Editor’s note: Lieutenant William Edwards enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006 as a bandsman after spending six years in corporate finance, working for Wells Fargo and General Motors. He was deployed for 14 months with Operation Iraqi Freedom V and was commissioned as a finance officer in 2010. National Fatherhood Initiative recently honored Lt. Edwards with the 2012 Military Fatherhood Award at the White House.
When I joined the Army six-and-a-half years ago, my first challenge was to leave my two-week old son -- as well as my three other children and my wife -- for six months as I attended Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. Not only was the Army testing my physical, mental, and combat skills, it was testing my relational skills as a husband and father. So, I trained myself to use whatever means of communication I had to keep in touch with my family.
I faithfully hand-wrote letters to my wife and children. If I had phone privileges, I called, even if I was dog-tired from the drill sergeants riding me all day. But the nearly six months of separation truly were merely training compared to the 14-month-deployment we faced.
While in Iraq, thankfully, I was allowed more than snail mail and phone calls. I could use a webcam (it was a huge plus for the kids to see me), text, email (a daily occurrence), and my hand-held camcorder. I had already utilized the camcorder to create “Story time with Daddy,” a DVD of me reading the kids stories, telling jokes, and singing songs with my guitar.
While in Iraq, I focused my free time on filming “A Day with Daddy,” a movie chronicling my activities from sun-up to sun-down. I filmed myself waking up, getting dressed, running, eating, playing music (my job at the time was to entertain troops with rock music), and flying in Blackhawk helicopters. I wanted my kids to “see” me and to share my deployment experiences with them.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they would watch those movies every night before bedtime.
One time, my wife texted me asking me to call right away, so I took the long walk to the phone tent. My two young boys had accidentally seen some inappropriate web content and needed their dad to explain some intimate issues to them. I never thought my first “birds and the bees” talk would be given long distance from a war zone!
God really impressed it upon me during our long separations that my time with my children is so limited. I need to make each moment count. I’m not a perfect dad, but even when I’m tired from the demands of the Army, I make an effort to shoot hoops with the kids, teach them musical instruments, or just take them out for a treat. God’s blessed me with an amazing family! Whether we’re separated or together, I am determined to always maintain strong bonds and to be a dad to my kids.