Armor Down/Daddy Up! Salutes Veterans In Their Dual “Call To Arms”
A SPECIAL VETERANS DAY POST
By Ben King & Allan Shedlin, co-creators and facilitators, Armor Down/Daddy Up!
Veterans Day, like Memorial Day, began under a different name. On November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, it was designated as “Armistice Day.” It became an annual observance by act of Congress in 1926. In 1938, the day became a national holiday. And finally, in 1954, the name “Armistice” was dropped to officially create Veterans Day, a salute to American veterans of all wars.
It’s a fine idea to designate an annual day to honor our veterans, especially to give thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime. It’s even more important to recognize that veterans are veterans every day, not just on “Veterans Day.”
This is, of course, also true that fathers are fathers every day, not just on “Father’s Day.” And mothers are mothers every day, not just on “Mother’s Day.” The moment you assume the title soldier (or Marine, sailor, airman, or Coast Guardsman) and the title father, your identity is changed instantly and forever. And just as being a soldier is more than just who you are, it’s something you do; being a dad is more than just who you are, it’s also something you do.
When you become a soldier, Marine, sailor, airman, or Coast Guardsman, you choose to respond to a “call to arms” in a military sense. Likewise, when you become a father, you have an opportunity to answer a different kind of call to arms. How these two identities relate to each other is rarely considered, even though they may be inextricably entwined. During military training, you are encouraged to squelch your emotions when making key decisions. Squelching your emotions as a father, however, may not serve you well.
We created the Armor Down/Daddy Up!™ (AD/DU!) program to explore and examine how these two roles relate to, inform, and influence each other; how armoring down after deployment is key to daddying up, and how daddying up can facilitate armoring down. Both of us have experienced the challenges of parenting and the joys and rewards when parenting is satisfying. We share the conviction that almost everybody can become the parent they want to be if they are committed to trying.
Becoming a parent and becoming a military service member are perhaps the two most identity-defining and life-altering moments in AD/DU! participants’ lives, so the program is designed to guide veterans in armoring down from their military experiences and teach them specific parenting skills to enable them to become the parents they want to be. The ultimate goal of the AD/DU! program is to help veterans and active-duty warriors re-enter their families in the most productive and rewarding ways possible.
There is little doubt and much research to support that the experiences of deployment have a profound and lasting impact on the abilities and skills needed for veterans to become the parents they want and need to be. AD/DU! builds upon the idea that when parenting is satisfying it can help mitigate the negative consequences often associated with the realities of deployment and its aftermath.
Popular traditional and social media often depict the heartwarming, joyful reunions of returning veterans surprising their children and loved ones. But that's Day #1. Day #2 and the days that follow are rarely given the same attention.
For so many veterans, their physical return home from combat precedes their psychological and emotional return. The traumatic baggage that accompanies them home can weigh heavily on their relationships for years to come. The days/daze that follow/s re-entry are often influenced by what occurs when the consequences of deployment come face-to-face with the everyday realities and demands of parenting.
By building upon the resilience the veterans may have developed during their military experience, the AD/DU! program seeks to help them develop positive coping skills. Referring to research from the University of California-Irvine's Dr. Raymond Novaco, the program reminds them that we all have problems that need to be solved rather than seeing them as threats that require an attack.
And because research shows that one of those coping skills is affiliation, AD/DU! builds in opportunities for warrior dads to create a support group – a “Band of Warrior Dads” – with others who are experiencing similar adjustments and challenges.
AD/DU! has developed and field-tested the Daddying Qualities Worksheet™ for fathers and their children. The worksheet, adapted from the Bricklin Perceptual Scales model of parental skills and supplemented by Allan's qualitative daddying research with fathers, grandfathers, and children/youth from 20 countries, assists fathers and their children in identifying specific qualities necessary to help kids feel safe, loved, and happy.
Once the warrior parents and kids have determined which skills and competencies are most important to them, they can use the worksheet as a tool to develop daddying plans. Of course, by comparing and discussing how the parents and kids rank the importance of these qualities, they gain a broader and deeper understanding of each other’s parenting priorities and needs.
In addition to the Daddying Qualities Worksheet, AD/DU! uses other print materials and videos to explore the following areas:
The practice and science of mindfulness
Creating a “Daddying North (Lode)Star”
Aspects of military training and experiences that enhance and/or interfere with parenting
Which objects, people, and/or practices bring comfort to program participants
How to reclaim individual resilience
Learning basic parenting axioms and skills
Awareness and naming of specific feelings and emotions and ways to express and deal productively with them
Creating a “Band of Warrior Dads.”
Since we began the AD/DU! program more than a year ago and gained valuable experience working with the Wounded Warriors Project, we have also developed an Armor Down/Mommy Up! program for veteran and active duty mothers. Soon we will adapt a version for other frontline workers and first responders, who face similar parenting challenges after enduring traumatic conditions in their daily public service.
Veterans Day 2020 occurs during perhaps the most critical time in our nation’s history. For those who have and continue to serve our country, on the front lines and as first responders, the crisis can amplify past stresses and challenges faced. Social/physical distancing can be especially stressful for those already feeling isolated and alone. So let us all use this moment of honoring our veterans to be sensitive to their needs and reach out to let them know how thankful and appreciative we are for their service, at home and abroad.
Ben King is a veteran and a proud daddy of two young daughters with a story to tell. He co-created and co-facilitates AD/DU! and is also a teacher, public speaker, and community organizer. Developing a yoga and mindfulness practice helped him adjust to civilian life after returning from war in Iraq, and he now uses mindfulness professionally to help other veterans thrive as civilians. Through his company Armor Down, Ben started Mindful Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery to help visitors mindfully honor the sacrifice of the fallen. He is a DCG DADvisor and consults for The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. His other clients include veteran service organizations, civilians, and schools. Ben has a master’s in Public Anthropology and left the military as an Army Sergeant and Psychological Operations Specialist.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Although Allan may not be a military veteran, he "enlisted" as a teacher of emotionally disturbed children and then served as a school principal in NYC. So, he considers himself a different kind of veteran, having trained as an educator alternating between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, and now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.