merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

April 23, 2013

the kid

  It's difficult to think back to my life as a child clearly.  I'm sure we all can attest to that, right?  Images, feelings, impressions are scattered in between very few sharp and vivid recollections.  No matter, as for me there's an overwhelming sense of satisfaction with my childhood even though my father was out to sea for months at a time throughout it.  So, I wanted to share a bit of that experience with you this week (thought it might be useful), especially for those of you with children or even contemplating it.

     By the time Big Daddy Mitchell came into the picture, I was 5 years old and extremely happy with the idea that my mother and I were living alone, that I had her all to myself.  As mentioned in previous posts, she was very independent and was naturally teaching me to be so by her example.  So it seemed a perfect fit for us that she would marry but that I wouldn't have to see him all of the time.  And so it went for a little while, until the creep started to grow on me and I actually started to concern myself with his comings and goings.  Darn feelings.
     What pulled me in initially were the tiny gifts he'd bring me from his latest travels...I was a child, sue me.  He had this over the shoulder carry on bag, navy blue with white piping edges, and Delta written on both sides.  My eyes would instantly lock onto it as he got off the plane as I just knew he'd have some trinket, some piece of a far away land tucked safely inside of that bag and I couldn't wait to see it.  I always asked to carry it and would spend the car ride home, most times, with it sitting perfectly still on my lap so careful not to jostle what could be a delicate piece of New Zealand or France.  Postcards, figurines, cloth, pens, and hats were only a few of the many wonderful items he gave to me, really precious memories, I've even kept some of the more special gifts to this day.


    What finally sucked me in and won me over to his side was the endless well of stories.  Each trip brought another tale from Spain, Japan, Australia, Mexico, you get the picture, right?  Hearing him talk about a man he met from Cairo, or walking the streets in Singapore lit a fire in me, filling me with a perpetual curiosity that wasn't fully satisfied until I grew older and started traveling myself.  I completely credit Big Daddy Mitchell for infecting me with the travel bug.

       Yes, he missed many of my
birthdays, dance recitals, 
school plays, holidays, he even missed my high school graduation, but he was there for a lot of really important things, too.  Things like taking me to the dentist then buying me a bag of Skittles to soften the misery of a teeth cleaning.  Or making pizzas from scratch for a ridiculous amount of teenage girls at my very first sleepover.  Seeing me off for my very first prom and telling me I looked just like a model.  Cheering me on as I won runner up in the local free throw contest at the age of 10.  And flying down to San Antonio with my mother to watch me graduate from basic training.  Honestly, I only remember the events he was there for, not the ones he missed and that's what I really hope you take away from this.
      Up until a few months ago, I've always been puzzled as to why there weren't more tears or more whining about his absences.  Then Lindsey (Staying Afloat) posted a comment on this site that kind of slapped me in the face, really woke me up as to the reasons my childhood wasn't affected by Big Daddy Mitchell's unconventional work schedule.  She was responding to a comment from another mariner spouse, someone who's struggling a bit to balance out life for herself and her children while he's gone, and even when he comes home.  Lindsey wrote a really well-articulated post along with some wonderful advice for the fairly new mariner wife, then she remarked on her own daughter's attitude towards this whole way of life, "...if I'm sad or frustrated, she will be, too."


      I realized then just how many cues I had taken from my mother about Merchant Mariner Land.  Though I'm sure she had her private meltdowns occasionally, I never saw them.  I have no memory of my mother complaining, weeping, screaming, depressed, whatever about his being away, so I assumed there was nothing wrong with it as well.  This was just the way our life was, this was our normal, and "our normal" meant any number of positive things.  Having our own life, following our own interests, having and keeping a schedule that had nothing to do with him so the transitions were 100% easier, and relying on ourselves to get things done; she demonstrated daily there wasn't anything I couldn't do, what a valuable lesson that has served me well into my adulthood and well into marriage with a merchant mariner.
      I would never presume to tell any of you how to raise your children in this life (especially since I don't have any of my own yet), I just wanted to offer up some proof that kids can be extremely flexible and manage really well in this life with a little bit of guidance.  I've known so many merchant mariner kids who were not adversely affected by the job their mom or dad did and I believe it's due to a prevailing theme running throughout the families living in Merchant Mariner Land...'this is our life...the end.'

      And it certainly was with us.  I'm not saying it wasn't difficult at times, of course it was, but knowing that both of my parents were onboard and okay with it made it so much easier for me to adjust to his absences and to really appreciate the time that he could be with us.  It certainly made me see and understand life in a different that is short, but filled with so many sweet moments, like Skittles after a visit to the dentist.

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. Great post! We don't have little kids together, my son was in college before my captain took a job that kept him away for such a long time, before that he worked in the local harbor and hardly ever had a long assignment. I don't know if I could do it with little ones, it would be very hard. The worst thing he's missed (other than birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) was my son's Phd commencement from Yale last year. We had a real talk about it, all of us, but hubs was scheduled to go on a giant assignment to Singapore, Korea, and Russia. It was horrible missing that special day, I think he still feels bad about it, and I think my son was very understanding but that's a once in a lifetime event. I travelled back to CT with my son's biodad and we were there, but something was definitely missing. That's the one thing I'm still really upset about and regret a lot.

    1. It's definitely a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but I think some of those difficulties prepared me for life at an earlier age. Don't know if that was good or bad, but I'll take it!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! You hit the nail on the head. As a merchant marine wife and mother of two, this is the example I led my children by. They never saw my sadness when he left. They never saw the anger when the washing machine broke the minute he boarded the ship for his next tour. They never saw the frustration when my mariner was delayed coming home for his vacation. I was a stay-at-home mom because I believed having one parent gone half of your life was enough. When dad wasn't home for the 'donuts for dad' breakfast at school...guess who was the only mom in the classroom that morning? Our children are 25 and 20 now. They were raised with the attitude that this was 'normal' for us and they didn't give it a second thought. I was paid a huge compliment from my son a couple of years ago. He told me, "You've been the mom and the dad. When dad couldn't be at an event, you were there." It meant a lot to me that he noticed.

    1. Thank you, HisMermaid! And thank you for posting, more people need to hear those types of things from someone who's been there and made it through! I think the best part is that your children realized just how significant you were in their upbringing, it's beautiful that they recognize that. Reading that made me think of the two or three times I gave my mom a Father's Day card. I'd forgotten that, thanks for reminding me!