Commentary | June 21, 2021

A Father’s Day tribute to our Coast Guard fathers

By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

Sometimes fathers do not often get their fair share of the parental spotlight. This year, MyCG team is highlighting some of the Coast Guard fathers who support their families, homes, and their wives who serve. 

Justin Oldham – Coast Guard Sector Columbia River

Coast Guard spouse, Justin Oldham, is pictured with his two sons (left to right) Tatum and Bodie after a game of football through the Waltham Youth Football program. Justin Oldham met his wife of 10 years, Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham, a public affairs specialist, while serving in the Coast Guard himself in 2007 in Newport, Rhode Island. When they met, his wife was stationed there on a cutter and he was a machinery technician assigned to the maintenance augmentation team—he separated from service after six years as a second class petty officer. His wife has been serving for 15 years and counting. “Being a spouse makes me proud,” said Oldham. “I would be proud of my wife in whatever career path she followed. But it does make me especially proud that she is serving her country and that I play a small role in her success.” 

Oldham acknowledges the sacrifices that comes with being a Coast Guard spouse and credits sports with allowing his family to feel grounded and connected with the communities they live in. “We understand that in a few years we will be packing up and heading on to a new adventure, so that is something that is always in the back of your mind but it doesn’t stop us from becoming involved with the community we are living in,” said Oldham. “Our kids play sports and I coach so you really become part of the community.” The Oldhams have three children: Noella who is 14 years old, Bodie who is 12 and Tatum who is 10. 

He mentions one of the biggest sacrifices, aside from what he describes as, “watching once close friends fade into random Facebook friendships,” is that your children miss out on quality time with extended family. “As a kid, I remember swimming at my grandparents’ house with my cousins in the summer and family-filled holidays, and that makes it hard and you feel like they are missing out on quality grandparent time,” he said. Coast Guard spouse, Justin Oldham, (on the far right) is pictured with his family: (left to right) Oldham's wife, Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham, daughter Noella and son Tatum.

Oldham describes his support when it comes to housework as “50-50,” stating that both he and his wife pitch-in and do what needs to be done with the exception of cooking.  He explains, “My wife is a terrible cook so I do most of the cooking and I enjoy doing the yard work.” Beyond the home, he has been fortunate to find work as a diesel mechanic currently working for their local school district on the school bus fleet. He is also in the process of becoming a part-time bus driver. 

Being able to just listen to his wife, Oldham lists this as key to his support role but he says it’s reciprocated in their relationship. “I can’t tell you how many feature stories I’ve read or have had her read to me while she is editing them,” said Oldham. “I just like to be here to listen to her, even if she is having a bad day or something is going on. She gives similar support to me. She listens to me talk about my day whether she cares about the details of repairing a school bus seat or not, or she does a good job pretending.”

Oldham’s skill of listening is one of the reasons his wife suggested applying for the ombudsman position. He is scheduled to take over the role this summer from someone transitioning. “I’m new to the position but I hope to break down some of the gender boundaries and contribute to the unit and families in any way I can,” said Oldham. He explained that most of the wives assume he is an active-duty member, despite his hand and neck tattoos—neck art is not permissible in the service. “But for the most part, I’m definitely not received the same way the female spouses are. Most of the local spouses’ Facebook pages are named ‘Local Coast Guard Wives’ or something similar. And I never see gear in exchanges that says ‘Proud Coast Guard Husband’ but I see ‘Proud Coast Guard Wife’ gear everywhere!”

Oldham summarizes his thoughts on being in a supportive role to his wife’s career, “Even though being a male Coast Guard spouse is rare, it doesn’t make me any less of a man,” said Oldham. “As a former active duty Coastie, I feel lucky to still be involved with the service and play whatever small role I can play.”

Cody Wagner – Coast Guard Cutter Fir in Alaska 

Coast Guard spouse, Cody Wagner (left) is shown with his wife, Petty Officer 2nd Class, Mary McLenagan, a machinery technician and their daughter Bridget Wagner.Transitioning from an active-duty member who has served in the Coast Guard for eight years, to becoming a stay-at-home dad has admittedly been a tough transition for Cody Wagner who has been married to Petty Officer 2nd Class Mary McLenagan, a machinery technician, for seven years. “I am proud of her for what she does,” said Wagner. “She’s looked to as someone who can either get it done or knows how to tell you to get it done,” complimented Wagner. Wagner takes the lead in daily care for their four-year-old daughter, Bridget Wagner, and he occasionally does substitute teaching at his local middle and high school. 

Wagner jokingly said he was “volunetold” to apply for the ombudsman position and has been in the role for one year. As he puts it, “The ombudsman job is pretty easy to me having been in the Coast Guard. When families come to me, I can either give them a solution or I can give them a number to call to get the information they need.” Most of his interactions with families are with the 17 spouses he supports, although two of them are men, the majority 15 of them are women, and his connection to a mostly all-female group is not as awkward as some may suspect. “They enjoy my company and I enjoy their company,” he said and then added, “I think having a kid helps because we all hang out with our kids at the park and having my daughter helps the other spouses to talk with me.”  

Wagner acknowledges the sacrifices he has made as a spouse. One example is having to delay a dream to become a fire fighter, which isn’t practical when you have to relocate often. Of course, there have also been sacrifices as a family. “It’s a team effort,” he said. “Just because you’re not the head of the household anymore doesn’t mean you’re not on the same team. You get a little more free time and you get to invest in a hobby,” laughed Wagner. He enjoys hunting and fishing, and during the winter months, he plays volleyball and goes snowboarding. 

Barry Wilson – Base Portsmouth, North Carolina

Barry Wilson, who will be  married to Lt. Cmdr. Crystal Wilson for 11 years this November, shared that he was a self-proclaimed military brat having grown up accustomed toCoast Guard spouse Barry Wilson (left) is pictured with his wife, Lt. Cmdr. Crystal Wilson and their daughter Chloe. what’s required of military life. He himself had served previously in the Airforce and so when he and his wife were married, separation wasn’t new. In fact, they were apart in the marriage until they could get stationed near each other. “We had a long-distance relationship up until the first six months of marriage,” said Wilson. “Then I got deployed,” he laughed. “Separation was not something that we thought of but now that we have our daughter, things are different.” The pair have a five-year-old daughter named Chloe.

Wilson is able to leverage the skills he learned within the military as a structural aircraft mechanic to find positions when they have a permanent change of station (PCS). “I am blessed to find work wherever I go,” he said. Their family is fairly new to the North Carolina area having all settled there last July. Wilson found work in Elizabeth City working on C-130s fixed-wing aircrafts. His wife, now going on 15 years of service in the Coast Guard, works in a district office building in Portsmouth where she focuses on prevention. 

Wilson listed one of the sacrifices of being a military spouse was that he gave up his career, in a sense. “We already made the agreement so that we can follow her career and I gave up my job to go all in,” he explained. When asked what was the determining factor for him to decide to go all in, his answer was plain and simple. “Love,” he responded without hesitation. “My wife is goal-oriented and so it’s best for her to keep achieving and moving around. I am fine as long as I have a job and doing something, I will make the best out of everywhere we go.”

As far as the benefits of being a military family go, Wilson enjoys being able to work day shifts instead of nights to spend time at home. “If they were to force me to work nights I have a backup plan in my wife’s career,” he said. “I have the freedom to choose putting my family first.”

That’s what is really important to Wilson—being present for his family. “When my wife comes home, she knows that her biggest fan is there. The best thing is to support her with nothing but positive words.”

In his free time Wilson loves carpentry and particularly loves it when his daughter Chloe builds her wooden “Go Grow Kits,” beside him in the garage as he works. “It’s so cool,” he said. “She can be a part of what I’m doing without coming near the heavy machinery I operate to create.”

The MyCG Team joins the Coast Guard workforce in wishing a Happy Father’s Day to every Coast Guard father and every Coast Guard family that contributes in so many ways, ensuring that our workforce is ready and our organization is successful for our nation.