The time and dedication involved in a career in public service has many unintended consequences. With any luck, our children learn that serving the community or country is an honorable endeavor while mom or dad are unable to attend special events and holidays. Police, fire, EMS, and military families know far too well the impact that these careers can have on family life.
I personally know several police officers that come from generations of law enforcement officers, and those in the fire service, EMS, and military seem to have a similar path. Children who see parents in uniform tend to hold the service mom or dad provide in high esteem. It’s easy to understand why these children admire a mother or father in uniform in spite of the hardships the uniform brings. I can understand how that mother or father would then be extremely proud of a child who matures into the uniform and follows the same path.
Since my own children are years away from making any sort of career-oriented decisions, I haven’t put much time or effort into thinking about the potential career choice of my sugar donuts. With one in middle school, one in elementary school, and another that has yet to enter preschool I’ve been focused on trying to lead them down the path of developing into a good person rather than being a career counselor.
My kids have never known their father as a US Marine. My oldest was in diapers before I hung up my dress blues for the final time. They’ve seen some photos and have asked some questions, but I certainly haven’t encouraged them to join the military.
None of them remember a time before dad was a policeman. They are accustomed to the odd hours and the random non-shift tasks that draw me away from them like court, training, meetings, and SWAT call-outs. They’ve overheard conversations between Mrs. Donut and me as I ranted and vented about various stressors and idiots inside and out of the agency.
They’ve seen dad lowering the American flag in our front yard to half-mast and stepping out of the house in uniform with a black band across my badge when another officer has senselessly lost his or her life in my area. They’ve asked questions about both and have received assurances that dad is very careful while at work, and as intelligent little creatures they’ve surely understood that sometimes circumstances can be beyond my control.
In spite of our better efforts they’ve seen media coverage that is unfavorable to law enforcement. They’ve had other kids parrot stupid comments about cops that they overheard from their own parents and bring those comments home to see dad’s reaction.
They try to understand why other kids are allowed to roam free while they are confined to a fenced-in backyard because dad is fully aware of the dangers that lurk, even in our suburban Donut County neighborhood. They know that the random and unexpected knock at the door prompts dad to recover a pistol before answering the door while they retreat deeper into the house because a marked police car inhabits space in the driveway.
In spite of all of these things, when faced with a middle school project on potential career fields my oldest sugar donut wanted to pick law enforcement. I was not prepared for this scenario. As a straight “A” student in advanced coursework, I expected any number of careers to be in her crosshairs. The thought had never crossed my mind that one of my children would entertain the idea of being a cop.
Mrs. Donut and I have always told our kids that they can be whatever they want to be as an adult. Faced with a prospect that one of my sugar donuts would want to follow in my footsteps, my pulse quickened and my vision narrowed. How in the hell could this be possible? Has she been sleepwalking through life?
With no forethought I was left unprepared. I’m a trained observer, but I missed any sort of clue that one of my kids would entertain the idea of being a cop.
I’d like to say that I handled it diplomatically while expressing gratitude that she would feel that my way of life would suit her. I wish my first response was of appreciation that she could see the nobility in sacrificing for others followed by a helpful suggestion that she take a look at other careers before considering law enforcement. I’d be lying if that was actually what happened.
I’ve always been the one who created the worry. I’ve never been the one who was left behind during a military deployment, regularly scheduled police shift work, or zero-dark-thirty barricaded person SWAT call-out. The prospect of sitting on the other side of the worry-creation paradigm elicited a response that was quick and direct rather than measured and considerate.
I immediately pointed out that my eldest sugar donut possesses a weak stomach at the sight of blood. I told her that she’s always teared up during conflict of any kind. I told her about the constant scrutiny and lack of respect that we face. I added that I have served our country and community so she would not have to do so. I suggested that she was far too intelligent to not see these things for herself, and demanded that she pick another career to focus on for her project.
The sudden barrage was not well received and I immediately regretted my position. I did not relent on my demand for her to check out other more suitable career fields, but I couldn’t help but to feel like I had failed her by pushing her away.
We were able to reach a compromise, and I put her in touch with an evidence technician so she could learn about a potential career field as a crime scene investigator/forensic analyst. While I fully understand that her middle school career project will not likely be the path she decides to walk as an adult, I was blindsided and unprepared to even consider that one of my children would want to be a police officer.
My eldest and I have had follow-up conversations about the topic. I’ve expressed my own feelings about the nobility of police work with a blend of other options for her to pursue should she continue to feel as though she should contribute to society as a public servant.
In a few short years I’ll be faced with the middle school project again with the middle sugar donut. Hopefully my response will be more measured should he decide to lean toward law enforcement.
As they mature and complete their educations I may have to confront my own reservations about one of my kids doing what I do for a living. I’ll continue to push for them to expand their horizons, but ultimately if they have the drive and desire to walk my path either in the military or law enforcement, I’ll have no choice but to support them.
Overall I have truly enjoyed my career and have no desire to pursue a life outside of a police uniform until I can draw my pension. At times it is hard work, dangerous work, and a stressful life. On the other hand, it is rewarding and fulfilling in a way that I don’t believe I could find elsewhere.
I am now a month or more removed from the unwitting ambush laid by my eldest child and her career project. With that distance, I can now appreciate that she would even consider pursuing police work and take pride in the idea I have been a positive role model in spite of the bullshit tornado that can be my life.
I have reflected on the pride I’ve seen as veteran cops have stood by as their children graduated from the police academy. I’ve also thought about the anguish on the face of the veteran cops who have stood by a flag-draped coffin containing their child whose career in law enforcement was cut short. The law of averages tells me that my own children would likely survive as a cop, but I know fully that not all scars are visible. In my life as a father I’ve done my best to keep my kids safe.
My kneejerk reaction was regrettable but I have always done my best to shield my sugar donuts from my own reality. I gave her a glimpse on that day at the dinner table, but I think I tore the band-aid off a little too quickly when faced with the possibility of my own child wearing a badge.
I’ll have to reconcile my feelings about one of my children running toward the sound of gunfire as I have done myself numerous times without considering the possibility that one of those fired rounds may find its way to me. The prospect of one of my own children doing the same places me in unfamiliar territory on the other side of the worry-paradigm. Luckily, Mrs. Donut has a vast amount of experience on that side, and I’ll have to lean on her for guidance (and bourbon) should one of the sugar donuts decide that donning a ballistic vest and duty belt is a great way to earn a paycheck.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut…