Like trucking, the naval submarine service is mostly made up of men. On my boat, the USS San Francisco, a lot of the men on board had children and families who would stay behind while we were out to sea. We left on deployments and missions for months at a time, often with limited contact. I was gone every Christmas I was in the Navy and was able to be home for just one Thanksgiving. I did not have children at the time, but was recently married and was never really away for the holidays like that. It was a new experience for me, and one that taught me things I can use now that I have children.
During one holiday season, I walked onto the crew’s mess, where we ate and watched TV, and the entire mess was full of grown men cheering, and yelling for the characters on the TV. I was doing maintenance on something, so I wasn’t really paying attention, but I eventually wandered to the TV and asked what they were watching since they all seemed so excited about it. This group of mostly middle-aged men, were yelling, cheering, and some even getting emotional to Disney’s Frozen.
Yes. I said that correctly. This group of very manly, grown men, were reacting very loudly to a movie about two sisters working together to save their kingdom using true love. I was shocked.
I went back to my maintenance and the movie eventually ended. As the guys got up to go to bed or back to work, I asked one of the older guys who was watching, “Why were you guys watching Frozen?”
You have to understand, at the time I had not seen it yet, did not have children, and was accustomed to this group watching very gory horror or action films. He told me that several of them had been able to take their kids to see the movie before they left. Since it was so close to Christmas, it really reminded them of their families and the time they were able to spend together.
I now have two little girls and have seen Frozen at least 50 times (that really is not an exaggeration). Looking back at that experience, I realized these men intentionally set up activities that reminded them of the time they spent with their children. At the same time, it also gave their children something to remember that they did with their dad, before he left.
If you are over-the-road this Christmas season, here are three things you can do to be intentional about the time you do have with your family.
- Set up an intentional activity that encompasses the holiday season.
This could be decorating the house, baking cookies
, or opening Christmas presents three weeks before Christmas. The idea is for both you and your family to have an experience they can remember when you are gone.
2. Be involved on the actual event.
Use Zoom, a phone call or Skype to be a part of your family’s festivities, for a couple hours or even just a few minutes. If you go out of your way to stay involved, they will remember that you participated, no matter how it was that you did that.
3. Set up a surprise for them for Christmas Day.
This does not have to be extravagant
, or expensive. This can be a letter you wrote them to open Christmas Morning, or a present you made that shows thought and time spent. Not only will it feel that you are involved even if you are not there, but it will give them something to remember as they get older.
Being apart from family is hard no matter the reason, but it does seem to be harder during the holidays. The important thing is not how much you spend or how creative you are, but that your children see you care and that you are thinking about them, even if it is not in person.
Drew Dilisio is the Director of Counseling Services at Good Dads. He is a recent graduate of Evangel University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a husband and father. He can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].