Story and Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn
When Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nyles Farnsworth comes home to his wife and two young boys after spending three consecutive days and nights at Station Portsmouth, Virginia, the moment he sees the smiles on his sons’ faces is when he says he feels the greatest joy of being a father.
As a parent, machinery technician and a response boat engineer, Farnsworth’s time is divided between his family and his job. But Farnsworth’s duty responsibilities aren’t likely to overwhelm he or his family anytime soon—they’ve overcome greater obstacles. Farnsworth recently experienced stay-ashore fatherhood while his wife Mary was away at sea.
Mary served in the Navy and deployed for six months aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. She was called away from her family in mid-November 2015, giving them just enough time to plan and enjoy an early-Thanksgiving goodbye dinner.
“While Mary was still home I felt like I was as mentally prepared as I could be for her to go on deployment,” said Farnsworth. “But as soon as she was actually gone, reality hit me.”
Accustomed to being the spouse who went to sea, he now found himself in the position of being the spouse left at home.
Mary’s mother, Susana Griffin, moved in with Farnsworth to help care for their boys, Evan, age four, and Wyatt, age two. Farnsworth said the added support from his mother-in-law enabled him to continue to meet his active duty obligation in the Coast Guard. But with Mary away, he said his parental roles changed drastically.
“While Mary was deployed, it was now me cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, feeding the boys lunch and dinner, reading them stories and preparing them for bed,” said Farnsworth. “The boys were quick to point out when I did something differently than their mother. The first night during their before-bed bathroom routine, I handed Wyatt’s toothbrush to Evan. I realized there was so much Mary normally did that I knew nothing about.”
Even with all the help from his mother-in-law, Farnsworth said responsibilities would surface each day that he’d always taken for granted, like scheduling medical appointments and tee-ball registration for Evan. He said he had to learn to be a lot more efficient by taking advantage of rare moments of free time to get things done. When Mary was home, Farnsworth would go shopping and normally leave the boys at home with her. While his wife was away, he said he did his best to give his mother-in-law a break whenever possible.
“The boys can get a bit rowdy toward the end of the day,” said Farnsworth. “I think it was important for me to take them whenever I had an errand to run to give her time to relax and unwind. I know for me peace and quiet can go a long way. Besides, the boys love the grocery store.”
Their busy routine kept them occupied with Mary away, but Farnsworth said special occasions were particularly difficult for other reasons.
“The most trying time for me personally, though I never let anybody know, was Christmas,” said Farnsworth. “Christmas is a particularly special time for kids. With their mother away it was just tough on all of us. They asked where she was, and I kept telling them, ‘she’s on the big ship, but she’ll be back.’” Farnsworth said it helped when he explained to the boys that Santa Claus was going to visit Mommy’s big ship to drop off presents before coming to visit them in Portsmouth.
For Wyatt’s birthday, Mary was able to order presents online and have them delivered. Every so often when she was on liberty during a port call, Mary was able to FaceTime with the boys. “It was emotional for us to FaceTime in many ways,” said Farnsworth. “The boys would hug and kiss the iPad. It was happy and sad all at once.”
There was also a program aboard Mary’s aircraft carrier where parents could be videotaped reading a story out loud as if they were reading to their children. A DVD of the reading, along with an actual copy of the book, was then mailed back home. Farnsworth was able to sit with the boys and turn page by page through “What Do Animals Say?,” and “100 Trucks,” as Mary read aloud to them.
“When she finally came back, it was a happy time,” said Farnsworth. “But there were sad things about it as well. Evan wouldn’t let her go for a week, and now, two months later he still says, ‘Momma, you’re back! Are you going on the big ship again?’”
Farnsworth said he and Mary were lucky, despite serving in different branches of the military, to have been collocated in the Hampton Roads area.
“The Coast Guard has been great to us,” agreed Mary. “The service is very understanding about families and did their best to station my husband near me.”
Mary recently made the decision to get out of the Navy to spend more time with her family.
Though he may not have to repeat the experience again, Farnsworth won’t soon forget the lessons learned from being in the position of Coast Guardsman and stay-ashore dad.