BY JOSH GLAZEROFF
It’s like being in two places at once. That’s how I would describe my year serving in Pakistan away from my family. On my mind always is not only what’s in front of me but also what’s going on far away from here.
Even stranger is trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I am here solely because of work. How can I reconcile what I do every day with being away from those I care about most? Although, like so many others, I have made a commitment to serve, it wears me down and takes a dedication that I sometimes doubt.
My work life is fascinating. I regularly meet cabinet ministers and renowned authors. Senior businessmen discuss Pakistan’s prospects with me. We, and the entire mission, had to address a crisis when the country nearly went to war with India. I have senior generals sending me personal messages day and night. The issues I work on matter in terms of our bilateral relationship and support greater national security. I genuinely feel that I can make a difference in how we do our work, and I focus on developing my staff, both local employees and American officers. I have grown and learned.
My personal life is the harder part. I am not there for my kids’ homework or sports competitions or band performances. My daughter’s best friend moved away this year. Plus, our 19-year-old cat died. During the holidays, my family went to Costa Rica without me. On Mother’s Day, all I could do was send flowers. Skype and FaceTime are great tools, but they don’t make up for those important daily conversations about school or work, or for such simple gestures as a hug.
The three visits home were precious, if fleeting—including birthday cakes and Thanksgiving dinner and escape-room fun. A carefully calibrated Costco trip stocked the family pantry with laundry detergent and olive oil. Each time, I left behind homemade soup in the freezer to nourish everyone in the months between visits, and to remind them of me.
Watching my kids grow is like seeing snapshots in a photo album—each time I look, something is different. It’s hard to imagine that in just the last nine months my son got glasses and braces. And my daughter—well ... she’s moved on from her best friend’s departure and is now texting with a boy from school.
I did manage to call in as a guest speaker during my kids’ Model U.N. conference; that was a great way to combine my professional and personal lives. And I even played a monster in an online game of Dungeons and Dragons. (My kids didn’t realize it was me!)
Two lives: One life has electrical, plumbing and gardening problems (normally my responsibility) to which I can now only offer sympathy; the other involves late nights with politicians, bankers and diplomats, as I try my best to build the relationships our nation needs in a very complicated but important country such as Pakistan.
One life has my family.
Is there anything more important?
No. And that is the clearest lesson from my year away.