Through his eyes: Veteran student balances class, family, career


Stephen Koenigsfeld/Iowa State Daily

Shawn, Ariadne and Magen Ennis all clean up after dinner. Shawn is one of many unique students at Iowa State. He acts as a father, husband, veteran and just a normal student on a daily basis.

Stephen Koenigsfeld

Upon entering the Shawn Ennis’ apartment, an aroma of Crock Pot roast, mashed potatoes and carrots fill the air. Ennis scoops up his daughter, Ariadne, out of high chair that’s set in the middle of the living room, all while trying not to let the smashed roast and potatoes she’s wearing touch his shirt.

Shawn and his wife Magen tag-team scrubbing their daughter’s face. As they do so, they all laugh as she tests the temperature of the water and squirms about.

For Ennis, a 30-year-old, non-traditional, veteran student at Iowa State, life can get a little complicated, but that’s okay with him. On Friday nights, while some students are out on Welch Avenue, Ennis can only dream of a frosty mug as he drifts off to an early sleep. During the weekends, he is off working three six-hour shifts at his security job at the Veterinary College.

It’s a different gig than most have on a weekend. He tries to wake up as early as he can to play with Ariadne, his 2-year-old daughter who has the energy of, well, a 2-year-old. But sometimes he can only get a few minutes of play time in.

“I’m used to the weird hours, especially after his time in the military,” Magen said. “It’s this one [she points to Ariadne as she plays with a purple, light up ball] I’m worried about. On Saturdays, she’ll sometimes ask ‘where’s daddy, where’s daddy?’ How can you try to explain that to a 2-year-old?”

When Ennis arrives at work, he’s greeted by someone who is often younger than he is. That’s where he usually is asked for “real world advice.”

“I don’t get asked too much [in class for advice]. Where I get asked a lot is work because they’ll say, ‘hey, you’ve been there and done that,’ so they figure I’ve got some ultimate knowledge,” Ennis said.

After working for nearly 24 hours, Ennis’ Sundays are spent sleeping in, until two little hands hit his face, waking him up to play. Magen said Ariadne “really needs her dad” on those Sundays.

“A lot of the times she’ll wake me up and we’ll spend the day watching football and playing, you know, all of the essential stuff a little girl needs growing up,” Ennis said.

As the four of us sit in the Ennis’ living room, Ariadne is acting very shy toward me. She sprints across the room, looks at me, laughs, touches the dishwasher and sprints back across the room and lands behind Magen, who’s sitting on the floor. As we talk about the the benefits and impacts of being a student and a dad, I begin to wonder what kind of a toll this lifestyle takes on the family.

“I’ve taught her all about the good superheros,” Ennis says, proudly, looking at his daughter. “Of course, we know all about Batman, don’t we Ariadne?”

The timid 2-year-old looks at me, smiles from ear to ear, and retreats behind her mother again.

Shawn turns to me and says, ‘She does the whole Batman voice and everything. It’s great.’ At this time, she’s peaking around her mother’s left arm after hearing the name ‘Batman.’

Ennis is proud of the movie knowledge his daughter has been able to pick up so quickly in her short life. Often, on those Sundays after he has had nine or so hours to sleep, he’ll plop Ariadne down into his lap as he watches a movie or plays a video game. But sometimes, those moments of zen don’t last long for the father-daughter duo.

“We’ll get settled in and then she’ll get up and want something or start crying,” Ennis said. “But when you look down, you realize you have something way better in your arms than a video game.”

As we continue to watch Ariadne, she sprints across the room, touches the dishwasher, sprints back across the room and lands in front of her mom this time. 

She looks up, smiles ear to ear, grits her teeth and lets out one audible grunt.

“I’m Batman,” she says, and quickly retreats into her father’s arms.