Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Mike Brudzinski is looking for some t-shirts. Something that says, “My wife is my hero,” or maybe “I wanna be a hero like my mom.” Or maybe some stickers that read, “My mom wears combat boots.”
Brudzinski is a male spouse of an active duty Coast Guard member, and occasionally that feels like he is an afterthought, he said.
Currently, about 14 percent of the Coast Guard active duty force is made up of women, which is right around the average for Department of Defense services. And most active duty Coast Guard members are married.So it’s no surprise that there are male Coastie spouses, but they still feel awkward sometimes.
Brudzinski knows Coast Guard life – his dad retired from the service. So being a Coast Guard spouse comes somewhat naturally. He met his wife, Miranda, when they were both in high school. They have been married for six years, and she is a yeoman at Sector St. Petersburg, Florida.
Eric Depretis and his wife, Veronica, have been together for nearly nine years. Veronica is an operations specialist, and she has been in the Coast Guard for six years.
Michael Duhe’ and his wife, Roxanne, have been married for nearly six years. She is a food service officer specialist at Coast Guard Station Sabine in Texas. She has been in the Coast Guard for 14 years.
All three said that one of the most difficult aspects of Coast Guard life is facing communities that don’t really know what to do with them as male spouses.
Duhe’ said they don’t experience the same level of camaraderie female spouses experience. The network of male spouses or stay-at-home dads isn’t the same.
“The wives have their Facebook page and will have ‘Girls Night Out’ and my wife will get to join in, which is wonderful,” Duhe’ said. “Guys just are not like that. We’re not much to blog or Facebook. Well at least I’m not.”
And then, when they do get together with other Coastie families, it can be hard to carry on a conversation.
“We will get together for the kids birthday parties and such and every guy there will be a Coast Guard member. If the conversation ever turns to work I am completely lost in the conversation,” he said. “My wife does her best to try to keep me up to par with the endless list of acronyms and CG lingo so that I can keep up.”
Depretis said he had a hard time adjusting when he and his wife first married and moved to Alameda, California. At the time, she was underway. Depretis was having trouble finding work, and he was bored at home.
“I just got uprooted from everything I knew and moved across the country,” Depretis said. “This was totally new for me, and I was not adjusting to my new status very well.”
Luckily, he had a neighbor who helped him adjust and talk about the frustrations of Coast Guard life. All he wanted to do was leave California and go back to his old life.
“Needless to say, I got talked out of that a few times, and things got better,” he said. “But it was hard.”
Depretis said male spouses don’t have the same support networks built into new communities that female spouses have to help them adjust.
“I didn’t have the spouse support groups and chat rooms like the wives have,” Depretis said. “I had me, my thoughts, and beer. Lots and lots of beer.”
Brudzinski said it can be difficult not being welcomed to a new community in the same way that female spouses are. It can be hard making friends with other Coasties, he said.
“On the one hand, I feel more in common with the wives because there are so few husbands. But I think sometimes they’d rather I be buds with the guys,” Brudzinski said. “And then I feel like my wife has more in common with them, seeing as how I’m not in the Coast Guard, and there are very few male spouses who aren’t prior service. But I have noticed that now that I’m a dad, it’s easier to make friends either way.”
Brudzinski said that when he lived in Puerto Rico, he attended spouse club meetings in an attempt to meet people with common interests. He said that the club was always very welcoming, but the events were geared toward women.
For example, mom’s trips to the beach, or manicures and pedicures with wine.
“The ladies were nice enough, but I was usually the token husband,” Brudzinski said. “The leadership really did try to be more inclusive, but a lot of the activity and outing ideas were more female-centric.”
But that didn’t keep him from trying. He said the more he spoke up in his community, the more he felt heard and valued.
“Once I did insert myself into the community, I think my status as a husband who was willing to participate in the spouse game made people value my input and opinion,” Brudzinski said. “If we hadn’t transferred last summer, I would have been more active in the club.”
Balancing work with home life
All three said they have experienced the ups and downs of trying to maintain employment as a military spouse while balancing home and family.
Depretis works full time as a service writer at Sears. He said the challenges of managing full-time work with the expectations at home can be overwhelming.
“I’m working 50 plus hours a week and have to take care of a 3-year-old, and somehow juggle time to keep a house up including doing yard work and everything else that goes along with it,” Depretis said.
He also said his status as a military spouse recently interfered with a promotion at work.
“For me the challenges outweigh the benefits more than anything,” Depretis said. “I mean, I get the typical benefits just like any other spouse does, and I’m sure I face a lot of the challenges just like any other.”
Like Depretis, Brudzinski is also working full time now, but that wasn’t always the case.
When the Brudzinksis lived at their previous duty stations, he worked part-time with the same company. On their first move, to Cape May, New Jersey, Brudzinski was able to transfer with the company for which he had been working. When they moved to Puerto Rico eight months after that, he transferred again with the same company. But because he did not speak Spanish, he had to work nights. This wasn’t ideal when they had their first child.
“Since I was primary caregiver for Lucas, I didn’t want to be a cranky zombie, so I only worked one or two nights a week,” he said. “At that point, it just wasn’t worth it.”
When they moved to Florida, Brudzinski said, it made more financial sense to go to work full time and his mom watches Lucas. One of the reasons they chose to move to St. Petersburg was to be close to his family.
“It is actually my first time working full time,” Brudzinski said. “I really, really miss being at home with Lucas, but I feel better knowing my mom gets to spend time with him.”
Duhe’ had an experience similar to Brudzinski’s – as the primary caregiver to Lela, 7, and Jack, 4, it was not worth it to work part-time. When Lela was first born, Duhe’ and his wife decided it would be best for him to stay home with her for her first year. Duhe’ took on a part-time job three hours from their home, and it was working for a while.
When they decided to put Lela in daycare, Duhe’ took another job closer to home. However, Lela kept getting sick at daycare, which meant Duhe’ missed work to care for her at home. The job didn’t allow for overtime or a way to make up for the hours, so he had to quit.
“Financially, it was not worth it,” he said. “The pay did not even cover the cost of day care.”
One year led to another, and the anticipation of moving soon made it less promising to start school or a new job. And then Jack was born. When Jack was big old enough for preschool and Lela was in school full time, Duhe’ again considered going back to work.
“There was some excitement about getting back into the work force, but we quickly realized how convenient it was having me at home,” Duhe’ said.
They needed a parent home for those random days off of school or early dismissals. And they are foreseeing another move within the year.
“Having someone readily available was a load off our minds,” he said. “Throw in the fact that we were due to transfer this year – getting a job with that kind of flexibility for just 10 months didn’t seem worth it. So, again, the decision was made for me to hold down the homefront.”
The path to staying home with the kids as a military spouse has been unexpected, but it’s all worth it’s all worth it, Duhe’ said.
“I think being a male spouse and stay-at home dad gives our kids the opportunity to see diversity. It doesn’t have to be the mom that stays home and the dad that works,” Duhe’ said. “Our family can show how women can be successful and powerful and support her family. That a military career can work for male and female alike.”
Are you a male Coast Guard spouse? Share your experiences in the comments below!
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.