Note: Whilst I usually like to include a short bio at the end of guest posts, this writer wanted to remain anonymous – preferring to be known simply as “Marine Wife”. It’s such a good read, I didn’t mind going with that at all. So without further ado, here’s Marine Wife’s story – which I thought gives a very interesting view of fatherhood in the military…
I remember it as if it were yesterday. Me in my traditional wedding dress, him in his full military uniform, our closest family surrounding us with their love, it couldn’t have been more perfect. When I said the words “I will” I thought I was agreeing to marry my future husband, the man. Five years on I realise I was agreeing to marry the man, the soldier, the Royal Marines and the Ministry of Defence.
He had been in my life from the age of nine but we didn’t get together until 2003. By this point he was a fully fledged Royal Marine, and I a graduate, ready to embark on a career in marketing. We had only been in a relationship for a few months when we decided to buy a house in our home town. He was based up in Arbroath, Scotland, and I had landed a dream first job in South Yorkshire. It was about this time that I started to realise the enormity of what I was letting myself in for. We may have bought ‘our home’ together, yet truth be known, I lived there alone.
When he asked me to marry him in the February, I didn’t have to think twice about it. I’d dreamt of us being together like a normal couple, spending evenings together during the week, cooking his meals, living together full time. I naively expected that marriage would mean exactly that. The reality was the complete opposite.
We moved to Exmouth in Devon one week after getting married. As beautiful as Exmouth was, it wasn’t for me. I was a girl who liked to shop, drink cocktails and party til dawn, or even with Dawn. What I got was a seaside town of knitting, retirement homes and bread shops. But I got used to it, got a good job and all was fine. Then he came home one day to say we were moving to Taunton, Somerset. No debate, no questions, no answers, we were going and that was that. This was new to me; my parents had lived in the same house all my life. Yes I’d moved, but only for university, I never realised that we would be made to up sticks and move at the drop of a hat. But we were.
One week later I was unpacking in Taunton. I kept my job on in Exeter and commuted daily. I instantly felt more settled in Taunton, I was much more me in a bigger town and things were going well. Then he came home to announce he was off to Afghanistan.
No one can prepare you for the words that your husband is going to war. I didn’t understand why we were fighting in Afghanistan and to be honest, I didn’t want to understand either. But what I did understand was that he was going and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Did I deal with this maturely, offering support, understanding and advice? No I threw a cushion at him and locked myself in the bathroom for three hours. This didn’t seem to alter the operational decision that had been made by the MOD.
The next five months were a blur of worry, parcel packing, news watching and insomnia. The nightmares were incredible. Almost every night I woke convinced that someone was standing over my bed. And every night I would scream and lash out, only to realise that I was alone and that my only demon was my thoughts. But no matter what I told myself, they didn’t stop. Until April 2008. On the afternoon of the 8th I picked him up from Exeter airport. Seeing him brought every emotion to the frontline. The MOD prepares you for your husband’s thoughts, feelings and emotional state on returning from a conflict zone, but they don’t prepare you for your own. Would he still love me? Would he still want to be with me? Would his life with me be enough for him? That day was the most nerve racking day of my life. Of course the answers were all yes. We had made it and I like to think that he got through those months, in part, because of me.
The next couple of years were a mixture of home and away. He spent three months in the Middle East. I got a new job, and had to deal with the pressures alone. But looking back, I wouldn’t change that for the world. I found my feet and joined an amazing organisation, an experience I wouldn’t have had if I’d have stayed at ‘home’. I also made some amazing friends through this time, friends who were my friends because of me, not because we had our husbands’ job in common. These friendships will be with me for life.
Once he returned we decided that it was our time to start a family and much to my horror our decision became a reality very quickly! When I was 4 months pregnant he came home with news of a second tour of duty. This time not only was I going to be alone but I was going to be alone with a baby. I was terrified, but didn’t show it. This time I was the wife of a marine. I got on with it. I spent almost 9 months of pregnancy on my own whilst he was in training for the imminent tour, I even rubbed his feet when he came home exhausted!
I gave birth to our baby girl in July 2010 and he was there. He had been ‘in the field’ the week before and was in the field when my waters broke, but he made it home for the birth. Having him there to see our daughter born was the greatest feeling in the universe and I will never ever forget it. Most mums take this for granted; I understood the value and the privilege.
Three months later, we packed up our belongings and moved 80 miles south to Plymouth. It was left to me to sort everything out, his training came first. We lived in Plymouth for 5 months before he left in April. I say we but the reality is that myself and our baby lived there on our own. Out of the 15 weeks pre Afghanistan, he was home for a total of three of them.
On April 1st 2011, 8 months after becoming a dad, he went off to war. I dropped him off at camp and said a tearful goodbye. Knowing just what he was saying goodbye to, and knowing exactly what he was due to miss, was heartbreaking. The thought that he may not return though was my greatest fear. I left him at the gates and headed straight to my parents house, and six months on I’m still there. I have managed to find us a home, sort out a mortgage and got myself a job. I have brought up our daughter as a ‘single mum’ and I actually think I’ve done a pretty good job. I show my daughter her Daddy’s photograph every day, and her first word was ‘Daddy’.
We are now on countdown for his return in October, at which point he will have been away for seven months. The baby that he left behind will be a 15 month old toddler. He leaves the marines for good in 4 months time. He spoke about leaving many times over the years, but never had the guts to do it. His job was his passion, his life, and his love, and to some extent it still is. But his true love is now his family. The day our daughter was born was the day his eyes were opened, she changed everything for him and he has reached a point in his life where he can’t keep going away; he is missing too much and needs to see his child grow up. He now accepts that some things are more important than a job.
If I’d have known back on that sunny wedding day what exactly marrying into the military was like then I think I’d have run a mile. I didn’t know and I didn’t run. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. I may have had to deal with more than most, but I wouldn’t change any of it. I married a soldier, and the truth is that the job made him the man he is. Being with him has opened my eyes to the world and I thank him and his job for showing me things I never thought I’d see and for opening me up to emotions I never thought I’d feel. Marrying into the military wasn’t a decision I even knew I was making, but it was one of the best I ever made.