What About the Men?
–by Kristen Tsetsi
Only 6-9% of military spouses are male, and Wayne Perry, 32, became one of them last year. His wife Andrea met with an Army recruiter in February of 2010, her decision influenced by the uncertain economy and a desire for a steady, stable income.
“The area we lived in didn’t offer much opportunity for either of us to find gainful employment that could support our family,” Wayne says.
Wayne had been working as a landscaper for over a decade, but he’d begun experiencing back problems that were making the job difficult. He and Andrea had two children, a 9-year-old and a 9-month-old, to care for, so Andrea met with an Army recruiter.
And what does a father of two children say when his wife says she wants to join the Army?
“My first reaction was, ‘Awesome!’” Wayne says. “I thought, ‘You are made for this. We are made for this!’ With the dynamics of our family and marriage, I truly believed this was the best decision we could make. It would give her an opportunity to rise and shine. She really is a special individual. And I was very much looking forward to raising our sons.”
Wayne was excited about being a stay-at-home dad, and both were optimistic about their future.
It was after Andrea left for Basic Combat Training that Wayne began to understand the full impact of their decision. His life before the military was one rooted in his community and in the home he and his wife had made together.
“I had an extremely large group of friends,” Wayne says. “I had a garden at the house we owned that I worked tirelessly on, and I would go fishing whenever the fish were biting.”
He would also meet up with friends for pickup games of basketball.
“Everything I knew about life before my wife enlisted is pretty much completely different,” Wayne says.
Wayne moved out of the house with the lovingly cultivated garden to be closer to his wife while she attended Advanced Individual Training (AIT). And now, as the sole caregiver for their two young boys while Andrea is deployed, he has little to no time to himself to go fishing or play basketball.
“As time went on, we found out that the isolation was a killer on me emotionally. These days the only time I get out is for a playgroup, a meeting, or a doctor’s appointment,” Wayne says. “Life is totally different than it was before.”
But that’s not the hardest part, he says. The hardest part is being without his “better half.”
In the twelve months encompassing Andrea’s basic training, AIT, and her deployment, three of them were spent at home, and by the time the end of her deployment arrives, Wayne says, she will have missed 18 of the 30 months their youngest son will have been alive. Andrea is currently in the first third of her deployment.
“Every single day seems to drag on and on,” Wayne says. “I walk around our house, and everywhere I look, I expect to see her. This may be a new physical home for us, but it’s still got all our stuff in it. Her pictures hang on the wall, her pillow is still on her side of the bed, heck—even the bottle of wine she didn’t finish is still in the fridge.”
Because we’ve been inundated with images of women saying goodbye to their male service member spouses, that’s what we tend to picture when service members deploy. And because we have been conditioned to think of men as “stoic” and “strong,” we might give them less thought when their wives leave for the Middle East.
For the most part, we’re given little insight into what it’s like for them.
“In the first hour after she left,” Wayne says, “I shed a quick tear on the way home from dropping her off. Once I got home, I got the baby settled in, then I wrote a blog. My blogs are the way for me to not hold in everything that is on my heart. I am not your typical guy and I am actually expressive. Or, as my wife would like to say, ‘overly emotional.’ Which I wouldn’t argue with. I am a man’s man, but I am a big baby at the same time (I know a lot of women are thinking their husband, is too).”
Wayne says he did great for three weeks after his wife left before he experienced one of the bad days. A week later, he had two of those days. The next week, he had three. “Since then,” he says, “it’s been hit or miss.”
Wayne’s experience isn’t unique among military spouses. His story—isolation, raising children alone, missing and worrying about his spouse, having his entire life changed by the military—just happens to be one typically told by women.
And because so many military spouses are women, their support system that helps them manage the harder days is comparatively well developed. For them, finding someone to commiserate with is less of a challenge.
“I just feel like an extreme minority,” Wayne says. “Yes, there are a lot of dads out there in general, but it’s kind of hard for me to call one up and say, ‘Hey, you wanna come over and play blocks with me and the baby?’ I don’t know very many guys who would get excited about that.”
Anyone who has seen the Liftetime television series “Army Wives” will be tempted to recall its sole male military spouse, Roland, and point out that he finds camaraderie with the female military spouses on post. Couldn’t Wayne do the same?
“Because of personal convictions,” Wayne explains, “I try to do my best to keep from socializing with my female counterparts.”
Although he and the baby attend a playgroup twice a week that is also attended by one other male military spouse, they haven’t “clicked” as easily have some of the women in the group, and he’s envious of the relationships he sees forming among them.
“I really can’t complain too much,” he says, understanding he is an extreme minority. “But I am trying to do my own thing to get male milspouses connected.”
One of the ways he’s doing this is by reaching out to other male military spouses and finding things they can do together. One week, they toured a brewery. Soon, they’ll be visiting a driving range.
“The hardest part about doing this is getting word out. Guys don’t typically step out of their comfort zone, so getting guys to events and such will be tough,” Wayne says.
He’s also interested in seeing more benefits designed to cater specifically to male military spouses. Wayne says he understands that because men make up such a small percentage of the spouse community it would be unrealistic to expect support for the development of major male-specific programs, but he has an idea for something small, something just for the men:
“It would be a program that would offer us deep, deep discounts to do different ‘guy’ things to get the ball rolling and get us connected,” Wayne says. Such as a free round of golf once a month for a group of male military spouses. “If you tell a guy he is going to a class to strengthen his marriage, most will laugh you off. You tell him he is going to play a free round of golf and meet some other guys like him, and he may actually go. And through the friendships, I believe we can possibly bring some balance to the significant differences in the divorce rate.”
In a recent blog entry titled “MANning the Homefront (Part 1): The Mission”, Wayne writes about the stark contrast in divorce rates among male and female military spouses citing information he found in The Military Times:
“The divorce rate for female service members serving in the US Army is at roughly eight percent (that is nearly one in twelve!) while [the rate for] male Army personnel is about 2.6% (or one in 48),” he writes.
He adds in the blog entry that he doesn’t blame the military, that each marriage is up to the people in the marriage, but he sees the value in educating men and preparing them for the lifestyle, which Wayne says is a lot harder than it looks.
“If you would have told me I would go through 18 out of 21 months without my wife around in our first 21 months in this life, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to it,” Wayne says. “If you would have told me that I would sometimes be angry and sad or depressed or overly frustrated for absolutely no reason, I would have said you were crazy. … And it’s not like a regular job. You can’t apply for the job, get it, work it awhile and decide, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t the best thing for my family.’ There is no choice. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where we are at and wouldn’t change it for the world, but I understand now more than I did before why such a small percentage of Americans actually answer the call.”