By Lesley Maceyak, Fort Lee Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. – At the end of each duty day, Sgt. 1st Class David Franklin makes a conscious effort to turn off his hard-charging noncommissioned officer demeanor and tune in to the role of loving and caring father.
“I don’t think I have the luxury of having a bad day and bringing that attitude home with me,” he said while his 4-year-old son David Jr., happily played nearby. “It’s important for us to have a good relationship. I can’t be the type of dad who’s all hard and tough on the kids. His future is in my hands, and I’m going to make sure he’s happy.”
Welcome to the world of single parenting – an aspect of military family life that is garnering a lot more attention at Fort Lee these days. Acting on recommendations made at the 2015 Army Family Action Plan Conference, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate here is forming a Single Parent Assistance Network to give voice to the issues faced by solitary moms and dads. Franklin was among the attendees at the initial meeting in December. The next SPAN session is set for Feb. 25, noon – 1 p.m., in the Family Advocacy Conference Room, building 9023, Mahone Avenue.
Franklin is well-versed in the type of issues that arise from being a single parent, especially while serving in the military.
“One of the things that stands out in my mind about becoming a single parent is the financial hardships I’ve experienced while trying to make sure my kids were taken care of,” said Franklin, a Combined Arms Support Command Soldier who serves as the installation Equal Opportunity Advisor. “I didn’t want to tell anybody about it at first. As a sergeant first class in the Army, I believed it was my problem; I shouldn’t need anyone’s help. I also was convinced I wouldn’t qualify for assistance because of my rank.”
He decided to confide in his supervisor who took the time to listen and point him in the right direction.
“My supervisor and my co-workers have really been helpful,” he noted. “I have been open with my situation – I wanted them to understand what I was dealing with and not to feel sorry for me. I felt they should know about my circumstances if something should happen to me financially.”
One of the avenues he used was the financial management program at Army Community Service. After a financial specialist assessed his budget, they submitted him for a hardship waiver with the garrison to reduce his childcare rates for a short period of time. Additionally, the staff helped him work on getting financially stable.
“Seek out help and utilize every resource available,” Franklin advised. “Just don’t abuse it. Get back on your feet and then attempt to stay standing.”
Franklin – whose father was also in the Army – said being raised with military core values made his path to join the Army easy.
“Watching my dad and always being around the military culture influenced my decision to be in the Army,” he said. “I love the military community.”
Early on, though, Franklin learned a military lifestyle was hard on relationships. Marrying too young and frequent deployments ended his four-year marriage, but also gave him a daughter, Danet, who is now 15 and lives in Atlanta, Ga., with her mother.
In 2012, Franklin had a son – David Jr. – with a girlfriend and, after the break-up, he was awarded full custody.
Franklin said both of his children are brought up much differently than the way he was raised. He still instills values but likes to show a “softer side” to his kids.
“When I was raised, my parents worked a lot so I didn’t get what I give my kids now,” he said. “You always want to give better that what you had. I know my parents loved me but I show affection more openly to my kids no matter what their age.
“People see me interact with my son, and are amazed. They think I’m doing a great job, considering I’m a male in the military,” he continued. “My kids still need tough love, but I give them what’s needed … and that is plenty of nurturing love. I will not stop giving hugs and kisses even to my 15-year-old.”
Having family time with his children is important, said Franklin. He would rather spend his time off with his kids instead of taking an expensive vacation, which costs money.
“We are not always going to be around, but to spend the time I can with them now is everything,” he said.
He juggles trips to and from child care. The evening chores include cooking, cleaning, bath time and bedtime stories. Free time is a luxury he fills with online college courses. His social life is limited, and the gym is really his only outlet. He uses an off-post gym for its child services while working out.
The life of Franklin is busy at work and at home, and he said he continuously seeks out opportunities to do more for his family. That is why he attended the single-parent forum in hopes of connecting with other single parents who are going through the same thing.
The forum was in December and the feedback included creating a SPAN with these objectives:
• A meet-and-greet monthly or bi-monthly for single parents
• Opportunities for big brother or big sister
• A playgroup on the weekend, possibly at the playground for the younger children
• A safe location to meet with free or low-cost childcare
• A social group site
“Our goal with SPAN is to support readiness and to build healthy military families,” said LaKetia D. Jones, Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program specialist. “This program – and all Army Community Service programs – are available to all service members, retirees and their family members.
The consensus of the group was to have it be parent-ran, but to have an “advisor,” who would likely come from the Family Advocacy Team.
“I would definitely like to be a part of the network and provide insight from a single dad perspective,” Franklin noted. “I’m looking forward to it.”