By Laura M. Levering, Northwest GuardianSeptember 9, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Dee McNeil has been on both sides of the Army Family fence, but only recently discovered how much more difficult the parenting side can be than the soldiering side.
McNeil left active duty in July 2010 after serving six years as a combat medic. Now he is part of an uncommon demographic of stay-at-home fathers.
His wife, 2nd Lt. Kara McNeil, deployed to Kuwait in May, leaving Dee behind to care for their three young daughters: Janiah, 6, Jayda, 5, and Mya, 4.
When the two met, Kara was a member of the National Guard, but in 2007 she transitioned to active duty and is currently assigned to 22nd Human Resources Company as a human resources officer. The couple maintained dual active-duty military status for about three years before Dee's service ended.
Prior to Kara's deployment, Dee got a glimpse at being a sole caregiver for brief periods while his wife fulfilled military obligations, but only recently had to immerse himself in the role.
His perception of being a stay-at-home parent was never as an easy job, but he admits he had no idea what he was in for.
"I've always had respect for stay-at-home parents," he said. "Even if you decide not to leave the house all day, it's not like you're just sitting down watching TV. There's always something to do."
The hardest adjustment he's had to make was getting used to shorter breaks, if he's fortunate enough to take any.
"It's hard," Dee said. "If I sit down or I'm idle, I feel bad because there's always something that needs to be done. Whether it's the kids, the pets, or my homework -- whenever I do take a break, I tend to feel guilty for it."
Although statistics suggest the number of stay-at-home dads has been gradually increasing, exact numbers are unknown, and McNeil knows he is part of a minority. Since reaching out through social networking sites, he has only found one fellow stay-at-home father in the area, and their schedules have made it difficult to meet in person.
"So many people associate the ones being left behind with women or wives," Kara said. "However, there are strong men, like my husband, who are being left behind. I think people need to realize that."
Dee keeps himself and their daughters busy with activities and play dates while juggling homework and chores. Their days are anything but relaxing -- to the point where sometimes his daughters have to remind him of their daily agenda, he laughed.
"We kind of have our schedule down, but it changes everyday," he said. "They know it better than I do sometimes."
Dee is using his Post 9/11 GI Bill toward earning a bachelor's degree in accounting and plans to enroll in ROTC. He also teaches indoor cycling twice a week at Wilson Sports and Fitness Center and has all three girls enrolled in gymnastics.
Of all the things on his "to do" list, Dee said he most dreads laundry and grocery shopping, but half jokingly said the mere thought of Kara picking them back up when she returns is what gets him through.
"We always try to find the silly in the serious, so he complains about the cooking and laundry he has to do, and then tells me he can't wait until I get back to resume my duties so that he will never have to cook or do laundry ever again," Kara said.
He always makes time for his wife, ensuring the Family interacts daily via Skype.
"He goes out of his way, even with his busy schedule, to connect with me while we are miles apart," she said.
Although Dee's goal is to return to active duty, he realizes there is a possibility his plan won't pan out. Still he remains confident and proud to have joined the ranks of both Soldier and stay-at-home dad.
"Even though it's hard, you just have to keep a positive outlook and know that everything is for the greater good," he said.