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Getting families back to normal takes time

Jacey Eckhart

Jacey EckhartLast week I was part of a team giving speeches to a deployed squadron that was about to head home and was busy forgetting important stuff I wanted to tell the service members.

I hate that. I love speaking with the service members, but I hate not being able to tell them every single thing they need to know. These guys get the basics of homecoming from the command. They really do.

For example, we always remember to tell the service member to get involved with the family again, to give it time and to wait to reassert their authority over teenagers.

However, the official folks forget to tell service members they have to learn the emotional subtleties too if they plan to do this deployment thing more than once in their lives. We never do remember to tell them about the subtle stuff like "Gaposis."

Yeah, Gaposis. It's a technical term I just invented. Gaposis refers to the barely perceptible gaps in family life that open the first few days someone comes home from deployment.

Here is how it usually works. A guy gets home and the first day is all about him. We family members have to kiss him, feed him, pat him, celebrate him, talk him up and call his mom. Then we notice the poor guy is exhausted and suffering from the time zone change, so we put him to bed.

That's all well and good, but the next day no one tells the service member all that coddling will start winding down before he actually has the energy to get back on board with the family. No one tells him there will be a test during which the phone will ring and there will be a definite, measurable gaposis during which the entire family will wait for him to jump up and answer the phone.

If the service member hasn't been warned to watch out for gaposis, he probably won't jump up to get the phone. It makes sense for him to let someone else get the phone, yet there is a pronounced pause, because of the gaposis that occurs as the family silently creates opportunities for the service member to take back his place in the family.

Service members report the same thing happens when a toddler falls down and cries, when a preschooler needs to be put to bed or when someone needs to be driven to a friend's house. A gap opens up in which everyone is waiting for the service member to jump in and do no matter how tired he is.

Someone should tell them they can't afford not to jump on the gaposis. That is part of the price of deployment, and service members have to be willing to jump back on the family merry-go-round.

Gaposis is subtle and lasts for a short time, so our service members have to be ready and have to pay attention. They have to leap wildly, clumsily, thoroughly on every gaposis that comes their way.