- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Abe Campbell has been driving a truck for Interstate Van Lines for almost 40 years, and the past few years, he says, he has been on the road as much as 11 months out of the year. That will take a toll on any family man, he says.

"It took three wives to do all this, to find one who could hang in there," Mr. Campbell, 64, says with a wry grin. "I have my third wife now. The other two lasted maybe 10 years, and then they were worn out; they couldn't take it any more."

But he also looks back on a career that has provided well for himself and his family. He has children who graduated from college thanks to the paychecks he was able to send home.

Today, Mr. Campbell says, he finally has developed a routine with his wife, Margie, in El Paso, Texas.

"My wife told me not too long ago that we have the perfect marriage," he says. "You come home, and by the time we start to get on each other's nerves, you're gone. It's like a honeymoon every time."

For hundreds of thousands of men and women like Mr. Campbell, for whom life on the road is an essential part of the job, finding a comfort level is crucial to a happy marriage and family. It may not always take decades, but it does take hard work, plenty of communication and even more trust.

Of course, there is always the celebration to look forward to when that family member comes back.

"We always look forward to the future," says Janet Ragsdale of Landover, whose husband, Scott, frequently is gone for weeks or months as a submarine sonar technician for the Office of Naval Intelligence. "When Scott's at home, we make the most of the time we have together when we are together."

Communication and trust are key

Jon Weiss and his wife, Laura, have performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 14 years, he as the "Human Clown 'n Ball" and she as the one who lights the fuse to send him flying every night. Although they travel together with their three children, Mr. Weiss says they were apart for a month for every childbirth and still spend a few days a year in different cities. He says he doesn't know how traveling families do it.

"It was funny at times, dealing with other people," Mr. Weiss says of the months he and his wife were apart. "I'm used to talking to my wife directly, every day. I'd call the other person 'Laura, ' and then I'd have to apologize: 'Sorry I'm used to confiding in my wife.'

"I don't know how people do it for any length of time," Mr. Weiss says. "People with business trips 20 times a year? It's hard. I found myself in a hotel room watching cartoons all day. I didn't know what to do with myself. But in a way, it was good, I think, because you appreciate things more, the day-to-day things even more when you're together again."

Michael Hawkins knows that feeling. He says he and his wife, Marilyn, talked about his dream job as a truck driver before they got married, just to make sure they both knew what life would be like afterward.

"That's all I ever wanted to do was drive a truck," says Mr. Hawkins, 36, a driver for Interstate Van Lines who lives in Springdale, just outside of Bowie, and has earned safety awards on the job. "When I was a little kid, it was either that or play basketball. I picked the truck over basketball. Once I found Marilyn and we decided we were going to get married, we used to talk together, and we decided together that I would go on the road, and that's what I've been doing ever since."

"Mike loves what he does, and we talk every night," says Mrs. Hawkins, a bill specialist for a law firm in the District. "The toughest thing is when the kids [Michaela, 7, and Michael Jr., 3] are sick or something like that happens and you're kind of on your own. But the kids are usually pretty good, and they know the rules, whether Mike is home or not."

Garth and Danielle Anderson of Upper Marlboro have been married for 10 years, but they have known each other for about 21 years, since they met in high school. That length of time has served them well now that Mr. Anderson, like Scott Ragsdale, is a sonar technician for the Office of Naval Intelligence.

His job takes him on submarine deployments for weeks and sometimes months at a time, during which the Andersons can communicate with each other just by 40-word "family-gram" e-mails that must pass through censors on board the sub before they reach Mr. Anderson.

"We've known each other longer than most people have been married," Mrs. Anderson says. "Truthfully, that has helped a lot. There's a trust factor that's there that we built all those years."

The Ragsdales also say trust has helped keep their marriage strong through 17 years.

"We trust each other, and we just know this is what he wants to do," Mrs. Ragsdale says. "Sometimes we have rough times, but we seem to come through them." The Ragsdales have three sons, Christopher, 11, Brandon, 9 and Alex, 7.

'The Organization Family'

In his book "The Organization Family," which came out in 1989, Dennis Orthner expanded on the "organization man" concept from the 1950s, which focused on workers' tendency to toil for the same company or business their entire lives, often melding their own identities and sense of belonging into that of the company.

In "The Organization Family," Mr. Orthner focused on the U.S. military, his area of expertise as a director of the Jordan Institute for Families, a research and public-policy center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He says many business employees, and their families, live today much like military families, with everybody drawn into the "dominant organizational culture" where Mom or Dad works.

"The whole family has to play by [the organization's] rules and adjust its expectations based on the dominant expectations of that organization," Mr. Orthner says. "Sometimes that person actually makes a signed commitment which is a 24-hour, seven-day, 365-day-a-year obligation, and in fact, that term obligation has real meaning in that context. That person can be manipulated in many, many different ways, and the family essentially has to capitulate."

For example, many large companies, Mr. Orthner says, require their management trainees to move from location to location across the country for the first few years of their employment. That can be fine if the employee is single, he says, but frequently employees get married and have children during that time, and they often face big decisions about travel and family-vs.-work commitments when they get to middle-management positions.

"What did they sign up for?" Mr. Orthner asks rhetorically, referring to company employees' spouses. "Love, intimacy, companionship. Those are all wonderful things, but they didn't realize they were signing up for MCI; the Washington, D.C., police department or the U.S. Air Force. They didn't realize this person would have an obligation that would be superordinant to their own interests."

The challenge for families and companies today, he says, is to strike a balance between the needs of the family and the requirements of the job.

"How do we maintain essentially the same level of family cohesion when the work pattern and the cultural requirements are changing?" Mr. Orthner asks. "That's the big question. Society today is operating with the centrifugal force spinning family members apart, and the question is, what is the glue that holds [the family] together?"

Hotels trying to help

Many business travelers try to merge their family and work priorities by bringing their children along with them on some trips. The Travel Industry Association found in 1994 that 15 percent of the 289 million business trips that year included children, up 1 percent from the previous year and 3 percent from 1991.

Tricia Messerschmitt, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, says the hotel has seen a "fair amount" of children traveling with their parents for business trips, and the hotel even provides cookies, bathrobes and other age-appropriate goodies for the children when they arrive. The hotel also offers a licensed, bonded baby-sitting service that provides tours of local museums and other sights.

"We'll provide almost every activity a parent can think of," Ms. Messerschmitt says. "Every parent knows when your kid's smiling, you're smiling."

Cary Broussard, vice president of marketing for Windham Hotels and director of the chain's Women on Their Way program for female business travelers, says clients often use the hotel's fax machines to receive pictures and homework from their children back home.

"As much as e-mail has taken over, a lot of businesspeople at our hotels still do a lot of faxing," Ms. Broussard says. "That's still one major piece of equipment they want, whether it's in their room or the business center or the front desk. Faxing is still alive and well."

She says Windham's research has shown that female business travelers even are willing to pay more to stay at a hotel with fax machines and other features to stay in touch with their families at home.

Employees who can't bring their families along, Mr. Orthner says, often them develop a sense of family from their jobs and co-workers that sometimes replaces their real family back home.

"You have organizations like trucking companies or whatever organization people work for; sometimes you have to create your own family there if you decide to take on that lifestyle," he says.

The drivers at Interstate Van Lines, based in Springfield, all agreed with Mr. Orthner's assessment.

"We all pick up for each other and help each other out," Mr. Hawkins says. "When you're on the road as much as we are, you have to. I guess we are kind of like a surrogate family for each other."

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