When your dad is a cop every police death is personal
Every time I read about a police officer’s death my throat tightens and my eyes water.
It is an involuntary reaction.
As a news guy for more than a decade I have seen death and destruction that most people don’t and wouldn’t want to see. I can keep it together and be professional in my reporting through nearly all of it.
Still a cop’s death touches the little boy deep inside me who will never be able to face the fragility of his own father’s life.
You see, my dad is a cop. He started his career in law enforcement before I was born. I have never known anything else. My dad to me has simply always been a cop.
As a child having a policeman for a dad meant hearing his police radio in the house at all hours. It meant seeing his patrol car parked in our driveway when he came home for dinner. It meant going with him to the shooting range, having him teach me to shoot, then explaining to me that there would always be a gun in our home, that it wasn’t a toy and that I was never allowed to touch it without his permission.
As I grew up having a cop for a dad meant other things too. It meant my father warning me and my sister not to tell other kids at school what he did. At the time I didn’t understand why, but now I know he was protecting us from others who might try to get to him through us. I also know now that he was forced to arrest the parents of other kids at school on occasion. He didn’t want us to have to fight his battles.
As I grew into adulthood I must admit I never considered law enforcement as a career possibility. I went to college and studied communications. I did theatre, I did speech team, I wrote and I wrote.
After becoming a reporter my dad began to open up to me and share more of his ‘war’ stories. Over the years we have compared stories and both come to realize we see many of the same kinds of things.
In fact, some of the best career advice anyone ever gave me came from my dad.
“You will see so many bad things in your career and you have to keep your emotions in check on a daily basis to keep doing your job. If you let it overwhelm you it will destroy you,” he said. “But once every six months one story (or case in my job) should get to you. You should take it home with you. It should make you cry. Feeling that means you are still human and the job hasn’t destroyed you. When you stop feeling that, stop doing what you are doing and find another job because you are in danger of losing your humanity.”
I have lived by that advice. I have shared that advice with other reporters and interns looking to become reporters. It has served me well.
But there is a ‘type’ of story that no matter how hard I try to keep my professional veneer while covering, I cannot.
That story is the death of a police officer.
Even writing those words now I have to gulp back the constricting feeling I have in my throat and blink away even the possibility of moisture in my eyes.
I hear about the death of a police officer and I instantly think of that officer’s family. I think of that officer’s husband or wife. I think of that officer’s mother and father. I think of that officer’s brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and friends.
When I think of those people they are not faceless. When I imagine those people I see the faces of our family and our friends.
And then when I inevitably think of that officer’s children I see my sister’s face and my own face looking back at me from a mirror.
I see tears in our eyes and I imagine the infinite emptiness that has come and will stay.
I cannot bear those images. When I think of other families feeling that and not just imagining it as I am, my very soul aches. I write and speak for a living and I am honestly unable to find words to explain how deep this pain goes.
Police officers literally put on their bullet proof vests and then put their lives at risk every single day.
They don’t ask for thanks (and 90% of the time they don’t get it). They just do their jobs.
I know there are some bad cops out there. But I believe with all my heart those cops are one-in-a-million. Every cop I have ever known (and I’ve known hundreds) has wanted simply to protect their neighbors.
That’s all my dad wants to do.
My dad is now in his 50’s and he continues to work his favorite shift, overnights. He works that shift because it is the shift where he feels he can make the most impact. He works that shift because he believes that is when he is most needed and he can best serve.
When a cop dies from complications relating to an arrest like Deputy Shandon Wright did on Thursday I think of the countless injuries my father has suffered during arrests over the years.
When a cop is killed in a chase with a bad guy I think of the time my dad was rushed to the ER after coming-to in the middle of a busy city street. When a cop is killed in a car accident I remember when my dad’s patrol car was hit by a drunk driver and he was raced to the hospital. When a cop is murdered in a shootout I think about the bullets my dad has dodged over the years to come home safely to my mom, me and my sister.
The logical part of my brain knows my dad is mortal. But the wide-eyed 5-year-old that lives deep inside me doesn’t understand what that truly means. That little boy refuses to understand. My daddy is immortal. He is made of steel. He will keep ‘saving the world’ forever.
Every time a cop is killed I am forced to face the reality that no matter how much of a superhero my dad is he is at risk and he is in danger constantly.
I am also forced to face the reality that there will come a day when I will have to mourn the loss of my dad, my hero.
I just pray that when that day comes it is at the end of a happy, fulfilled, and long life.
That is what every good police officer deserves.
That is my prayer for not just our family, but for all law enforcement families everywhere.
No little boy should lose his superman until they are both old and gray and it is truly time to go.