My daughter is 2. As many first-time “oldish” parents that started a family in their mid 30s, we were ambitious with ideas about raising a kid. Before little M came around, it was discussions of cloth diapers, “nothing processed” this, paraben-free that, and little screen time unless it’s a freaking emergency. Well the paraben-free that stuck, the “nothing processed” morphed into “relatively unprocessed meals and mostly-not-garbage ingredients in snacks.” That screen time rule stuck, too. It just turns out every day is an emergency.
While we try to keep TV watching moderate, any parent will tell you it is equal parts awe-inspiring and disgusting. You literally get a pass to breathe- finally. You get to take a moment for yourself. I’m not talking about drawing a bath with some candles and a tall glass of Chianti- I’m talking about things like making something to eat- and that’s not straight from the container while standing next to the open fridge door. I’m talking about being able to take a “Numero Dos” (10-200 for the coppers) without having your kid pounding on the door. On the other hand, it is creepy how quickly your kid zombies-out like the poor citizens of Gotham in Batman Forever, staring at the Riddler’s “Box.”
In any case, M’s favorite show is Daniel Tiger. You might think, “I don’t know that show” but if you’re my generation, and you watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, you DO know that character.
So remember how there was the puppet village with that spooky lady with the pixie cut, who lived in the carousel museum? Ok, good news, she’s not in the show. But the title character is- Daniel Tiger. You may remember him as the mangled-looking kitten who lived in a grandfather clock, that looked like he was put through the wash ten too many times. If your memory is like mine, you’re thinking, “Man, even as a kid I thought that character was kind of a little B. The show writers fixed that by making him a child who is actually not as much of a little B. He has friends who are the offspring of show originals, like Prince Wednesday (son of King Friday) and O the Owl (nephew of X the Owl).
The point is, Marley loves the show. It’s saving grace? 1- it isn’t annoying AF like Peppa Pig. Garbage. Hard pass. 2- It has lessons about social etiquette, manners, going to the doctor, and so on. M is at the age where she is repeating the phrases or taglines, and actually applying them to daily life. Example- I ask if she wants to help me shut the car door. She responds with, “Friends help each other, yes they do.” Adorable.
One of the episodes shows a parent going away for a trip. The tagline from this is, “Grown-ups come back.” In true toddler form, she’s caught onto this and adjusted it. She exclaims, “You came back!” when I pick her up from daycare. Again, adorable.
I don’t get to see her every day. Shift-work as an emergency responder means long days, and frequent overtime (most of which you get caught with, whether you want it or not). One day, I got home and was welcomed with the normal smiling face and dancing in the window. But it what she said that took me aback.
“Daddy, you came home!” Then she looks at my wife, and as she gives me a hug says, “Daddy ALWAYS comes home.”
It hit me like a truck. “We come home.” It’s an adage in police-life. Your primary job. No matter the stress, the strife, the danger, the politics, the fights, the casework, the lawsuits… at the end of the day, you go home. Even if everything else is looking down.. you come home. And at least you have that.
I’ve had days that were near-miss game enders. Most of them were before I was a father. The most obvious one, involving a gunfight and propane tank explosion (no shit) may have involved divine intervention. A “critical incident” as we call them in the biz, could have taken my life, along with a couple of my buddies and my K9. Instead, it left me with some second-degree burn scars on my arm (shattered arm-model career dreams), a couple melted spots on my uniform and Kato’s harness and a metric F-ton of gratitude. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though.
The emotional and mental stress of this experience for me and my comrades can’t be summarized, measured, or truly accounted for. Speaking for myself, the extent of its impact may never be known. I wager this extends to the other involved officers, too. Don’t worry, there will be at least a post or two in the future: about the story itself and its impacts. Story for another day.
So back to coming home. Fatherhood has left me with many deep moments of reflection. About life. About family. About this career. About legacy. My dear friend, Diego was a father, 35 years old. He came home each day. Until that one day. July 22, 2018. That day he didn’t.
In this life, there are many things that aren’t guarantees. We don’t get a promise of living out all our days until we’re old and gray. We can talk about retirement, where and how we will live, but we don’t know if we will get there. We can make promises, but we don’t know if we can truly keep them.
Sometimes I hear things like “life has NO guarantees.” But this is just as shortsighted as living on a prayer. While life may not be predicted and all of our days are numbered, there are guarantees. We can’t control our time, but we can control what we do with it. We can influence how we show up in our time.
When the chips are down, when we are at wit’s end, we can decide simply to show up. For our team, for our families, for ourselves. That’s what Legacy is all about. It’s not what we do, but how we do it.
“Daddy always comes home.” It is an absolute goal. It is my most hopeful promise I can make to my dear loved ones- whom I truly love more than life itself. Who truly are life itself. I will do everything within my power to keep it. But, I will be responsible, mindful, and wise to know there are powers that be far beyond my control and comprehension. That I am just one body, one soul, in this complex, strange, brutal, beautiful existence we occupy.