
Mothers are extraordinarily resiliant and can keep the home fires burning, but she cannot replace the father. What she can do is be an effective bridge to fatherhood, and she does that best if she knows how important, how irreplacable he really is.