by Eric Gardner, Guest Contributor
How do I feel about being a male military spouse (aka a unicorn)? That’s a complex question – being unique isn’t always a good thing.
Yet now in these later years, to put it simply, I love it.
As a military family we are thrilled that my wife is nearing her 20-year mark. We’ve been all over the world. We’ve had our share of bumps and bruises along the way. And the saying “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” has been our philosophy toward the unique situations the Army loves to send our way.
My wife and I never set out to change the social structure of the military.
Our non-traditional family dynamic is what we felt suited our needs best. My transition from active duty officer to stay-at-home parent was one we discussed in depth. This important role of stay-at-home parent and active duty Army spouse was one we thought complemented our strengths and weaknesses as a couple.
While our friends and families accepted our decision, the military has been a little slower to embrace this type of dynamic. In large part the traditional role of male military spouse was occupied by joint service members. The dual military couple is a classification, which both service members and spouses of the late 90s and early 2000s could categorically fit into as an already well-established social slot. I knew that role well.
Serving over 8 years in the Army, my presence at the social functions as a “military spouse” was novel and typically dismissed because of the reality that I would have little time outside of my normal duties as an infantry officer.
Everyone understood and appreciated my desire to get to know my wife’s unit spouses but they never expected me to devote any real energy to their network.
My life as a male military spouse went into uncharted territory when I departed from service to take on the role of stay-at-home parent with our daughters.
Looking back it was a comical transition. We attended several closed door discussions where both my wife and I were counseled (separately, of course) on the proper path our growing family should take. In the opinion of my leadership at the time I should stay in and my wife should get out. After the disbelief of having such a discussion we decided to stay true to our course.
Our next assignment was a challenging one. As new parents we soon began to see the reactions to our decision to take on less traditional roles. I encountered many inquisitive gazes. I answered tons of questions about “how I enjoyed spending time with my daughter.” I didn’t try to alter their views, but instead delivered a smile and a well-wish or two.
I was fortunate that the commander’s spouse was new to the Army and didn’t have any of the preconceived notions about the Family Readiness Group (FRG) structure. To her, I was a welcomed addition to the unit and someone who brought a unique inner dynamics to the group.
It was the first time that my desire to fix a problem paid off.
I was fortunate that while the wives all had differing opinions, mine was also seen as beneficial because of how I interpreted different challenges the FRG was facing.
The initial experience became the norm for my interactions with unit spouse organizations. As we continued to PCS I was constantly put in the role of sanity checker of the group. Comically this is not even a title my wife allows me to even remotely occupy in our family however among a collection of like-minded military spouses a uniquely different voice can often shed fresh insight onto routine operations.
I don’t mean to imply that every instance of entering this traditionally female-dominated environment was easy and fulfilling.
I have had my share of exclusions from play dates because of perceptions. Along with the unsteady looks at the playground when I would be there with my daughter.
My status as a male military spouse has excluded me from several events, but it has also allowed me to speak openly when my fellow spouses feel compelled to describe their problems.
After all you can’t blame a guy if he just comes right out and states the problem; right?
Just kidding guys, they can blame you.
Today’s military has changed since the late 90s and early 2000s. The modern family dynamics are ever evolving and the network of wives, husbands, partners and friends helping their service members succeed are stronger than ever before.
I love my role as a male military spouse and I am thankful for the opportunities and relationships it has afforded me to experience.
Are you a male military spouse? Do you feel like a unicorn? Share your perspective with us.
Eric Gardner was raised in a military family and lived around the world. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the U.S. Army as an Infantry Officer. Since the end of his wartime service he has shifted gears and is now a stay-at-home father. In his role as an active duty Army spouse, he has become an author. As the creator of the XIII Legion Series he has enjoyed great success, and enjoys meeting other entrepreneurial spouses as well as fellow authors . You can see more from Eric Gardner at his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thirteenthlegion.series, and http://www.facebook.com/XIIILGN or follow him via Twitter @13thLegion.