It was just two months after Chris Aeillo’s first child was born that he was deployed to Iraq as a Brigade Fire Support Officer with the U.S. Army in 2009.
But during that time, Aeillo said he learned what it meant to be a father from a distance.
“So right off the bat, I had to leave him which was difficult,” he said. “I always made the best of it though and I didn’t think too much about being sad all the time.”
Being a soldier, Aeillo is aware that his parenting experience probably looks different from a lot of fathers. He spent a lot of time sending videos to his son during his deployment, reading books to him over video chats and mailing recordings back and forth.
“Thankfully he was 1-year-old when I was deployed and I haven’t been deployed since then,” he said. “It would be difficult if he were older and I had to miss some of those things as an older kid.”
Once Aeillo returned stateside in 2012 as a Battery Commander, he and his family moved around from place to place and found themselves having unique experiences. He tried to turn the experience into something positive. Such as when his son was young, he got to come on the bases and ride howitzers and go on adventures.
“Not many kids get to do that,” he said.
What helped throughout the years was the family created through the military — military families are one big support system, with many people offering to help and provide care for others as much as possible.
It also creates a patchwork of unique parenting experiences that others in the service can relate to.
“Something changes in you when you become a dad and a father,” he said. “No one understands being a parent like another parent, it’s a completely different set of feelings missing your kids and development milestones.”
Aeillo’s son is now 10 years old now and he has a 2-year-old daughter and another baby due in August. Aeillo said he and his family will celebrate this Father’s Day with a campfire in the yard for his older son and with a day of making forts in the backyard with his daughter.
Fatherhood looks different for every family.
For Julian Brown, it meant attending classes with Child Development Resources to learn as much about parenting as possible.
Brown, a transaction coordinator for a real estate agency, is the father to a 7-month-old daughter and his 4-year-old stepson. He said it was important to find time to connect with his children and build those bonds.
“Having a family changed my life,” he said. “Before children, the world puts a harsh aspect on life and the role of men in this world. But when you have a child, your heart just softens. You just want to protect them and do what you can for them.”
Brown said the past few months of uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic and the recent political atmosphere surrounding police brutality have been particularly tough as a parent because it’s unclear how to protect them or even provide stability for children.
“It’s very scary, just not knowing what the world will look like when they’re ready to leave the house or go off to college,” he said. “It’s a great big question mark.
He said he’s been lucky because he is able to work from home while their mother goes into work each day. He’s taking this time to connect with the children and provide a strong presence in the midst of uncertainty and confusion.
Brown said he wants his children to learn that faith and family are the most important things in life. He hopes that instilling these values will help the children find their way in the world and navigate a life that can have its ups and downs.
Brown and his family are going to a cookout on Father’s Day to celebrate and to commemorate his own dad’s 70th birthday. It will be his first real Father’s Day and his dad’s first Father’s Day as a grandfather, which gives the family even more reason to embrace each other.
“The biggest challenge of fatherhood is just learning to adapt to these fully grown little people,” he said. “It takes you back to when you were a child with your own father.”
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