I came across this story today about a military father is able to connect with his daughter using pre-recorded videos of himself reading stories for his little girl. It reminded me of my promise to explore this issue in the Daddies Away! feature here at 8BD. I didn’t really have an immediate chance to begin writing this feature right away since I’ve been gone, ironically because of difficulties in getting connected with internet. Also, some of the other mainstream methods of communication that are sparse or simply lacking in Afghanistan.
It touched my heart to watch this daddy reading to his daughter, and it obviously made me think about my own weirdos back home. I’ve finally been able to be regularly in touch with them, but there are still times when connecting is troublesome. It becomes really important to be able to find a variety of means of communication, so you can stay in good contact with your children while away.
I’ve prepared a list of different methods of communication, direct and indirect, that are viable whether you are deployed 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world, or just taking a weekend trip to the mid-west on business to review the new Chevy Traverse. You can use any of these methods to stay in touch. Check it out after the jump…
1. The obvious option – Skype/FaceTime
This is pretty much the standard these days for deployed soldiers who want to communicate with back home. If internet isn’t available in quarters, there are usually morale centers where soldiers can use Skype to call home with video chat. Mac users should probably plunk down the $0.99 for the FaceTime for Mac app for two reasons: 1) FaceTime is a superior video chat interface anyway, and 2) There is a possible software vulnerability to a trojan virus that listens to your audio feed when using Skype on Mac systems (don’t worry, the link doesn’t necessarily download the virus to your computer). One edge that Skype does have on FaceTime is the ability to call regular phone numbers using the Skype interface. You can also set up a number for your family to call, which will then connect with you at your laptop. You can also view your Facebook on Skype. FaceTime left these features out, probably because the app was designed to be used with iPhone 4, and you can access your phone and Facebook just as easily on your iPhone as you could by using FaceTime.
Almost as obvious as using Skype or FaceTime is just getting on the telephone to call. You can get relatively cheap telephone time right now in Iraq and Afghanistan (between four and eight cents a minute). You can use the morale center SPAWARE phones, or buy a cell phone that runs on the local infrastructure. You can also usually call your rear detachment back in the states and ask to be connected for a “morale call.” The operator on the other side will dial a number in the states for you, and your call won’t cost a nickel…or a dime…or a quarter for that matter. Calling is cool simply because it’s a live connection, it’s cheap, and it’s available pretty much everywhere, even when the internet service fails or goes down for maintenance.
3. Record your voice or make a video
This is what you’ll see the deployed airman I mentioned at the beginning of this article doing for his little girl. He’s made a video of himself reading a story so his daughter can watch it whenever she wants. I did something similar for my little weirdos before I left for Afghanistan, except I read stories onto a cassette tape (remember those? Of course you do!) so that my kids don’t have to dork around with CDs, or MP3 players, even though you should consider those options if your kids aren’t as destructive as mine are. I read stories from some of my favorite books, and from some of their favorites. It might also pay off to read them something that you find particularly meaningful that you both like. I find a lot of Dr. Seuss stories play on multiple levels of meaning, and can include some cool messages too.
4. Exchange mementos
I’m actually taking a page out of Sesame Street’s Talk/Listen/Connect video (which I’ll review later), in which is depicted a scenario where Elmo’s dad has to go away for “a lot of days” to “go help some people.” In the video, Elmo’s dad lends Elmo his favorite thing (a trumpet), and Elmo offers his (a toy broomstick pony). This not only gives monster and son something to have with them that reminds them of each other, but also gives them a touch point that they talk about on the phone while they are separated. Alternatively, you can leave behind a special gift that reminds your child of you, like the Operation Give a Hug doll. Or you can leave some kind of countdown memento behind, like a chain of paper links that your kiddos can cut links from each day, or a jar or candy hugs and kisses, like this clever dad did.