As I write this, I am sitting in my house in the Netherlands. I am pondering my Navy career and what it has meant. I think of what I have accomplished. I think of the people I helped and mentored along the way, and of those who helped and mentored me. But the thing that weighs most heavily on my mind, is the time spent away from family during the last 20 years. There were the military schools, the unit training evolutions, the temporary duty assignments, the deployments, and in my case — the time spent away as a geographical bachelor.
So, what exactly is a geographical bachelor, you may ask? Well, I can tell you what it is and I can also tell you what it is not. The Urban Dictionary describes a geographical bachelor as follows:
“A man who is married, and travels for work a lot and claims he’s bachelor while traveling away from home. A man who works away from home alot [sic], and never sees his family. And claims he is single while traveling and is away from his spouse.”
I certainly lend no credence to the Urban Dictionary, and while there may be some who fit the above description, that is not what I am referring to in my case. Rather, I am referring to a term that is familiar among the U.S. military; a term born of the nomadic reality of military life. We are constantly on the go — packing up our lives and moving to a new city, state, or even country every two to three years, often leaving friends and family in our wake. Such is the reality of the careers we chose.
Sometimes, however, we choose a different route in life — one filled with less uncertainty. We choose a life that is more stable for those whom we love. We choose a life that allows our spouses to have careers; a life that allows us to buy homes and plant roots; a life that allows our children to attend the same schools and grow up having the same friends — we choose the life of geographical bachelors. The reality of changing assignments and constant moves is still there, but we (the active duty military members) are the only ones who actually uproot ourselves and move. Sometimes we are assigned close to home, other times we are not. While this does provide greater stability for our families, it comes at a cost — even more time away from home (something military families are already all to familiar with).
I have been a geographical bachelor for 18 years now, and while I have been fortunate enough in the past to be assigned close to home (close enough to return on weekends, anyway), all that time away still adds up. When counting it up (day for day), Debbie and I have spent more than 12 years apart in the last 20 years that I have been on active duty. We have missed countless birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays together and loved ones have passed while I was gone.
The time away has been difficult for us, but we accept it as a part of the life we chose. In many ways, however, this life has (oddly enough) brought us closer together. We value our time together tremendously and spend it wisely; and while over the years we have witnessed the relationships of others disintegrate, our has not only endured, but flourished. I loved Debbie with all of my heart the day we were married, but I can honestly tell you that I am more in love with her today than I ever have been. She is my best friend in life and as each day passes, our bond only grows stronger. I guess there is a certain amount of merit to the old cliché, What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Currently, we find ourselves more than 5,500 miles and an ocean apart from one another. There is no driving home for the weekend from here. Fortunately, we now have the internet and with it, things like email, FaceTime, and yes — even personal websites/blogs, like this. These things make the separation easier to endure, and it is a far cry from my first deployments, when hand-written letters were our only form of communication. Nonetheless, it is time away from those whom I love, and it played a large role in our decision for me to retire from the Navy after one more tour. The Navy has been good to us, and together we have made sacrifices to serve our country, but we look forward to the day when I can pass the reins, make way for a new career Navy officer, and begin a new life where I belong — at home.