Male Military Spouses: Increasingly Common Yet Still Invisible

military spouses

"It's a He!" Military Spouse magazine declared on its May cover, when it named Jeremy Hilton (pictured above) its "Military Spouse of the Year" -- the first man to ever win the distinction. And while husbands may not come to mind when you're flipping through the pink-tinged pages of Military Spouse, or browsing the Army Wife Network, there are droves of them out there.

Department of Defense numbers show women as making up 14.5 percent of the active duty military in 2011 -- up from 1.4 percent in 1970. That data showed 46 percent of those 207,000 women as married, and 48 percent of their partners as also being active duty members of the military. That translates to roughly 51,000 civilian spouses of the active duty female force, and rising.

Most of the issues facing military spouses are the same no matter their chromosomes: extended periods of separation; raising children alone for long stretches; pursuing their own career when they're up and moving every few years; not knowing where their partner is, or what they're doing, or if they're in danger.

But the vast majority of organizations, committees and resources catering to military spouses have a specifically female audience in mind. Military spouse blog SpouseBuzz.com recently ran the story "What NOT to Wear to a Military Homecoming," and their advice to avoid stilettos, visible thongs, butt-skimming dresses, prom dresses or wedding dresses was likely little help to Hilton.

"There are a bajillion programs out there for your typical female spouse," Hilton told AOL Jobs. "There's almost nothing -- very, very little -- for male military spouses."

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Many male military spouses feel alienated from the female dominated spouses' clubs (sometimes just wives' clubs), and struggle to find a community that knows what they're going through. There's also the gender reversal to adjust to, and while the idea of the stay-at-home father is becoming more accepted, it's all the harder when that man's wife has such a traditionally masculine job.

Wayne Perry, who's been a military spouse for 27 months, and has cared for their rambunctious toddler while his wife was gone for 19 of them, says that he feels uncomfortable calling up the female spouses on base and asking them over for private playdates. "You can't really call up a soldier either," he says, "and ask if they want to play blocks with you."


Finding Support As The Supporter

Sending a partner off to war and staying home with the kids is always hard. But doing so as a man can complicate it more. "It can be emasculating to know that his wife is a warrior, and he's a poopy-wiper," says Perry. "You stay home all day, and you're wiping butts and noses, and going out on playdates, and braiding hair, and your wife is out there blowing things up and shooting big ol' guns."

It's unclear exactly why, but the divorce rate among female military personnel is more than twice as high as for their male counterparts, and higher than that of female civilians -- even though for men the divorce rate is lower in the military than outside it.

Chris Pape has been with his wife ever since she just graduated her college ROTC program in 2000, and never felt the need to reach out to other military spouses. "I'm such a fiercely independent person. My wife did her thing, I did my thing. I didn't really embrace the military as a lifestyle."

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But then they had to move last year from Arkansas to South Carolina, and Pape, who shut down his video production business after the last move from Colorado, wasn't able to find a job. He wanted support and community, but couldn't find anything out there for someone like him.

He picked up a military base guide for spouses, and "it's all pink -- the font, it's pink and white -- and the whole marketing campaign was a woman mopping the floor and holding a baby, saying, 'You can do it too,' " he says. "And it's like, 'OK, I'm not going to use that resource.' "


No Tea At The Commander's House

So Pape decided to start his own. He poured his life savings into making a website, primarily a collection of videos of male military spouses talking about their experiences and giving advice. MachoSpouse.com launched in February.

"What I'm hoping to do, and what I hope it accomplishes, is a conduit for men to come together and realize that they're not alone," he says. Pape's been traveling around the country interviewing other men, and says "they're just happy to know I exist." He gets thank-you emails from other men in his position, telling him that they stayed up to 3 a.m. watching the videos on his site.

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"The male military spouse, we are kind of a new group," Pape says. "But we're growing."

Perry is also trying to help male military spouses know of each other's existence, but doesn't think creating a website is the way to do it. "Guys aren't going to read how-to books. Guys aren't going to watch how-to videos," he says. "We don't read directions."

He thought male spouses might benefit from simply getting together sometimes and doing manly things. So he co-founded MANning the Homefront, which over the last year has organized meals and activities, like baseball games, paintball and dirt-track auto racing, for the male spouses at Fort Riley, Kansas. In early August he launched the idea at seven other locations.

Hilton attended one of the MANning the Homefront get-togethers. "We all just went to the pub. It was just me and two other guys -- but that's how things get started in this world," he says. "We're trying to get needs that we can't by having tea at the commander's house. We're not into that. A lot of the women aren't into that."

With the help of the military support nonprofit, Not Alone, Perry is now helping to organize the first all-male spouse retreat for early next year.


Making A Mission Out Of Spousehood

While many men benefit from being more connected to the military spouse community, Hilton believes that the community also benefits from the men.

Hilton was in the U.S. Navy for eight years, before his daughter was born with brain damage. Because his deployments were more frequent and longer than his wife's, they decided that he would give up his military career and care for their child full-time.

But Hilton is mission-oriented, and soon noticed a lot of holes in the way the military handles its members' special-needs children. Thanks to knowledge that he gained from his own military experience, he managed to push through a lot of changes in a few short years, including a reform of the Air Force Exceptional Family Member Program and the creation of a new Military Exceptional Family Member Panel. Now he's advocating for the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act, and in June testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.

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"My background is in nuclear engineering, kind of a nerdy background, very by-the-book.... So I got in the weeds there and was able to solve a problem that no one else had," he says. "It's taken both sets of us, male and female. It's important to have diversity of thought."

And sometimes the issues facing female and male military spouses are different. In response to SpouseBuzz's post on what not to wear to a military homecoming, Perry wrote his own version: "What Should a MANspouse Wear for Military Homecoming?"

His list of "no's" includes wife-beaters, 1980s basketball shorts, anything that makes reference to the military branch the you may have served in -- if it's different from your wife's -- and muscle tees.

"Even if you are ripped and look like a PT stud, you will still look like a wimp when in a room full of dudes in combat fatigues," he writes. "Heck, your wife in her uniform will look tougher than you."



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Ballyhoo

You can follow Jeremy and his writing at Military Spouse magazine's web site: www.baseguide.com as well as in the print or digital version. He also writes now for Huffington Post. The Facebook page is www.facebook.com/militaryspousemagazine.

September 20 2012 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ballyhoo

You can follow Jeremy and his writing at Military Spouse magazine's web site: www.baseguide.com as well as in the print or digital version. He also writes now for Huffington Post. The Facebook page is www.facebook.com/militaryspousemsagazine.

September 20 2012 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vjham

My wife was a 03 in 1982. The OWC voted before we got to one army fort more votes agin than for.So I was told to go hide but I did not. I Iooked like Z Z TOPP. My wife did 34 years and retired as an 06.I did my time in hell Viet Nam 1967-1971. The army was easy. JIM

September 19 2012 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
supermolar

The military is ,of necessity, a macho type organization and is not going to spend a lot of time and effort on males who leave the macho stuff to their female spouses.

September 19 2012 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to supermolar's comment
Bruce

I thought that in this day and age of "gender equality" that is such a big deal in our presidential debates and elsewhere, that there would have been a government program to deal with this problem long ago. But as we all know the government can't seem to do anything right. They may muddle through and in the end seem to help a bit, but the cost is staggering and the Snafu’s are many. This is why our federal government should be much smaller and perhaps our state governments also. People should deal with their local problems and incidences and use the state and federal government as a very last resort. Instead it is the other way around. Anything that’s a bit large in managing we look to the government to deal with when we should be looking to more private business arrangements.

September 19 2012 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
moeelmore

When we moved to Kirtland AFB my wife was a Major in the AF. I was civilian. I was not informed of anything, I was not invited to anything, basically they had no idea of what category I fit or how to deal with me. I did not let it bother me, I am a grown man and can deal with life on its own merits. At least I did not have to worry about whether to wear white gloves to a commanders tea or to send anything to a bake sale!

I hope its better now.

September 19 2012 at 4:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
execareers

Thanks to AOL for their Homepage for Heroes.
FYI, my new book: Blue Collar Resumes, 2nd Ed., contains a special section for Vets returning to the workforce.
I also perform free resume reviews and feedback for Vets.
The job market is slowly turning around; hang in there, and market your skills and abilities!

September 19 2012 at 3:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lklex

One thing male military spouses have less to worry about than female military spouses is their spouse coming home dead or seriously wounded. Still, in 2012, it is still overwhelmingly our male soldiers who are grievously injured or killed. I'm all for gender equity -- both for military spouses and for those serving. Unfortunately, sexism, like racism, has very deep roots.

September 19 2012 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
scoutmaster350

They are right about the lack of resources specifically for male spouses. You have to work a bit more to make them fit your situation. I was a military spouse and stay-at-home dad for twelve years starting in 1995. My wife retired in 2007. Even then I found more acceptance in military circles than in the civilian. Unfortunately many guys don't have the self-confidence to handle it, thus the higher divorce rate.

September 19 2012 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mcmartinbunch

no, it is because men refuse to stick around once the military brainwashing takes place. Female spouses are more likely to put up with the arrogance and hatred that goes along with serving in the military for any length of time. I have seen it over and over.

September 19 2012 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Catalina-Hime

Sadly the reason why the divorce rate is higher for female military with civilian husbands is because our jobs and importance hurts the male ego. Even sadder is that some of the husbands become abusive to feel more like a man. I have a few neighbors withe that problem.

September 19 2012 at 11:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Catalina-Hime's comment
Bruce

I don't know about that, there's plenty of spousal abuse on the outside and it has nothing to do with military service. It may seem more noticeable because of the military community, but it's just as rampant outside. Personally I think is has to do with the incorrect raising of the child to begin with. Somewhere, sometime, something has been missed or taken away or not dealt with in a proper manner. As the child grows up they have this low self esteem issue, and many times under stress, take it out on their spouse. Even in some of the better couples there are difficult arguments and disagreements that are hard to work through. With many of our untrained and undisciplined children, who are now adults, it gets even worse. People jump into marriage very quickly and then later find out that that other person has some big flaws or they find that they themselves have them. Military discipline is not always the best answer for the untrained young man or woman, though many may have benefited somewhat from it and worked through the problems afterwards. Now we have many coming home to no jobs and causing even more anxiety. We can look forward to many of these problems increasing over the next few years.

September 19 2012 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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