Before Jonathan Allain agreed to sit down with me, he did what any self-respecting computer-literate skeptic would do.
He Googled me.
Who could blame him? Out of the blue, I contacted him after seeing a bunch of yellow ribbons tied around the trees in his front yard, a star flag in his window, and a big sign on the side of his Lumberton house that read "Mommy's Over There." Which left me wondering: Who's taking care of the kids with Mommy "over there"?
Turns out that "over there" is Iraq and that Jonathan, 31, a former Air Force pilot, is the parent in command stateside in New Jersey.
Mommy is Capt. Michel (pronounced Michelle) Allain, also 31, who's completing her final three months of a six-month deployment - her second deployment of the war. The civil engineer for the Air Force and second in command oversees projects and construction on her base.
Allowed past his checkpoint, Jonathan invited me into his home over the weekend. He introduced me to 7-year-old daughter Abigail and 14-month-old son Balen. Jazz, their 6-year-old shepherd-retriever, sat at my feet.
With so many women serving, the Allains aren't a military oddity. Dad changes diapers while Mom dodges inbound rockets. Dad cuddles while Mom commands. Dad wears the apron while Mom wears the fatigues.
It helps that Jonathan is a self-professed computer geek. Through his several family blogs, seven computers and array of video and photo software, he and the kids have stayed connected to Michel at 7,000 miles apart - better than many families that live in the same house.
They've operated in one-parent mode pretty much since they married in 1999.
In the beginning, Jonathan was missing from the homefront, flying C-17s in and out of Afghanistan right after 9/11 as a captain in the Air Force.
"Everything from humvees to office supplies to toilet paper," Jonathan says. "We'd fly troops in and fly out the dead."
While thousands of Americans have died in Iraq, they look at death pragmatically. They knew that signing on meant they might have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
"For us, death is not that big a deal," he says. "If Michel was to be killed. . . . It's something you learn to be OK with. It helps that we believe in what we're doing."
Jonathan managed to take an early out just as Michel received her deployment orders in January. With his retirement came a full year's salary and the chance to do what he's always wanted - to raise the kids.
He guesses he missed about a third of young Abigail's life flying missions.
"I dig the challenge of the children and being able to shape them into the type of people I'd like them to be," says Jonathan, who runs the household like the commanding officer he once was.
But he's human. It can get too much sometimes.
"I've had to readjust my definition of patience," says Jonathan. "Sometimes you have to step outside, take a deep breath, and reattack."
Michel is secure in knowing Jonathan is handling parenthood solo, but all the pictures and blog posts can't replace being there to see her kids grow up.
"I don't really feel guilty - just a little sad," she says via e-mail. "I can't help but feel I'm no longer my son's mother. I don't know him anymore because already he has changed so much."
Jonathan clicked on a video file on the flat screen. There was Michel, singing happy birthday to Balen. As soon as the toddler saw Michel's image on the giant screen, he bounded to the TV, grinning.
"Say bye-bye to Mommy," Jonathan coaxed.
Balen resisted. But Jonathan says he recently sent Michel the best gift of all.
It was a video of Balen watching Michel's "Happy Birthday" video.
In that one, she got to see Balen wave back.