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"Most of all I try to make the memories that I never had with my own father"

Matt, one of our Veterans Wellbeing Advisor's from Positive Minds shares what Father's Day means to him as a military veteran.

What does Father’s Day mean to me? For me Father’s Day has always been an emotive subject. Growing up, being the son of a veteran, I never really knew my biological father, my father left when I was less than 5 years old, I spent time in and out of refuges with my mother and siblings. Following my return from my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 I decided to try and find him.

On our first meeting it was easy to see that that he was suffering from unresolved mental health issues from his own service and from his experiences in Northern Ireland in the early 70s. 

I could see how untreated, his spiraling decent and the lack of understanding and treatment within the Military at the time had led to this withered old man, smelling of cheap cider, whisky and stale tobacco with his life of regrets sat before me.

The actions and attitudes of my father and subsequent split from my mother would have been treated very differently today. In a way veterans mental health has shaped my life. Though I don’t have a relationship with my father, I have always had an awareness that I never want to end up like him.

During my own 24 years of service I like many others have had plenty of ups and downs when it comes to relationships. 

Having family and raising children in the military is not easy.

Due to the very nature of Military life, the needs of the service often must come before all else.

My own children; I got married when I was 19 years old, I had just returned from my second tour of duty. Three years later my first son was born (In 2000). As you can imagine the world changed in September 2001 for all of us, the following years saw a step change in operational tempo. I spent a lot more time away, my relationship with his mother didn't survive the pressure.

I tried my hardest to maintain a relationship with my son, I've never wanted to repeat the mistakes of my father so I would drive over 600 miles in a weekend just to spend time with him. This was a very painful time in my life, I'd met a new partner when I returned from a tour of Iraq in 2005. She had a son the same age as my own. I stepped up and was there for him, filling the gap that his own father had left. For several years as the boys grew up, we would spend lots of time together. My new partner became pregnant, and gave birth to my youngest son, days before I had to deploy on my second tour of Afghanistan. Ultimately animosity between me and the mother of my oldest son caused a break down with the relationship and he took the decision not to see me anymore.

During that second deployment to Afghanistan I was badly wounded.

I spent a lot of time dealing with this, physical and mental injuries took its toll on the relationship I threw myself back into my work and following a third deployment to Afghanistan this relationship too ended.

I have always been very conscious of my relationship with my own father, the mistakes he had made and how it impacted, affecting my life growing up. I was determined that my sons would have a father and deserved better. I would do whatever it took to spend quality time with them and to make the most of the time we do spend together.

My own mental health had suffered through my service, my experiences and the operations I have deployed on, it's not easy being a soldier or a combat medic.

How can you just turn that off when you come home? It's not easy, as for many others Service has left a trail of broken relationships.

I can't change that, but what I can do is make the time I do have with my children special. 

I organise camping trips, museum visits any activities that we can do together. I still try to do all of those things that a father should do. I take interest in my boys hobbies, teach them how to fix their bike, most of all I try to make the memories that I never had with my own father. For me it is the only way to break the cycle.

My oldest son is now turning 20, we have a better relationship now than we ever had. He makes me proud every day, he carries his own mental health burdens. And for that I will be eternally regretful.

Our best is all we can do. Sometimes my youngest Son will get upset with me because he asks me questions and tries to talk to me…. But I’m not there, I’m not present, try as hard as I might, I can’t always be there.

Though I may be physically standing next to him, in my mind I’m still kneeling in a far-off poppy field, the sound of bullets cracking past, the relentless Afghan sun beating down and all I can smell is blood and dust.

Matt Boyle, Veterans Wellbeing Advisor, Positive Minds

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