by Eric Gardner, Guest Contributor
I think we can all agree that our society is constantly in a state of flux. As military spouses we understand that more than most. While the landscape of the Armed Forces has changed over the last 2 decades, so too has the definition of “normal” for the average Department of Defense family.
My wife and I started our Army careers as a dual-military couple. At the start of our journey we understood how important the spouse network could be. From the beginning we agreed that I would attend her unit’s monthly spouse events and she would attend mine. This willingness on my part was met with mixed feelings of uncertainty by the command team leading my wife’s first unit.
While entering this typically female dominated area of Army culture, my presence created some hilarious moments — like at my first coffee, I won the main prize for the gift basket and it turned out to be a floral pattern thong in a matching tea cup — but after that initial adjustment I was always made to feel welcomed at all future events. That is usually the way of the military spouse network, we adapt quickly to any and all changes we encounter.
With programs like Army Family Team Building running strong in the late 90s spouses felt more connected and incorporated into the culture of the military. With this kind of training being offered I could talk in the same vernacular as the spouses in my wife’s unit and soon began to get a better understanding of what their concerns and anxieties were.
I never considered myself an oddity as a male spouse until I exited from the service.
I soon realized that only 15% of the force was female and a large portion of those male spouses who I had identified with would still be active duty. My identity as a soldier had made me easily accepted in the family programs. Many of the spouses considered me just another member of the Army and I could fit easy into the military norms. Once I left the service and became the stay-at-home provider that standing changed.
As we continued to PCS we fell into our old routines of signing into the new duty station as a family. Keeping a sense of humor about things we would laugh when soldiers and new leadership would welcome me into the unit instead of my wife. I would smile and quickly point to my ever-patient bride and say they needed to in-process her, or others would assume I was in a sister unit on post.
We soon felt like we were pushing into uncharted territory of military social norms.
Before my humor could wear thin, my lovely wife gifted me a book “The Daddy Shift, How Stay-At-Home Dads, Bread Winning Mom’s and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.” Author Jeremy Smith understood my odd place among the predominately female military spouse network. I could still be good-natured about my status as a “Yeti”— in that everyone knows male military spouses exist, but hardly anyone has ever seen one — but I could also speak intelligently on how our family was not so odd but a blend of traditional and modern family dynamics.
Even now when I take the kids to the commissary they still get the comments of “ahhh… you’re spending the day with Daddy, how fun.” I have to remind myself that the cashiers or the extroverted passerby mean no harm, there just aren’t many stay-at-home male spouses for them to run into.
Yet to those in our spousal community I am seen as a unique asset. Joining Family Readiness Groups now is still humorous as in the beginning because let’s face it, I’m still a Yeti but now my alternative approach to problem solving and a different perspective is welcomed with open arms.
The Department of Defense is constantly forging the way on social norms. As a male military spouse of 18 years I can tell you I feel very welcomed and accepted in our community. As spouses, our world is constantly changing, and now more than ever our unique life experiences can help mold the role of spouses for generations to come.
With the introduction of more females into the ranks, I soon won’t be alone in my Yeti status. As more men begin to take on the great responsibility of being a military spouse, I know they will enjoy their journey as much as I am enjoying mine.
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.