Marine Corps Capt. Joseph Tortorici, a father of six, knows a lot about being a military dad.
And he’s got a slate of recommendations for new fathers. For example, he says, a tactical bag makes for the best diaper bag out there.
“A backpack with tons of pockets is way better than anything you will find in a store for kids,” he said.
More broadly, Tortorici says new military dads should know that the military parenting journey “is an adventure.”
“I thought that I had it figured out – I still don’t. Every single day has been a learning experience and it has been important to realize that,” he said.
Tortorici, who is married to an active-duty Marine, said that being a dual active-duty couple makes him appreciate everything that spouses do in a unique way.
“As you go on through your career, always remember that the spouse you chose (and who chose you), as well as the children you were both blessed with, have it more difficult than you do,” he said.
“When we deploy or even go to the field, our lives become simpler, while theirs become more complex: In addition to missing their husband and father, they are missing someone who should be helping to shoulder the burden that military life places on kids.”
He explained the importance of understanding that “children don’t conceptualize time in the same way that we do, so while we might see a son or daughter who has grown a little taller or learned how to do something new while we are gone, they might see you as someone who doesn’t know them, because you’ve missed huge portions of the time that they have had on this earth.”
As a result, he recommends “taking the time to get to know the people who your kids are growing up to be.” And he encourages other fathers to remember that your kids are not service members and, unless you’re like him, neither is their mother, “so take time to make an effort to not treat them or talk to them like they are.”
After all, “they will be there for you after you take your uniform off for the last time,” he said.
“Love your kids. If you didn’t grow up in a good family, be the dad that you wished you had growing up,” he said. “If you don’t know how to do that, ask for help.”
Knowing that military parents are often away from home, he recommends: “When you are home, be present.”
That doesn’t mean just being physically there, he said.
“It means being there to support your kids and their mom, no matter how tired you are, or what you have to go back to when you get back to work,” said Tortorici.
“It is imperative to give them the time that they so rightfully deserve, but don’t get enough of.”
He acknowledges that being a military parent is tough and requires a “ton of work,” but one of the most important things you can do for your kids is to love their mother.
“The stats are out there…being a good father plays a huge role in children’s development,” he said.
In terms of support for military families, it’s important to understand that no single program is going to do it all for you.
Still, “the most important thing is human interaction,” he said. “If you are struggling, and you need support, the first place I would go to is to my unit chaplain.”
Chaplains are there for service members, and “there is no struggle that a good chaps has not either directly or indirectly seen before,” he said.
Chaplains have myriad classes available, including programs for new parents that he recommends attending, “even if you don’t think you need it.”
They are aware of many other resources and can refer service members to programs they feel will best fit their specific situation.
“If you need more than what the chaplain can support, your Military and Family Life Counselors are also a great resource,” he said.
Fortunately, he has always had support from his leadership.
“I have always been blessed with amazing commanders who recognize that for a Marine to be most effective at work, they have to have their families taken care of as well,” he said. “They’ve been extremely supportive of my role as a parent.”
He said that being open with his command allowed his leaders the opportunity to be helpful.
“Having six children and a successful active-duty spouse, I have also had to rely on my subordinates,” he said.
“Being open with certain subordinates about the challenges of balancing work and taking care of my family has created an environment where they also realize the importance of their own families to their success as Marines.”
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Tactical Diaper Bags and Other Fathers' Day Tips from a Marine Officer – Health.mil