David Hawkins, a stalwart figure relied upon for years by the crew of every cruise ship and commercial vessel that calls on Seward, Alaska wrote the following article. Regardless of your belief, this article gives poignant insight into the angst many feel.
By David Hawkins and Jeannette Seale
Alaska Christian Ministry to Seafarers
It is hard to describe the melancholy that can over whelm a man at sea. The world economic situation is driving more and more men to work on ships. Even when he doesn’t have much to return to, the pull of homes can be deep and strong. The problem is, of course, spiritual, but for men without faith, they must place their trust elsewhere. For those of us who work with seafarers, it comes as no surprise that the men are counting the days until they go home. It’s also no surprise that they spend so much money on lap-tops and phone calls talking to their wives and children or the girl they hope to marry someday. We know it’s a good day when they get a message from home, no matter what else may be happening. We experience their joy when someone at home says a sleepy “hello” into a cell phone, no matter what time of day it may be at home. We watch them talk to their wives and children and girlfriends, now on lap-tops with video calling over the internet. This new style of communication helps so much. They daydream about their next visit home or dwell on the good times of their last visit.
Every crew member fights loneliness and home sickness, sometimes giving in to temptations which cause great anxiety, guilt and shame. A combination of homesickness, loneliness and expectation of seeing his family again causes his emotions to be on edge.
But what is the dilemma? What does he find when he finally arrives at his front door and faces that family he has worked and sacrificed for? For the first few days everyone is very happy to have daddy, husband, son and brother home once again, and he doesn’t mind being treated like a guest especially after so many months of hard work. He is busy with family and friends and trying to catch up on rest and readjusts to the time difference. But it isn’t long until he realizes that he actually is a guest in his own home. As the days wear on, his family and friends aren’t very interested in his life at sea and feel he is bragging when he talks about the places he has been and seen. He can’t talk about the stress of his job because no one can relate to his experiences. He has endless hours to kill because his family is involved with school and the day’s activities in which he plays only a token part. Besides all of these frustrations, some of his precious leave time must be spent visiting the agent, getting his papers in order and updating his medical paperwork, oftentimes miles away from his home.
The spreading of western culture and its loss of traditional family structure and values becomes an even greater threat to a stable home. Wives are bombarded by the media to “live their own lives,” “do their own thing,” and “have it all.” It becomes next to impossible for them to maintain their integrity to be the trusted guardians of their homes and children that seafarer’s wives have had to be in the past. Most returning seafarers find it difficult to empathize with this problem when they are the ones suffering from its fallout.
A man discovers that his wife or girlfriend has her own social life, without him, and wants to continue that life even when he is home. He’s only going to be home a few weeks or months and she tries to juggle her own personal social life with the “couple” aspects that he desires.
He finds that his small children don’t easily come to him; they might even hide behind their mother and cry. Much to his dismay, he is a stranger to his own children, only a voice on the telephone or face on the computer screen to the older ones. And to make matters worse, the older children continue to view their mother as the leader of the home instead of him. When he tries to discipline the children or wants to spend time with his wife, the children resent it.
He senses he is in the way: he has no real “job” at home in the day-to-day operations. He spends frustrating days trying to reestablish his position as father and husband. He clashes with his wife over decisions in which he feels he should have been included. His wife has, out of necessity, assumed the role of leader, making all major and minor decisions. She finds it very difficult to suddenly turn over those responsibilities to him
A seafarer tends to be easily parted from his money. He feels guilty about not spending time with his children for the many months he is away. Therefore, he smothers them with gifts and demands more of their time than they are willing to give. Men at sea usually earn more money than their relatives and neighbors, so when he realizes their desire to get on with daily chores and neglect him, he might become overly-generous to re-stimulate their interest. We have seen this occur in many subtle forms, ranging from bringing home expensive gifts or “drinks all around” at the local bar, to a man allowing his property or vehicles (which are often damaged) to be used by others. A seafarer will often finance someone else’s business ideas which tend to use up his precious earnings with little or no return. The family he has worked so hard for begins to resent his presence more and more and ask when he is going to leave so they can get on with their lives. His time at home drags on for everyone involved. The bottom line is an erosion of respect for him.
The intense desire he had a sea, to find a job at home and stay with his family, vaporizes. The life at sea begins to look better and better and he now looks forward to leaving and going back to the life that only endured weeks earlier. This in itself causes stress when he realizes what is happening. He must face the fact the ship is more home to him than he thought, and his actual home is his vacation spot. He returns to sea with a heavier heart than he anticipated. And chances are all these problems will reoccur on his next visit home.
As this pattern is repeated over the years an “us and them” mentality develops. “Us and them” has nothing to do with nationality, language, color, or job position. “Us” refers to seafarers and “them” refers to shore-siders. The men struggle with this paradox, wanting to appreciate at home but finding greater acceptance at sea.
What happens to these men, even the ones who tell us repeatedly they want to find a job and stay at home? They return again to sea. At first we thought they just weren’t serious about staying home and gave them a hard time. Now as Christ has opened our eyes to their dilemma, we look at them with His compassion and see a man who is giving his life and a family he dreams of, a daddy whose kids don’t really know him, and a husband who wife struggles when he’s gone and when he’s home. To be able to introduce this man to Jesus Christ, our Creator, Savior and Lord and our greatest friend, is our foremost goal so that they can deal with their ongoing frustration and disappointment.