First of all, don't get me wrong -- holding down the home front during the deployment was one of the hardest things I've been through. But without the structure of my wife's workweek I was able to spend the summer exploring the great outdoors with our 2 boys. We went on one camping trip after another, any day of the week. A couple times I didn't even bother unpacking the truck when we got home. I just did some laundry, re-packed the cooler, and after a day or two at home we headed back out to another National Park.
It was few years ago when we were stationed in Everett, Washington, from where my wife was going to deploy in an aircraft carrier. We lived about 30 minutes north of Seattle. Washington was our fourth duty station as a Navy family, but our first deployment. I've been a stay-at-home-dad since our first son was born, and our boys were 6 and 7 at the time. Things started out slow for my wife, but once the work-ups began it seemed like she was gone all the time.
Summer comes late around Puget Sound. In June I still wore a sweatshirt most mornings, but after lunch the skies would clear up for another beautiful day. Although the Northwest has a reputation for rain, most East Coast cities receive more rainfall, and summers around Puget Sound are usually dry as a bone. At that latitude in the summer the sun comes up early and goes down late. One bright and early morning we said goodbye to Mommy on the pier, watched as a few of the ships sailed past Mukilteo Lighthouse, and then it was just us boys for a while.
Our first major trip was to North Cascades National Park in mid-July. The highlight was hiking up the Cascade Pass Trail, an elevation gain of 1700 feet. It seemed like every switchback gave us an ever more fantastic view of the mountains, valleys, and glaciers. At about a mile-high in elevation we had to turn back. Just short of the pass the snowy trail became treacherous and steep, even though the weather was fine and clear (we were just wearing t-shirts, and I was wearing shorts). While we were eating lunch back at the trailhead we were amazed to watch – and HEAR – several avalanches caused by the melting snow.
While our older son went off to visit his grandparents for a little while, son #2 and I did some more camping. We drove down to the area around Mt Rainier National Park looking for what I expected to be a secluded and quiet campground. It took half an hour to drive 6 miles up a steep and winding fire road (it's good to have a truck!) to get to the campground. But when we got there the place was filled up by a backcountry horse group. They were staying there for a week while they maintained the area's trails. I was able to find just one recently vacated tent site. In the mean time, my social butterfly son got us invited to dinner with the horsemen. He was thrilled to hang out with 'real cowboys', sit on a great big horse, and stay up late listening to songs around the campfire.
I continued camping with son #1 while my younger son took his turn to get spoiled by visit the grandparents. One of the best things about not being tied to my wife's work schedule was having the freedom to come and go any day of the week. During the workweek we didn't have any trouble finding campsites on further trips to Mt Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and Deception Pass State Park, Washington's most-visited park.
I confess that while my wife was gone we ate a few too many hot dogs for dinner and donuts for breakfast. We took a few less showers, and wore the same clothes too often (mostly because she wasn't around to pack for us). It was a real boys' club. And it was awesome.
Eventually it was time for school to start again. Packing lunches on weekday mornings, and running to soccer games on the weekends. The days got shorter, and they kept getting shorter (that latitude thing again). I try to forget how tough it was that fall and winter without the whole family together, but I still remember that great summer with my boys.
Rob Aeschbach spent 12 years as an active duty Marine before becoming a Navy spouse. Since then he has been a stay-at-home-dad for more than 10 years, served in the Marine Corps Reserve until his recent retirement, and started a personal finance blog.