I have never cried much. In fact, I could probably count on one hand how many times I had really cried, as an adult, up until the time I came home from Iraq. During my tour, I couldn’t even shed a tear at my mom’s memorial service. I felt cold and numb because of everything going on around me. Not callous, just gifted at compartmentalizing emotions. I’ve cried more in the last year than I have in a lifetime. But here’s the catch. They have all been tears of joy, in moments where I am simply overwhelmed and feel so very lucky to be home with my kids.

June 21 is my one year anniversary in a couple of ways. One year ago today I walked out of a plane and onto the tarmac of my future. The crowd was going absolutely nuts here in Salt Lake City as we exited the aircraft. The sun was in my face and my heart was a percussion instrument. I scanned the crowd for my kids. And then suddenly they were at my feet — my 6-year-old daughter, Chloe, and my 3-year-old son, Little Lee — grabbing my legs and yelling, “Daddy, Daddy!” So many of us have experienced this, and I personally count it as one of the best moments of my 35 years on this planet. I remember my daughter trying to understand her feelings as I held her in my arms, “Dad? I’m happy but I think I’m going to cry now.”

Out of respect for my ex-wife and in the name of privacy I’ll just say that the kids heard, saw, and experienced a lot while I was gone that little kids should not have to go through. And these were things that never would have occurred had I been there. The standards in my household changed drastically, and the kids felt it. My whole family was emotionally wrecked when I got home. That same night I took full responsibility for raising them, even though it would take a couple of months to get through the actual divorce and be granted full custody. So I have been a single parent for one year today as well. It’s a symbolic day, then, a milestone, and I’ve been thinking about it all morning.

While in Iraq many of us milbloggers do a “Day in the Life” piece. I did one myself and thought it would be illuminating to do another one now:

5:30 a.m.: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze for a while. Maybe wake up and write for half an hour.

5:45 – 6:00: Get up, shave, turn on coffee machine. Gently wake up the kids. Shower.

6:00- 6:45: Get dressed. Make sure kids are getting dressed instead of falling back to sleep on the couch. Brush their teeth and hair. Make some breakfast. Feed and water both cats and both dogs. Let dogs out of garage into yard. Turn off sprinklers.

6:45: Drive to daycare. Walk kids in. Kisses and hugs.

7:00: Commute to Camp Williams, where I work as a company commander in the Utah National Guard.

5:00 p.m.: Leave work, drive back to daycare. Pick kids up.

5:30: Arrive at home. Change clothes, get kids a snack. Start dinner.

6:30: Feed the kids. Maybe let them watch a little TV or go outside and play with the neighbor’s kids for a while.

7:30: Give kids a bath or shower. Pick up the toys, clothes, and miscellaneous items strewn all over the house. Start getting their clothes ready for the next day. (I can’t wait until the morning for this. My daughter is very picky about her clothes and I will inevitably be late for work.)

7:45: Put a load of laundry in. Try to put away some clean laundry.

8:00: Tell the kids it’s time for bed, at which point they subconsciously think, “Yeah, right,” and ask to watch TV and eat some more snacks.

8:30: Tell the kids it’s really time for bed. Turn off the TV. They ask me to read them some books or play with them. I go upstairs and read to them for a while. Kids ask to sleep in my bed. Quite often I say yes.

9:00: If they’re still awake, I turn out the lights, tuck them in, and say good night. They plead for more time. I try to stand firm and say no. Quite often I give in.

9:15: Feed animals again. Put dogs in for the night. Brush teeth. Get uniform ready for next day. Turn on sprinkler. Make sack lunch (maybe). Switch clothes from washer to dryer.

9:30 -10:30: Try to get some writing done. Check e-mail. Turn off lights. Try to still my mind and actually sleep.

Of course this simplified example illustrates a rare day in which no surprises occur, neither kid bangs their head on the wall and needs to go to the emergency room for stitches, no friends call or stop by, there are no Girl Scouts or parent teacher conferences on the schedule, no doctor or dentist appointments, and none of us are sick. I am not shopping for food, clothes, cleaning the house, the yard, or buying toys for a birthday.

One year into this lifestyle, I feel pretty proud. Life just keeps getting sweeter. But honestly I still don’t think I’ve processed everything I experienced in Iraq, the death of my marriage, or my own mother’s passing. Who has the time?

The kids still ask me if I’m going back to “the war,” and they still don’t fully understand the divorce, but they are happy and safe. I don’t have to call them from 8,000 miles away. I get emotional sometimes just looking at them, being with them. I actually laugh at myself sometimes during these moments because I’m not used to it. And I’m not too proud to admit it either. For example, last night I was reading “The Cat in the Hat” to the kids and out of the blue my daughter said, “Daddy? I’m so glad you aren’t at the war anymore. You are the best Dad.”

“Me too, honey. Thank you.”

My son chimed in, “Daddy? Are you going back to the Army?” He meant the war.

“No buddy. I’m not.”

I sat up so I could see both of them, and to begin my exit so I could get them to bed. It was 9:15. I vividly remember being gone for those 18 months, and that feeling of having my hands tied, painfully frustrated that I was so far away when they needed me.

“Let me just tell you guys something, O.K.? If anything bad ever happens, or you get scared, or hurt, or lost, you just find a phone and call me. You both know my number, right? No matter what happens to you, and no matter where you are, I’m coming, O.K.?”

They both said okay, and their eyes were searching mine because they could hear my voice breaking. I was not sad. I was overjoyed to be able to speak these words. I hugged them so they couldn’t see my face.

“Just don’t be scared. No matter where you are, your Daddy is coming.”

My daughter patted my back and said, in a soft little whisper, “It’s O.K. It’s O.K. Dad’s can cry too.”