As a military “separations specialist”, Elaine Dumler, aka “The Flat Daddy Lady”, has been writing for military families and speaking at conferences and military installations since 2003. I am honored to have her as my guest here on Straight Talk Radio. Her favorite thing to do is to help prepare families for deployment and the reunion/reintegration process. She has presented readiness training at installations all over the United States and has provided training materials to thousands of military families. She is the author of best sellers, I’m Already Home…Again for families experiencing deployment and The Road Home to help with reunion and reintegration.
CHUCK: Hi, this is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and one of the things we really try to do on the show is have things that are particularly of interest to the folks that would be listening in and know that we’ve got variety and today is no exception. In fact, we have today a superstar, as far as I’m concerned. But let me start off this way.
Our daughter is married to an EOD tech and it took me a while to kind of get my arms around exactly what it was that this guy did. He said, “Well, I trained with the Navy Seals,” and I was all of a sudden like “Whoa, dude,” and of course, if you saw him, it makes me look really wimpy, that’s the best way to put it. But he said, “Well, just watch the movie The Hurt Locker, that’s what I do.” And I did and I was absolutely flabbergasted that people would put themselves in harm’s way to protect us and to provide this freedom.
I know on his first deployment, we got, second hand, a little flavor of what it’s like to be separated from your loved one by oceans, knowing that they’re in harm’s way and knowing that at times they’re out on missions and unable to talk and unable to communicate and that creates such stress for families.
So, today I’m really honored to have Elaine Dumler as my guest on the show. She is the author of three books and numerous, numerous articles. She is an expert as a military separations specialist, which I think is a fascinating term, and then is known as “The Flat Daddy Lady”, which I can almost hear a song to that. So, I really think it would be a great opportunity for us to spend some time talking, Elaine, about the books that you’ve written and the lessons that you have learned as a military spouse and someone who has been involved, from a family perspective, in knowing that your husband’s been deployed and you’re trying to figure out how to make this work when you’re so far separated. So, my guest Elaine Dumler, and thank you for joining me today. I’m so jazzed.
ELAINE: [laughs] Hi. I’m delighted. I’m jazzed, too, and I’m ready to roll.
CHUCK: Okay. So, take us back a little bit before the first book. Tell us what the background is that got you to become a separations specialist because I imagine you didn’t graduate high school and college and say, “I want to be a separations specialist.” [chuckles]
ELAINE: That would have been an interesting one. I could see it at the job fair, right now.
CHUCK: There you go, right.[Elaine and Chuck chuckle]
ELAINE: Actually, it started back before I even had anything to do with the military and I just want to make sure I clarify one thing, is that when I was– My husband was involved in the International Guard way back. Now, I’m going to date myself, because it was back from ’69 to ’75 and that is a very different time, different concept. The involvement as a military spouse, I have actually been more in touch and in contact in interviewing, having spoken to over 3,000 military spouses and families to compile the information I’ve put together, because it’s their best ideas that helped keep the families together, rather than if you asked me, “Oh, put together what you think would be great from what you remember.” You know, I’d have six or seven things, but when you speak to over 3,000 families, you can put together the ideas that have already been tried and true by families, that are tried and true by families throughout the years.
CHUCK: It’s interesting that you start with that, and I like the idea that it really is a composite of a lot of people’s experience because you said, “Well, I kind of date myself, because this was ’69 to ’75,” and I’m sitting there remembering ’69 to ’75 and thinking, wow, it was a different time. It was, you know, right in the midst of the Vietnam era, and the other side to it was the communication ability was far different then than certainly is today because, I mean, today you and I are talking via Skype, conducting a radio show, recording it via video and we think, in a sense, nothing of it. Yet, when you were coming along and the work that you have done up to this point really brings a great composite together.
ELAINE: It really does and honestly, Chuck, too, to put this in even closer perspective, when I started putting all of these ideas together and interviewing families, it began in November 2002. Now, if you think back, we didn’t begin the initial conflict that we had overseas until March of 2003. So, I was approached before that based on work I had done with, actually, business travelers, prison separations, other separations that kept people apart. Then they came and said, “We’re ready to work on family readiness programs and we like what you’re doing. Can you put together these ideas from families for us?” But at that time, Skype was not there.
ELAINE: And face time was not there. So, in fact, communications were such that when they would set up systems overseas, they didn’t even have communication tents and everything established and going much more at that time, too, so you got back to the basics. You remember letter writing?[Chuck laughs]
ELAINE: Back from, you know, Vietnam? When you would send letters and you numbered them all on the front, so that when eight of them arrived at the same time, they’d know what order to read them in. Well, letters and things like that became very relevant, because, to begin with, that’s what people had to rely on, and drawings from kids, and different things that were kind of back to the basics of what worked for families, that kept you in your head and your heart with each other. That turned out to be the big thing and that’s what we built on, what those ideas were that kept you in each other’s hearts for however long you were away on any type of temporary assignment.
CHUCK: Elaine, it’s interesting what you said and I think it’s important for our listeners. When we start to call and we say, “Well, you know, Elaine is a military separations specialist,” and we talk about the military background, the reality, however, is this applies to anyone who has issues of being separated from loved ones. I think most of the people that listen to the show on a regular basis know I had such an experience. It wasn’t military, it was because I made really stupid choices back in the ‘80s, which ended me in federal prison. And I will tell you, without any hesitation, the lifeline was the ability to receive a letter. I lived for mail call. Or the ability to place a phone call, albeit collect and albeit for three minutes, but the ability to stay in someone’s heart and be relevant is particularly important.
ELAINE: You so have hit on that because, actually, if I go back and come up with the one time that started this whole process of helping families to stay connected no matter how long or what situation brought them apart, was in the late ‘90s when I was sitting on the edge of a bed in a hotel room in San Antonio because I was on a business trip and my son was going to his Junior Prom that night.
CHUCK: Oh, wow.
ELAINE: I was devastated. I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there. I wasn’t a part of it. As we said, we didn’t have Skype, but my husband and son called me and opened the phone line, so at least I could listen as they described as Larry was tying his tie and as he was getting the flowers out of the refrigerator. I realized at that point it didn’t really matter if we were apart for two weeks or a year. If you miss something that’s that special in your family’s life, the hurt is the same, and that’s, I think, what really helped spark the fact that, man, these families are apart in really dire situations and we’ve got to keep them close, as close as possible.
CHUCK: Well, I would assume in the number of people that you’ve interviewed, and it’s a significant number–
CHUCK: You’ve had experience in talking with people who were successful at keeping each other in their hearts and others who found, because of physical separation and/or lack of communication, that the relationship dwindled.
ELAINE: Yes. Sadly, that is true, and I think as I found with– I also do a lot of speaking at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration conferences, pre-deployment briefings and I shared with families at that time, even as they’re heading out, that you have to understand that you can’t expect a relationship to just pick up where it left off after a yearlong or more separation if you don’t do things along the way to help make sure that stays stable. It just doesn’t make any sense that you can just waltz back in and have it pick up where it left off. I don’t care how long you’ve been married or how many deployments you’ve been through. That’s why we focused on the smaller things that just happened from it might be day to day, it might be month to month, whatever it might be, but it keeps you in touch in a small way of all the time. One of the best ones was a small alarm clock, like a little foldable alarm clock or picture frame, that had the ability to record 10 seconds of your voice. So, think about the fact if you woke your kids up every morning, and kind of shook them up in the morning and said, “Hey, time to get up,” this of thing, and then you were deployed. Well, why not record your voice that just for 10 seconds says, “Hey, this is Daddy. Welcome to your day. I hope everything goes great. Love you a lot,” and they can just push that button when they wake up in the morning. This works for anything that. It’s just that little thing.
CHUCK: It’s interesting, we’re pushing break, but it’s interesting to hear you say that, because when you were saying that I’d think, I bet there’s an app for that. Or if there isn’t Elaine could create the app for that.[Elaine laughs]
CHUCK: But, how totally cool it would be to know that when you are away, and I’ve experienced being away when I had two small children, that the ability to have had something where they could’ve pressed the button and heard something positive from Dad, saying “Hey, this is Dad. I miss you. I love you. You guys are great. Can’t wait to see you soon,” or whatever it is, whatever the message, that would be incredibly powerful.
ELAINE: And how about you–
CHUCK: My guest–
ELAINE: Oh sorry, I was just going to say how about you having that where it has your kids saying–
CHUCK: Oh, awesome.
ELAINE: “We love you, Daddy,” time for the day.
CHUCK: Yep, it would be absolutely awesome. My guest is Elaine Dumler. She is a military separations specialist, but she is so much more, in that she brings to the table a lot of great information. Her first book is I’m Already Home and then next I’m Already Home… Again and the last book The Road Home, and we’re going to talk about reunion and reintegration and how things go, in just a minute. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. Stick with us.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: Honored with CBS’s “7Everyday Hero” award for the establishing the “Free Flat Daddy®” program is my guest Elaine Dumler. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and we have been talking about being separated. While the focus has been military separation, because that’s something that certainly most listeners can get their head around, there’s also other forms of separation. Those of us that are speakers, we travel lots, we’re gone quite a bit or there are other circumstances. There’s a Prisoner’s Family Conference, it’s coming up in May, and it talks about the whole issue of being separated from an incarcerated loved one, spouse, husband, whomever it happens to be, and if there is a specialist, that is Elaine Dumler. She joins me today and tell me about the “Flat Daddy®” program.
ELAINE: [laughs] “Flat Daddy®” project began back in one of my interviews that I had in December 2002, one of the very first, and I was talking with Cindy. Now, Cindy’s husband had just deployed with the Army National Guard and at that time they went for a long time, so he was going for two years.
ELAINE: They had a daughter who just turned one. So, Cindy’s big fear was, she was stating to me, “I’m afraid that Sarah won’t know her dad when gets off the plane,” which is very viable. This is two years. She was going to be three.
CHUCK: Sure, sure.
ELAINE: So, she was talking about, “Well, I’ve got pictures and things I can show her,” but psychologists tell us that a small child cannot take a little picture and see that as a big person. They don’t make that mental transition. So, we decided, we kind of talked it out, and said, “How about we get a full-size photograph of him in the uniform he’ll be returning in,” and this is based on a shoulder measurement, so that we could get a full size. She did that, she mounted it to a foam core, like those science fair project boards.
ELAINE: Cut it out from the waist up, this was just from the waist up, and created a full-size from-the-waist-up Flat Daddy®. Now, I don’t know if the camera will see, but if you can pick this up, this is actually the very first Flat Daddy® [15:32]. Is that adorable?
CHUCK: Awww. How precious! That’s awesome!
CHUCK: Oh, my goodness. For those of you that can’t see, there is this wonderful picture of, I’m going to call him Flat Daddy®, on the foam core, with this little girl just hugging him. Oh, it is precious. I’m so happy we’ve got this on video.
ELAINE: I’m so glad, too, and the idea was that if she could lean him up in his chair at dinner, carried him into TV time after dinner and then leaned him up against the wall when she went to bed. Well, this was kind of “let him be in everyday part” and actually “let him be in photographs”. They had birthday parties, a wedding and they took him. He was in the photographs where he wouldn’t have been before. Well, the key was two years later, when he walked off that plane, Sarah was the only child in that waiting area that ran down the jet way and grabbed him around his legs because she knew who he was.
ELAINE: So, we kind of put together the concept that if people wanted to put a Flat Daddy® into the home of a family who needed this type of support, that we opened the lines for them to be able to do that and created a relationship with a printer who would put this together on vinyl for us so that they could withstand lots of hugging–
ELAINE: And worked with that. So far, free to the families, we’ve put them in over 11,000 military homes around the world.
CHUCK: Oh, my goodness. What an amazing story. That’s incredible, Elaine!
ELAINE: Yeah. That’s fine.
CHUCK: Oh, my goodness. So, from that simple idea, and you said, “I’ve interviewed 3,000 people,” and many ideas have come forth, but that one idea into 11,000 homes has to have made a significant difference, and I can now understand why you got the “Everyday Hero” award for that. That is so awesome!
ELAINE: It was amazing to do, and people send to me pictures and there’s a Flat Daddy® fan page that has some photographs that people send about their travels with Flat Daddy® at Universal Studio or Disney World and it’s really great.
CHUCK: Well, how totally awesome.
ELAINE: Thank you to the people who have helped do that. I give them the way to do it, they’ve been doing it. So…
CHUCK: Now, from the time that that started, and I think you said, and if I heard this correctly, that 2002/3?
ELAINE: 2. 2002. December 2002. Yep.
CHUCK: Okay. So, from that, let’s talk about some of the other ideas that have come forward. I know that you wrote a book I’m Already Home. In fact, by the way, for those of you that are sitting back, and I know you are wanting to say, “How do I get in touch with Elaine and what do I get and where do I buy her books?” and so forth, the website is imalrealdyhome.com, forget the little apostrophe thing.[Elaine laughs]
CHUCK: But imalreadyhome.com, just as it would spell, and you can contact Elaine. But give us a couple of other ideas that came out of some of those early interviews and how have they changed over time.
ELAINE: Well, I think some of the early ones that were things like, the best one is what is designed as hand drawings and it the one that’s used most often. This is where someone who was– Again, even a business trip, it was actually one of the people, women I talked to, said she’s actually started this because she was apart from her daughter for an eight-hour day at work and her daughter turned 12 and was copping an attitude about not wanting to be around much. [chuckles]
And so, they sat down one evening and traced their hands on a piece of regular paper, a copy paper, and then each one colored it in with the things that were important to them, their favorite colors, they put song notes in there. The daughter did a soccer ball because she was in soccer and then they exchanged the drawings. So, the mom took the daughter’s drawing and put it next to her computer at work, on the wall, and the daughter took the mom’s hand drawing, put it in a page protector and put it in her notebook at school. Of course so nobody could see it but her–
CHUCK: Of course.
ELAINE: Because she’s 12. [laughs] But when she found that she didn’t do well on a test or just she was feeling down, she could open that up and just put her hand on the drawing of her mom and she just felt like her mom was there. The same thing happened with her mom. It was just like, this is a connection and we had a lot of deployed parents doing that with their children before they left and they would carry these drawings in the pockets on the sides of their uniforms and they could pull them out at any time and if they just put their hand on that drawing, they felt that there was this connection that “I’m still here for you and I know you’re there for me and your support…”
So, that was one of my favorites, but we have had kids draw place mats that deployed parents have put right under their tables and [20:44] and have been able to eat off of. We taught people how to play games over– This was, again, before you play them over the Internet.
ELAINE: You could create boards for Battleship or something. When you talk to each other, you could make Battleship moves. They were really simple ideas, like the recording the 10 seconds of your voice. A dad, for a young child, reading their favorite story and recording it before he or she left, and then that it could be played at home, either a video or in audio files so you have the voice reading the stories.
But I think, to answer your second question, things have changed with the advent of technology. It now makes it so much easier to see people and to understand that when you text somebody, even more important than the words that you put down that I have heard, has the been the fact that I know that my loved one was alive and well when they typed those words, and I think that’s what made it different.
CHUCK: Wow. As you’re sitting here talking, I’m hearing this and, I mean, I’m just thinking about the hand experience and we need to talk about it, I do get this. We need to talk about technology, because certainly it has changed things, but there has to be something to be said for physically outlining a hand and having someone put what’s important to them on that hand so that they can connect that way. I’m not sure that’s something that technology can make happen–
CHUCK: The same as pulling it out of your pocket and knowing that somewhere, at a moment in time, someone literally traced that and took the time to draw that.
ELAINE: You’re absolutely right. When I do these interviews, and I still do them when I’m out speaking, and especially when I talk to the people who have returned, the one thing that they like more than anything else, I mean, they love being able to see and things like that, that’s, of course, is a handwritten letter, and here’s why. They said, “Not only is it very personal, I can reread it no matter where I am. I don’t have to be on a computer with an email. It is written in my loved one’s handwriting that is only theirs,” and so, there’s that connection there. Then there’s something else that I hadn’t really thought of until I started hearing it. There is a smell to that letter, whether it’s perfume, whether it’s, something that is just the personal smell of the individual who wrote it. That’s there too and you’re absolutely right; that’s what they like to get most. It surprises me every time [chuckles], sort of, because it’s so personal.
CHUCK: Yeah, it’s interesting when you say that. I was sitting here thinking, for those of you that are listening on the radio, I was telling Elaine before we actually got started, it’s good that she’s not in the same room as me.[Elaine chuckles]
CHUCK: I just spent time mowing the grass and I’m sure the smell is quite unique.[Elaine laughs]
CHUCK: But you are absolutely right, it’s interesting for those of us who are old enough, to have regularly gotten personal handwritten letters. There is absolutely a smell to a person’s home, to their surroundings that comes out and, sure, it absolutely touches the senses in a way that while technology is incredible and provides the immediacy and visual stimulation of Skype or FaceTime or whatever it happens to be, it doesn’t have quite the same tactile benefit that some of the other does.
ELAINE: It does. You’ll even have children that they will receive a T-shirt from a deployed service man or woman, who has worn it once and then they send it back, and the child uses it as a pillow case.
CHUCK: Right. I can see that.
ELAINE: It’s not overfull, but it’s enough.
ELAINE: This is what Mom or Dad smells like in it that sends them off to sleep.
CHUCK: Wow. This has been an amazing conversation thus far. We’re pushing on a break. My guest is Elaine Dumler. She [chuckles] is called “The Flat Daddy® Lady”.[Elaine chuckles]
CHUCK: Told an incredible story, which absolutely is heart-touching and the picture says it all. She has been presented with 22 special challenge coins, including President George Bush’s Commander in Chief coin, which is incredible. Your service to the military is awesome. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio and we will be back in just a moment.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: Featured in The Ladies’ Home Journal, the New York Times and over 80 publications, including six foreign languages, my guest is Elaine Dumler. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. She is known as “The Flat Daddy® Lady”. She is a separations specialist for the military, but as much as that, she is a separations specialist for any of us, who for whatever life experience happens to be separated from loved ones and yet would want to be there and keep the relationship alive. Elaine, you wrote a book, your first book, called I’m Already Home. Tell us about your book.
ELAINE: Well, the book was a compilation of over, at that time for the first book, I’d interviewed between 600 and 700 military families and I asked them 3 questions. The first being, “What is an idea, from your experience, that best served your family to keep them connected when you were separated by an assignment or deployment?” And the second one was, “What is your best web resource or resource that helped your family?” and third, “Will you give me the names of three other military families that I can talk to?”
ELAINE: So I kept it going. So, the book compiles the very, I think it’s 240, of the best of these ideas that I collected from families. Everything from projects for– There’s a chapter that says “Projects For Kids Under 10”. It’s a quick read, there’s large numbers, there is a paragraph with each idea and they’re all designed for any types of separation situations. Of course, many of them focus toward the military, but all of them to be able to think and use in other separation ideas or other places that just lets you take a look and go, “I need something to make sure that I’m close with my family when I’m apart from them.” It’s a simple read. They’re all written that way, with the numbers, the ideas. Flip through, find what you want and go for it. It’s not necessarily designed to be read from cover to cover. It’s just find the chapter you need. Your spouse, your kids, what’s going on in your life and how can I help?
CHUCK: What, Elaine, I have to ask you this question, in the first book, as you went through the 600 or so interviews, did you find that the interest in making or keeping the connection was stronger for parents wanting their children to be connected or parents wanting to be connected to their spouse or loved one? Was there any difference?
ELAINE: There was a different difference. [laughs]
ELAINE: If that makes any sense.
ELAINE: Well, I think it initially came from the idea of thinking of keeping children involved and connected. That stemming from, “I hope that my child remembers me. I hope that they’re not– I’m concerned about my child being too traumatized by the separation. What do I do if I’m not there and they have trouble in school or trouble adapting?” I think parents or adults tend to think they can handle it just fine, that now they need to take care of the kids, but the thing was, a lot of times they’ve found, “We’re not handling it all as well as we should be.”
I remember a particular one, a number of circumstances, but the first time was shared when, at the time, a deployed service member stood in line to get a 10-minute phone call home and during that 10 minutes, I remember one man telling me that he gets on the phone and his wife just starts hammering all of the stuff that’s going wrong at home because she isn’t inundated with it. “The water heater blew up. The car broke down,” and he’s thousands of miles away, focused on the mission for the country thinking, I can’t do anything about this. We needed to work with how do you share what you need to share in a way that doesn’t offset what’s going on on each side? And we discovered that those kinds of things became a learning process that we went through and that they went through. That helped me find ways to be able to suggest ways to better handle things between the adults and the family.
CHUCK: Interesting when you say that. I can see that on both sides it could be incredibly stressful. If you’re the person deployed, male or female, you’re thrust into an environment that is far different than what we’re accustomed to, certainly, in our normal home towns and so forth, and secondarily, we have missions to accomplish which are fundamentally challenging and unsafe, and yet, we on the other hand hear about, which is just as significant, “The water heater broke. The place has gone crazy and I need you here,” and both people become very frustrated, neither being able to solve each other’s problem. So, are there any specific things, whether it’s military or not, that came out of your research that you could say well, I’m making this up by the way, “Here are three things that you really need to think about before you get on the phone and start unloading”?
ELAINE: Absolutely. It kind of even from a longer aspect, even before you get to that point. What we discovered is, that before you leave, you need to have a conversation about some of these things that I don’t think originally people were spending enough time doing, such as, “What could go wrong?” Okay, so identifying some of the problems or situations that could happen or that could go wrong.
And secondly, being able to say, “What can we set up now, so that…”kind of a pre-planning “What can we set up now that will help a problem, should it arise?” Okay. So, for instance, the water heater breaking. Well, let’s think. If this happens, do you, the person who’s home, do you have the phone number of the plumber? Do you know where it is? Can you access this? If the car breaks down and you can’t get the kids to school, have you made arrangements with the neighbors that you could call on them at the last minute to have them take the kids to school? So, it’s kind of identifying a problem setting into play ahead of time what you could do should something arise.
And then third, being sort of a deterrent, “How can I prevent this from happening again? What might we be able to do?” We’ve found, and as the families have found, if you talk about some of these things, there are similar things that go through every situation that if you can identify them, you probably will hit about 90% of what could happen. Do you have an open communication line with your child’s teacher, for instance? Have you let the teacher know that a parent is deploying and here are some of the behavior changes you might see? You know, it’s a setup and that definitely helps.
CHUCK: Elaine, you said something a second ago and I want to go down this road, but I want to say also to you that if it’s something that you’re uncomfortable with or you don’t have information on, that’s fine as well, but you said, well, sometimes there can be behavioral changes with kids, whenever there’s been a disruption in the household and their foundations are changed. I have to ask, I wonder if people who, and I’m not saying this just because of your book, but people who put in place programs, “Flat Daddy®” for example, or the hand that we talked about in the last segment, if people that put those into place find that there is less challenges with young folk? That they tend to be better behaved, I guess is the question.
ELAINE: Sure. Yes, we did, and as a matter of fact, that’s one of the key pieces in the, actually the revised, the second book is kind of a revision and expansion of the first, where we have a whole chapter on community involvement and school involvement with a child and we take the kids at different age levels through and say, “What can you do to involve them now so they don’t feel so isolated and separated,” because if you are doing something to involve them in the connection process, they’re less likely to have it traumatize them.
But I definitely feel also that, I think it’s a little more prevalent in the families, more so in the beginning, too, than it is now, because we have many years that have gone by, but in National Guard families where the families are living within a community, where you may be the only family in your neighborhood that has a deployment going on, versus living on a base or a post, where you are encompassed in the whole thing where they’re used to it, they’ve lived this life. Knowing that, that if you are able to prep the teacher for just the small things to look out for, and the teacher, if they’re astute with it, and they usually are, that they’re watching for the little things. That kind of, they’re maybe regressing into the background and not being as involved as the child used to be before. Sometimes this happens more in preteen and teen years, but why not get a teen into developing a family website that keeps everybody up to date with what’s going on with the deployment and with the family and all and gets them involved, then they tend to have less issues. Then there’s, like I said, all that section in the book that gives all these ideas on being able to do that and help with that.
CHUCK: Now, let’s, for those that are listening, let’s kind of recap a little bit of what you said. Your first book I’m Already Home.
CHUCK: Your second book is I’m Already Home…Again, and if you are interested in either of those two books, or the third book The Road Home, go to imalreadyhome.com, and there you can find all three books written by Elaine, along with a lot of other things. Elaine, we’ve got two minutes. I got to ask you a quick question before we go to break. So, you got to do an F-16 incentive ride.[Elaine laughs]
CHUCK: Tell me what was the rush of that like?
ELAINE: Oh, my God, you said two minutes?! I could go on forever, but yeah, it was a phenomenal experience, something that I never would have thought I would do. The rush is exactly right. I experienced many things that, they took me through all sorts of upside down, around. I withstood 7.2 Gs of force in that jet and the question I’m asked most often, can you guess what that might be?
CHUCK: Did you throw up?
ELAINE: You got it. [chuckles]
CHUCK: Oh, yeah.
ELAINE: But I can proudly say I threw up three times and every single one of them was worth it.[Elaine and Chuck laugh]
CHUCK: Well, as a private pilot, I’ve never flown in an F-16 and I am so… Oh, I want to go so bad![Elaine laughs]
CHUCK: I have talked with so many people, and it’s like, okay, somebody somewhere got to say, “Chuck, go” and I’ll sign my life away. It’s okay, just put me in the back seat because I want to go ballistic. [chuckles]
ELAINE: And I did.
CHUCK: And you did. All right. Well, look, it’s Straight Talk Radio with Chuck Gallagher. My guest is Elaine Dumler. She is known as “The Flat Daddy® Lady” and we’re going to go for a break. We’re going to come back and talk about her new book The Road Home – Talking with Reunion and Reintegration. Stick with us, we’ll be back in just a moment.[Commercial break]
CHUCK: This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio. My guest is Elaine Dumler. She is the only person, as a civilian, that I know, that got to take an F-16 incentive ride and I am so jealous. I think that would be so much fun. But the reason she got to is because of her incredible work with the military. She is known as a separations specialist. She is the author of I’m Already Home… Again and to clarify, for those listening to the other segments of our show, I’m Already Home and I’m Already Home… Again is consolidated into the book I’m Already Home…Again. It’s twice as long with twice as much information, and I think, Elaine, you have been incredible in sharing some really practical tips. But your last book is called The Road Home.
CHUCK: And it’s to help with reunion and reintegration and the thing that strikes me about that is that applies not only for military families who have been on deployment, but it also applies for people who have families who have loved ones who are reintegrating after an extensive time in prison or other issues where they have been called away. Perhaps they work overseas and now have come back from a work assignment. So, talk to us a little bit about The Road Home.
ELAINE: Well, The Road Home is designed to help people try to smooth the transition back from these separations you get. We’ve talked so much about the separations and what we can do while people are gone, but then you come back together and everybody just assumes it’s like, “Oh, balloons and parties,” and, “This is the best!” and, “I can hardly wait!” and there are issues that arise. There are everything from intimacy issues, kind of going “Well, how do I… You know, it’s been a years and a half!” [chuckles] “This is a big deal!” “The kids that have changed so much and I don’t know my child anymore.” It’s, “How do I get to know them again?”
It depends on how long that you’re apart, but also you realize that people that are coming back don’t tend to, well, they do now, but at the beginning, they didn’t realize how much the person at home had taken on and succeeded in, because we look at if you, and I’m just going to kind of use male/female because it just sort of that’s what we tend to do, so a guy deploys and he handled all the finances and the checkbook or whatever. It’s just what their family did before he left. Well, now he’s gone and his wife comes in and, man, she did an awesome job with that. Not only did she get everything taken care of and paid for, but there’s an extra six grand in the savings account that wasn’t there before and there’s a self-esteem along with this, too, that, “I did fabulous.”
Well, what happens when he walks back in and puts out his hand and goes, “Give me the checkbook.” People don’t realize that people have changed and their responsibilities have changed, and here’s what I advise the returning person to do: I want you to sit back and observe what’s going on in your household for a week. A week. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t get involved in anything, but you don’t jump back in and make assumptions about how the house is going to work again. I want you to watch what’s working, what isn’t working and let your kids come to you and let you kind of find those times. Have a date night, all by yourself, with each individual child, to where they want to go and what they want to do. Then you’ll begin to be able to see that you can pull it together and the person at home knows you’re not going to just jump in and take everything back.
CHUCK: That’s interesting, because frankly, it never crossed my mind the idea of jumping back in and taking everything back. But that absolutely, Elaine, would make perfect sense and be significant in terms of something that’s like, “Look what I’ve accomplished,” and then you jump back in and say, “Oh, well, now, you have no value,” and it’s like, oh…
CHUCK: And I have to say this, although I understand, I really, really get this, it was a dramatization, it was TV, so probably some of it may not be accurate, but I have to remember when the series Homeland started–
CHUCK: And, Brody comes home and here’s his wife, thinking he was dead. She has reconnected with someone else, the kids have thought he’s gone, he pops back up on the scene. They’re having all of this hoopla and he’s just trying to figure out who is he and who are these people and how does this work.
CHUCK: And it is challenging. It has to be challenging for the person coming back home, dealing with the spouse or their loved ones or children. The same as it is hard for the loved one understand what did that military person go through?
CHUCK: And are they able to deal with that, considering the issues of PTSD that we now hear so much about.
ELAINE: Very much, very much. It is a big challenge. One of the things, I’m not an expert in PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I’ve done a significant amount of research and done some writing and support from it, from the family, but a lot of times, in fact, I think most of the times, it’s on a smaller, more temporary level. Then most people do get back into the swing of things and end up just fine. It’s the little thing, like one example that a woman shared with me was that when her husband came home for two weeks, his thing was that he had his boots by the bed and whenever he got out of bed to check on the kids or go to the bathroom or anything in the middle of the night, he had to put his boots on, automatically, before he went and did anything because for over a year that’s what he did–
ELAINE: Every time he got out of his bunk. Then that lasted a couple of weeks and it was fine, but it’s understanding that small things and larger things, if they’re larger, be willing to get help and be willing to support your spouse in getting assistance.
ELAINE: Right. That makes so much sense because these are significant experiences in people’s lives. I think and listen to what you’re saying, that when you’ve been deployed for 18 months and you come back, things have changed on a personal level. My time away was 18 months and it was insignificant in terms of time, in one sense of the word, and yet, at the other point in 18 months it’s amazing how much things change. You’re removed from the world as we know it and you come back. Well, you know what? If we just stopped and 18 months later come back and weren’t able to be part of that change, it would be amazing to us.
ELAINE: Oh, my. When I think of the fact that in July my son and his wife are going to have their first child and if I was gone, I would miss that.
ELAINE: And that’s huge.
ELAINE: That is huge. If you even think about those of us in a business profession who leave for speaking, and this is just kind of interesting, you leave for speaking and you’re the one that for a week or two, you’re the hot shot. It’s like, “Oh, look at you, you’re the speaker you are…” Things revolve around you and some people, you sort of get this in your head. Then you go home and your wife hands you, “Here’s the garbage, go take it out,” you’re like, “Wait a minute! Do you know who you’re talking to?”[Elaine and Chuck laugh]
ELAINE: And that’s just from being gone for a short amount of time. Things small like that change in people and you just have to put your life back into perspective. [chuckles]
CHUCK: Right. Well, getting life into perspective is a critically important thing. We’ve got two minutes left. Elaine, I want to ask you, if there were two things that you could share with the audience, that you think could help transform their experience, what would those two things be?
ELAINE: Their experience within their life?
CHUCK: Their experience within their life in dealing with their loved one being gone and how to keep that heart connection.
ELAINE: Yes, is to keep it connected. Create a plan. If you can do it beforehand, that’s great. If not, do it along the way where you have consistent connection whether it’s large or small. Make sure you’re celebrating birthdays by sending cards, Christmas by sending ornaments, things like that to each other, you’ve got to maintain it.
Secondly, when you are back together, please look at each other with new eyes and a little bit different eyes and be able to absorb what you’re seeing, and together work out the challenges that you have. Do not isolate yourselves from each other.
CHUCK: It’s interesting, everything that you have shared with us, and this has been an incredible show, and thank you so much for sharing because everything that you’ve shared is allowing people to use creative ways to continue to be connected, so that you don’t grow apart.
My guest is Elaine Dumler. She has written the book I’m Already Home or I’m Already Home… Again and The Road Home, both of which can be found at imalreadyhome.com. If you are involved, especially with the military, and you have an interest in what Elaine brings to the table, which is just a wealth of knowledge, go to I’m Already Home or imalreadyhome.com and talk to Elaine, reach out to her. I am sure she would welcome the opportunity to talk with you.
Elaine, thank you for taking the time to be on Straight Talk Radio, and for those of you that are listening remember, every choice we make in life has a consequence, and as we have talked here with Elaine, the choices we make can create some incredibly positive consequences when our loved ones return. Thanks for sticking with us and look forward to the show next week. This is Chuck Gallagher with Straight Talk Radio.
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