One of the things I learned very fast, was not to weep, wail or gnash my teeth when Geoff went back to sea. I think I was right, or perhaps, maybe I was wrong. Whatever. It worked for me. I would tell the children Daddy had to go to work, and now why don't we go and paint some pictures etc etc etc. If I had given into the wailing bit, we would have spent the greater part of our lives weeping and being mournful. And it would not have made the slightest bit of difference. Daddy went to sea. We stayed home.
Initially, Geoff used to bring home presents for the children when he came home, but I soon noticed that the babes would charge past their Dad and reach for the gifts, so we stopped that one. I wanted them to be happy to see their Dad, not the presents. He still bought things, but we kept them for later or for birthdays. We made banners and posters for when he arrived home, and it was an eagerly anticipated event.
At various times, we had maps with markers of where the ship was and counted days, but largely, we just got on with our ordinary everyday lives. The house was always filled with children and Mums, and we certainly did not lead a lonely life. I don't think I have ever been bored in my life, and I have always been creative, read voraciously, and played sport. I think the kids learnt by that example, in retrospect. They are similar, in their own unique ways. And all of them are very stoical people too.
When there were father's days at pre-primary, we found someone to go in Geoff's place. Father's day gifts were stored for his homecoming, as were birthday and Christmas presents. One year we made him an advent calendar of little notes, gifts etc and put it in a shoe box for him to open each day. As I have mentioned before, he recorded (on an old tape recorder!) stories for them to listen to at night now and then.
As a family, we were included in everything our friends did, and as a woman, my friends made sure I was invited to dinner parties etc too. And if there was an evening function at school, they would park at my home, which was near the school, and we would all walk round together. I was incredibly blessed.
Our normal life was when Geoff was away. The abnormal part came when he arrived home. We had an agreement that he would watch/observe for the first few days and slot in with the routine, rather than throw the whole thing out and disrupt everything. It took a lot of adjusting, believe me. There were all the extra-mural timetables to learn too.
I was so used to being responsible for everything from opening all the post and dealing with it all, to paying bills, the budget, cars, shopping, discipline, childcare etc. It was difficult to include him, or to hand things over. So working as a team was very challenging. This will be difficult for anyone who has not been in similar circumstances to understand. We would just get things running smoothly and he would be off again! Things like problems could not be shared. They had to be dealt with alone. So if there was an issue at school, I could not wait for him to come home to sort it out. It had to be taken care of.
We still travelled when we could, and did some deep sea trips as a family if they coincided with school holidays, and also plenty of coastal trips. The children were as at home on the ships as they were ashore. And none of them ever got seasick, thank heavens.
When I was expecting David, as Christmas neared, a giant tug, towing some tankers to the breakers yards in the Far East ran into a bad storm off the Cape, and the tankers were adrift near the coast. The scrap metal worth even then was astounding, and understandably, no-one wanted hulking metal wrecks to be decorating the stunning beaches, so a salvage attempt was made. Geoff was on leave at the time, and the company asked him to go out to the sinking tanker, with other engineers, and try to stop it from sinking. (I told you he was good at his job. Very good.)Hmmmm. Just what a woman needs to hear when she is 6 months pregnant.
He, of course, said YES!
Nothing like a challenge, not to mention the extra danger money. Danger money???? As I said, just what a wife needs to hear. So he and his colleagues were dropped on to the tanker by helicopter. And there he stayed for a few weeks. Including Christmas day. We, on the other hand, could get in the car and go to the beach and say...oooh look! See that ship leaning a bit over there??? Daddy is on that. Well......not quite. "Daddy is working on that ship out there" was about as close as it got. We did not mention the leaning bit. And no mobile phones, remember!
On Christmas day, however, he and his friends launched the gemini craft (inflatable powerboat thingy) and came ashore onto the beach for an hour or 2. There we all were...the 3 wives and assorted children, waiting on the beach. The kids could show him what Father Christmas had brought them, and he could open his presents too. Though he chose not to take them back with him. In case the ship sank.
Happily, it did not.
Mind you, he had done a survival at sea training week. They dump you in the ocean and you have to swim about a bit and then get hoisted into helicopters. This is the man, who before he married me, had been at sea for 15 years, and could not swim. His view, along with many other sailors was that if the ship sank, he would rather go down immediately. The options of swimming for days and getting nowhere or being eaten did not appeal.
However, with swimming pools in our gardens, he had to learn. And he did indeed. The sinking tanker was near the shore, maybe a mile or 2 out, so he would have known which direction to head.
And he was home for David's birth.