By David Carrera, Navy Spouse
Read this and more inside the November issue of Military Spouse Magazine!
Thank you for your service.
It’s something I hear frequently, usually followed by an extended friendly hand looking for a handshake. I usually end up using my hand, mostly the index finger, to point to the left or right of me, to wherever my wife is standing. She is active duty, not me. I am a male military spouse, a military husband, a Manpendent as I like to call myself. As far as stereotypes go, I’m not really sure male military spouses have one yet. We are about as rare as seeing Bigfoot riding a unicorn in the forest, or at least so I thought.
In my first overseas move, I have come to know more male military spouses than ever, and that’s a good thing, because it’s not always easy to explain what it’s like to be one. For starters, and news flash to those not in the know about our armed forces, there are a lot of women in the military and we should celebrate that. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, as of 2018, women represent 16% of enlisted forces and 18% of the officers corps. My wife represents the latter for the U.S. Navy.
“My wife handed me my 1-year-old son and stepped on a plane, not to be seen for 10 months, and my son did not come with instructions.”
There are some challenges
Stereotypes abound as once most people find out we are a military family almost immediately they look to me as the service member. At first it was slightly awkward; after all, my wife has worked very hard to achieve the level of success she has in the Navy. She’s sacrificed time with our family, and she has worked long hours to get to where she is now. But after a while I got used to it and now kindly thank them, and then present my wife, the actual service member.
The most vivid memory of this stereotyping was in Japan, visiting a doctor off base. My wife and I sat in his office as he explained to me that he would need to write me a note, so that I would not have duty for one week. I pointed to my wife and told him she was the service member. He nodded, turned and looked right at her, leaned forward, pointed to me and repeated, “He cannot have duty for one week.” We both laughed about it; maybe it was the language barrier, but I doubt it.
Just like female military spouses, another challenge is my career. I have been fortunate enough to eventually land jobs wherever we PCS, but I have to admit the first one was tough. We were moving from Florida to my wife’s first duty station in Portsmouth, Va. I had been working for the same company for about six years; it was a big change at the time. Looking back now it was all worth it, but it hasn’t been easy. Employers see that you have two years at one job, three years at another, and sometimes large gaps in between; its less than ideal for a hiring manager, but fortunately I’ve managed to make it work. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone.
I also tried attending the spouse support groups, which of course were made up of mostly women. One was a book club, I didn’t know this, walked in a bit late and sat down. The group leader informed me that they were already halfway through reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I politely made up some excuse and slinked out the exit. So yes, there are challenges.
But it’s worth it
The moving around, new jobs every few years and time apart, you’d think I’d be pulling the ripcord on this and saying, “No thanks, I’ve had enough.” The truth is, the thought has never crossed my mind. For all the inconveniences and deployments, there are silver linings that few see.
The support of other male spouses is unbelievable. We started a Facebook group in Okinawa and called ourselves Manpendents. As a group, we support each other in spades. If your wife deploys, and you have three kids, you act as mom, dad, executive chef, diaper changer, all the time.
So we try to help out our brothers whose spouses deploy, who need extra help around the house, meals delivered or who just need to sit outside and talk. Because like active duty service members, we too are away from family, away from friends and no one really understands military life like those in it. So we help and lean on each other whenever and wherever we can.
We also love our wives. Did we know what we were signing up for when we married them? Probably not. But the ride has been amazing for me. As a male spouse, I’ve learned how to deal with PCS season, deployments, new countries, and have an incredible bond with my children.
>> My advice is for Manpendents to seek out others in your community. Embrace your unique and important role as a military spouse. My guess is you’ll have a lot in common, and be able to help each other cope with this sometimes-crazy lifestyle while making amazing lifelong friends.