“Respect your elders and especially your mother!”
That’s one of the principle behaviors Eric Graley wants his kids to grow up knowing. It’s Sabrina, his wife of 16 years, he says who helps him to be successful as a driver. When he decided to drive over the road more than three years ago, it was a decision both of them weighed in on. Sabrina’s opinion was also considered when he moved to drive for Prime in 2018. “She’s my rock,” he says, and adds, “I wouldn’t be driving without her.
Eric Graley has been driving an 18-wheeler for three and a half years, the past year for Prime. He is also the father to three daughters and a son ranging in age from four to 15. Eric serves as a trainer for new Prime drivers, spending up to six weeks (or 30,000 miles) with a new employee. He enjoys it; the money is good; and he views driving as a way to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his family. “Driving for Prime, I’m able to provide a good life for my wife and kids,” he states.
Just because he’s gone from home six to eight weeks at a time, does not mean Eric is not thinking about his family. The stuffed animals from the kids that Eric has on his dash in the truck and the daily phone check-ins mean they are often on his mind. “Every morning,” he explains, “I try to video call and check in with each of them—even for just five minutes, to find out what they’re doing and tell them I love them.”
Eric also stresses the importance of including his family by telling them where he’s at and where’s he’s going. (The day we caught up with Eric he was headed south out of Colorado in route to Laredo, Texas with 43,000 lbs. of yogurt.) He told us, “I try to take pictures of things my kids are interested in seeing.” His 12-year-old daughter, for instance, likes to see snow and city lights, so Eric has sent her several photos of snow. The night skies of Houston, Dallas, St. Louis and others have also been included. Noticing and photographing some of her current interests help her know he is thinking of her. He said he had a similar experience with his older daughter who was fascinated with cactus for a time.
Eric says he also likes to bring his kids small gifts when he comes home after a month or two on the road to see his family for a week or two. This might include a dream catcher in honor of their Native American heritage or a new beanie baby. “It’s not the size that matters,” he explains. “It’s that I want them to know I’ve been thinking about them.”
As much as he loves his children, Eric insists he would not be where he is today without the love, support and encouragement of Sabrina. Perhaps this, and his southern heritage, is one of the reasons it’s critical to him that his children learn to “respect their elders,” and especially their mother. When he comes home he does everything he can to make her life easier. Even when he’s on the road, he’s not afraid to be stern with the children if necessary.
“Sometimes,” he says, “I give them a stern talking to. At other times, there might be a group scolding.” If necessary, he’s not afraid to add, “You don’t know when I’m coming home.” And although it’s not easy to discipline children you’ve been missing, Eric says he is not afraid to do what’s necessary to help his children develop into respectful adults who use “Yes, mam” and “No sir.”
“If I need to deal with some misbehavior,” he explains, “I try to do it right away after I get home so we can get it done and over with and enjoy the rest of our time together.”
We wondered if Eric talked to his trainee drivers about more than driving, for instance, about how to stay connected with your family even when you were gone. Eric’s response was swift and certain. “Trust your wife and don’t act on ‘bad dreams,’ i.e. the thought she’s not being faithful to you.”
“I’ve seen marriages ruined simply because a guy acted on a ‘bad dream.’ Keep including her in your life on a daily basis and it will make things much easier.”
From Eric’s perspective, success as a driver means making it a family affair. Respecting, valuing and loving your wife or partner is an important first step. Staying connected with your kids while on the road is the second. Together, they form a powerful bond even when dad is driving over the road.
Women of Steel. That’s what you might call the seven women gathered for lunch on a chilly November afternoon to talk about what it’s like to be married to a long-haul driver. Debra, Alika, Brandy, Terry, Melissa and Melanie—that’s who sat at the table. Donna joined us by phone. Their stories and histories vary, but the one thing they all have in common is their love and commitment to a man who drives an 18-wheeler. In this instance, all the men drive a flatbed trucks for Steelman Transportation, a trucking company located in Springfield, Missouri.
Terry Hayden: Terry’s husband has driven a truck for more than 40 years. She lived on the truck with him until family issues took her off the road. In fact, Terry worked as a certified driver herself for eight years. These days she says, “We talk all the time and use video chat.” She feels better knowing that her husband has his dog “right there in the truck with him.”
Theresa Greenland, aka Alika: Alika’s husband, Alan, has been driving on and off for 15 years, the past three for Steelman. She, too, uses video chat to stay in touch with her husband. She also has lived on the truck, but had to come off the road due to health issues. She describes life on the truck, “as a great adventure.” “Where else,” she asks, “could you get to see as much of the country as you can from the cab of a truck?”
Debra Hill: Debra’s husband, Michael, has been driving for more than 20 years—the last three months with Steelman. Debra says she and Michael “talk on the phone a lot. Between the two of us, we have seven kids—all boys.” They are also grandparents to six grandchildren.
Brandy Howe: Brandy’s husband, Paul has been driving for 10 years – the first two with the military and the last eight with Steelman. The couple has two older children, 21 and 16. They expect the arrival of a new baby girl in the spring to change some things about the way they communicate, especially since they prefer talking on the phone to video chatting. When the baby arrives, Brandy predicts they will be using video chatting a lot more often.
Donna Harper: Donna’s husband, Johnny, has been driving for 20 years. She believes it’s critical that to be “100% supportive of what he’s doing. If he is to be successful in his work, he must have support at home.”
Melissa Vaughn: As the newest member of the Women of Steel, Melissa has been with her boyfriend on the truck for two months. She sees her life at this point as an exciting journey and looks forward to what each new day will bring.
Melanie Borden: Melanie has been married to her husband, Paul, for 40 years. He’s been driving over the road since 2004, and she’s worked for Steelman Transportation since 2005. The couple has adult children and four grandchildren. “The honeymoon happens,” she says, “when he comes home. In between times, I can get my house clean and my life in order. Then he comes home and we have wonderful chaos.”
What It Takes to be a Woman of Steel
None of the Women of Steel I met would say that being the woman behind the man on the road is easy, but all can tell you how important their role is to their partner’s success.
“I love YouTube,” claims Brandy. “I’ve learned a lot of ways to fix things at home on my own so that when he comes off the road he can enjoy himself and relax.”
The other women agreed with Brandy listing the wide variety of things they handle so “he doesn’t have to worry about them.” These include handling all the financials (bills, child care, child support) and house and home repairs. They reason their driver does better when he knows, “she’s got it under control.”
“Sometimes,” they say, “we just do it (fix something) and then tell him. This way he doesn’t have to worry.”
“It’s important to keep the home stress at a minimum, so they can focus on driving.”
Alika says, “I even buy his groceries for the truck so that when he’s home, he doesn’t have to think about doing that.”
Perhaps because of the shared experience the typical non-driving family might not understand, the women all expressed a close connection to Steelman and described their relationship “like family.” They said they have experienced a very welcoming environment, emotional support in hard times, and sensitivity to their partner’s desire to be home for special family events.
They’ve also reached out to other women with OTR (over-the-road) partners. Donna started a group on Facebook for Trucker Wives who want to support their driver and each other, “Trucker Wives Who Support Their Truckers and Each Other”. She believes the shared “adventure of the road” brings us all together. “Some women,” she says, “have messaged me and asked for input.” She believes it is critical for the women at home to have relationships with people who can relate positively.
Challenges for Women of Steel
Not surprisingly, extended time a part from each other is one of the biggest challenges these women face. They caution against being resentful about being alone and note that their partner is alone, too, on the truck. “He spends long hours by himself,” they explain. “That’s why communication is a big thing.”
Women of Steel also worry about their men. “Is he safe?” they wonder, as one of them describes how hard the job is. She has read that driving a truck over the road is more dangerous than being a fire fighter. “People don’t respect that,” she says. “They don’t know what a hard job it is.”
Becoming a Woman of Steel
It takes time to adjust to life on and off the road. According to the Women of Steel, “Flexibility is key.” They also emphasize how important it is to have “trust in and believe in each other.” When it comes to their partner’s job, they stress, “It’s important to remember they drive because they want to take care of their family.”
Donna offers, “Even when he can’t be home, try and include him as much as possible. Talk with him about what’s going on. And do fun things!” Donna and her husband have even done something she refers to as “truck karaoke” to have a good time together even while separated by distance.
While some of the women have lived on the truck with their partner, most have not. Even so, all recommend spending some time on the truck, e.g., a week or two. “They spend a lot of time alone,” they explain. “Keeping them company helps you understand what they do and helps them feel supported.”
My wife Jill and I have been married for almost 22 years and have two teenage boys. Hayden is 15 and a sophomore at Kickapoo High School and his brother Caleb is a 13-year-old 8th grader at Cherokee Middle School. When we look back it has all gone by so fast. People always tell you it will but, when you are living it every day it can be just a blur. From changing diapers, learning to talk and walk, sports, homework, church and now soon to be drivers and girlfriends, WOW what just happened!
When I think of all the conversations we’ve had with our boys over the years it’s amazing. We’ve always tried to be open and honest with them, but also tried to keep it age appropriate. Sometimes you can offer up too much information when all they are really after is just a simple answer to satisfy their curiosity. But there are times they can go deep with their inquiries.
I remember when Hayden was younger and an early riser like me (but now that he’s a teenager sleeping in is a common occurrence). Most Saturday mornings while Jill and Caleb were still asleep we’d going riding around together—no real destination just coffee for me and maybe some breakfast for both of us. We’d talk about all kinds of things just as they came up while we were cruising around town for an hour or two. It was just simple basic stuff, but what great memories for me and hopefully for him. I think most of the time he taught me more than I taught him. Kids have a way of breaking it down and keeping simple; adults tend to complicate things. Remember everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and kindness matters.
This past summer I had the chance to drive to several baseball tournaments with Caleb. Just me and him while Jill was running with Hayden to his baseball games. Divide and conquer. Those of you with kids involved in various activities know what it’s like. It was a blessing to me to get to spend more time with him. Talking, (listening to music most of it his, but some of mine too), and staying in a hotel together as roommates. While I like to watch him play and compete to watch how he responds to and handles game situations, e.g., winning and losing I was most proud of him as a teammate and watching him develop and gain confidence in himself. Now when I hear some of the songs it brings back memories of the summer road trips together.
Lots of our conversations with the boys now have to do with sex, drugs, alcohol, death, friends and even politics. It’s grown up stuff that sometimes I don’t always understand or have all the answers. But together Jill and I do our best to have a discussion to help them think through it and hopefully make good decisions. They must understand the consequence and the impact it will have on their future and career opportunities. We sometimes hear the locker room language during the sex talks. All the things they hear on the bus at school on social media and even on TV or YouTube. It’s sure not Leave it to Beaver anymore with Ward and June explaining things the Wally and Theodore.
I think it is extremely important to include Jill in the conversations as they happen, although she would sometimes like to bow out. When the topic of sex comes up she’ll roll her eyes or give a heavy sigh and ask, “Do I really need to be part of this?” I feel they need a woman’s perspective. It’s important to hear from their mom what girls think and feel about boys and men.
Death is another topic we’ve always been very open about with our boys. We’ve lost close family members and friends over the years. When my brother battled leukemia several years ago and finally died in 2010 we included the boys in our regular visits with him and openly discussed his disease with them. They really seemed to understand it more at times than we gave them credit.
Communication is key. It is so important in any family or organization to have open, honest and respectful conversations. Not that we are experts. It can get heated in our household at times. Tempers flare at times with teenagers. My wife is good about making sure we eat together regularly as a family. And when we go out to dinner NO cell phones are allowed. It works most of the time.
Having frequent conversations is so important. You don’t always have to have an agenda. Just make sure you take the opportunities to talk when they arise, and they will. I know they often do around our house and especially when driving in our vehicles. And remember to listen to our kids. They will tell us what they want to know and they can teach us lessons. I know my boys do all the time.
Dennis and his wife, Jill, are the parents of two sons. When not staying engaged with his sons and their schedules, Dennis volunteers time as a Good Dads Board member. He can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.
Before we have children, we tend to spend much time dreaming about all of the things we will do with them, and all of the meaningful, wonderful conversations we will share. Maybe we will dream and brainstorm with them about what they will be when they grow up. Maybe we will sit on the front porch swing and talk about all of the fun they had with friends at summer camp. Rarely do we think about, or prepare and plan for, the tough conversations of life.
Peer pressure, bullying, drugs, death, and yes, the dreaded topic of sex, are not topics that fill our parenting daydreams. As a matter of fact, these things tend to be the elements making up many of our parenting nightmares. Or, if not nightmares, at least the not so exciting topics that truly can shape our child’s thinking. But, does it really have to be that way? Can we approach the hard things in better or more comfortable ways? While these conversations may never become easy, I do believe they can be (more comfortable), without the anxiety that so many of us parents experience with these issues.
If I could share with you only one admonishment regarding this from my 30 years of parenting, it simply would be: DON’T FREAK OUT. If we want our kids to best handle the hardest things they will face in life, we have to be the first people, and offer the safest place, to which they can turn.
My wife often tells younger moms that one of the things she regrets doing with our oldest son is too often overreacting to the hard questions and situations he would bring to her. The mama bear in her wanted to shield him from the hard things, and she admits that the struggle to accept the fact that he was growing up and in a world that was going to challenge him, often parentally paralyzed her.
Eventually, she and I found a mantra that helped us better address the hard things with our boys: “We can’t always protect, but we certainly can equip.” Fully accepting the fact that our kids absolutely would face tough things, from broken relationships to illness to death, then working to create a safe place in which they could become equipped to face these tough things, are the two key components we found to be most helpful to us as parents. In turn, these things absolutely benefited our children.
.Of course, the way in which we discuss the “hard things” may vary, based on what each “hard thing” it we are discussing is, and how each child reacts to the respective “hard things” he or she individually faces. Some topics may be more easily handled within the home, between you and your child. Other times, it is okay to look at a child and say, “You know what? How would you feel about us bringing someone else into our conversation?” For instance, if you are walking a child through the loss of a dear, loved one, you may want to have them receive encouragement from a young person, a bit older than your young person, who has walked the path of loss and is doing well. If bullying is occurring at school, whether your child is the victim, bystander, or even bully, you may need to have your son or daughter visit with a school counselor or teacher. Of all the hard topics, believe it or not, sex seems to be the one most parents tend to shy away from or overreact to. My wife has admitted that she would have rather tackled the subject of tragic death than that of sex, when our boys were young. Fortunately, we live in a day and age in which there are a myriad of resources, books, conferences, and workshops that can also help us help our children. Taking some time to find the resources that make us comfortable discussing the topic can be a great plan to prepare for that inevitable question.
However, at the end of the day, regardless of the great resources and tools that we may draw from, never forget that you, me - the parents - are the ones providing the toolbox. Remember, they will get the answers from somewhere. For me, I wanted that “somewhere” to be a conversation with Dad and Mom first, and creating that safe place where they knew they would never be judged, criticized or ignored when hard topics surfaced made all the difference.
Kevin Weaver is a Springfield father of three.
I was sitting at my computer working away on some project, when one of my daughter’s came in the room and started telling about a something she and her friends had done together at the sleepover the night before. She spoke with excitement, laughing along the way, as I gave an occasional, “Uh-huh,” or “Hmmm…,” or “Oh, really?” She evidently had finished her tale, as she finally said, “Dad, isn’t that so funny?!” Only I had no idea if it was funny or not, because I had not heard a word she said.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. Could you tell me that again?” I requested with a measure of embarrassment. Her initial excitement about sharing the story with me had worn off, but she retold it anyway.
I wish I could claim that was a one-time event, but it wasn’t. I had made a habit of being a poor listener. On other occasions, the girls had told me things, but I had not listened well. Later, after the conversation had passed, and when I was listening to them, I might ask with surprise, “When did you do that?” “Dad, I already told you, remember?” The problem was I didn’t remember; I had not really heard them in the first place. We had been in the same room. She had stood next to me and told me a story. But I had not listened.
I decided that I had to change some things in order to be a good listener and really hear what my daughters were saying.
Here are a few things that I put into practice to become a better listener:
1. About Face: If at all possible, I stopped what I was doing and did an “about face;” I turned my body and face toward them. Under most circumstances, communication really does involve the face. When I turned toward them, I looked them in the eyes as they told their story.
2. Here to Hear: “I hear you” often begins with “I here you.” Okay, I recognize that this doesn’t make sense grammatically speaking, but let me explain. In order to listen well, I need to be present with them. Being in the same room is not the same as being with them. To hear them, I must also be here, in the moment, not on my phone or staring off in the distance or watching the instant replay of the game or working on my computer. Doing an “about face” is really about showing that you want to be with your child and that they are more important (in the vast majority of cases) than what you might be doing at the moment.
3. Hold That Thought: Occasionally, if my train of thought for an email or document is really critical, I say, “Just a moment. Let me finish typing this thought, then I will listen.” It is important that this not take a long time. If I need more than just a minute (literally), I ask, “May I take five minutes and finish this? Then I will hear your story and not be thinking about this.” Most of the time, they’ll be okay with this.
4. Engage: As you look your child in the eye, offer feedback. “Wow!” “That sounds fun!” “What happened next?” Children like affirmation about their experiences, not just their performances, though the two often go hand-in-hand. If your child is small, put them on your lap and let them talk away.
Active, engaged listening is crucial to healthy conversation. It also builds trust, as your children know that you hear them and care about what they are sharing with you. This encourages them to keep coming to you to share as they get older, because you have proven that you hear.
And good hearing (and “here-ing”) will allow them someday to say with pride, “I have a good dad!”
Deron Smith and his wife Becca have been married for 23 years, and have three daughters: Abby (20), Makayla (17), and Toria (15). Since 2004, he has been Preaching Minister at East Sunshine Church of Christ, Springfield, Missouri. As a preacher, he often says that he is "one learner telling other learners what he's learning." Besides his love for his family and church, he enjoys fitness, the outdoors, football, the St. Louis Cardinals, and anything "Razorbacks."