Firefighter, paramedic, parenting, community service

A Letter to My Sons

This morning I’m sipping a mocha cappuccino, toasting my feet by a cozy fire. It’s 4 degrees outside. Early this morning I texted with my husband as so often I do. I  miss his warmth and gentle snoring in our bed. I have learned over the years however, that I must learn to do without that at times. We have a comfortable home- a comfortable life. A ranch, like I always dreamed of having, full of precious children and animals that I love. He has provided my heart’s desires. He works his tail off for all of this. I don’t fail to acknowledge this provision as I sit here in relative luxury knowing he hasn’t slept or eaten in over 24 hours. I also remember he will be home late because he’s going to visit a man home from the hospital that was a patient of his a few months ago. He saved this man’s life. He had been to the hospital to see him early on, but the man won’t remember that.

My husband is a paramedic, working on the other side of the mountains, so texting is our usual mode of communication. The crew has been up all night. Haven’t seen their beds as they put it. This isn’t unusual of course. It is however, miserable, especially when it’s cold outside and they are rushing in and out of it, trying to work over someone’s broken body in the road or a ditch in freezing temperatures which can be tricky for cold- numb hands.

Then of course, it’s hard to decompress from the adrenaline rush of waking up to a screaming alarm in the middle of the night. You try getting dressed and driving a huge rig down the road in 3 minutes flat, waking from a dead sleep.

Attempting to simultaneously warm up, and try to sleep after a night time call, if there’s time enough in between them, which there often isn’t, is sometimes futile. Anyway sometimes the call has been too sad, or disturbing to let most of the crew sleep afterward. Most of us couldn’t do what they do. There’s a reason heart attacks are their number one killer among firefighters. Lots of reasons for them (and their families) to suffer with post traumatic stress disorders after some of those calls as well. The things they see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and have to do would put some of us right over the edge. It’s not just fighting fires. Not at all.

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So, as I sit here reflecting on the man I love, and have shared my whole adult life with, and his career, I am struck by the fact that our kids have no idea what a hero he is. How hard he works, and what kind of trauma, drama, and plain nonsense he deals with at work.

I wanted to let my sons know how much I admire and love their father. He provides such a rich life for us. Sometimes we take it for granted. Take him for granted. The times he’s too tired to engage with us, or the occasional period of time he’s working through something so horrendous he dealt with at work he can’t speak of it and goes quiet for awhile. I know that you have grown up with a man you sometimes didn’t understand. But you have grown up to be good people. Responsible and caring adults, that have been noted for having good manners and work ethics. I like to think your dad has rubbed off on you. I like to think you will practice some of his good habits and ignore the bad ones. I’d like for you to be able to stand up for what you believe, rescue orphans, and care for the elderly. I hope you see the needs of others and have the courage to do something for them.

Taylor, you are a grown man who has been married for over two years already. You’re an excellent husband and responsible young man. Everywhere I go in this community I hear good reports of my sons, and your beautiful wife is such a welcome addition to our family. I’m so proud of you. You are an overcomer and a strong, brave man of character and conviction. I love that even though you’re only in your early twenties, you’re working hard, saving money and thinking of the future inspite of the physical pain you are in constantly. I’m so grateful you take the time to call and come visit your mama “just because” and that we are such close friends now that you’re an adult. I like who you are.

I pray you will emulate your father in that you love Jesus by getting involved in other people’s lives -trying to make a difference. I remember one time your dad went on a call to a little old woman who was suffering from dehydration. He probed her as to why she wasn’t drinking more water and found out she hated the taste of her tap water and just couldn’t bring herself to drink it. He came home, took the new Britta water filter system out of our refrigerator and drove it to her house. Maybe it was a small thing but it made him bigger in my eyes.

My point is, he didn’t just do his job, he cared. Son: care. Care about others. At the end of the day and at the end of our lives, what matters is the who, not the what.

Ben, you are a compassionate and hard working young man. On the cusp of manhood, you have so many directions you could go. I know you will succeed at whatever you decide to do, but I’m especially excited to see the difference you make in the lives of other people. You have always been considerate, affectionate, and strong as iron. I have watched you struggle through the teenage years to emerge a confident man of strength and integrity. When I’m in town I almost always meet someone who wants to give a good report of you, or a woman wanting me to know her daughter wants you to notice her. (ha ha!)

Just like your name means, you have been the “son of my right hand” and I have been grateful for all the ways, big and small, you take care of me, the little kids, and things around this ranch. Your employers recognized your value last month but I want to acknowledge that you are a major contributor to this family all of the time.

You are a talented and gifted person in the arts. Spiritually sensitive and yet tough, you stand up for the weak and speak up for others. I’m proud of those traits in you son.

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Cameron, you and Ben haven’t really gotten the benefits of your dad working in the town we live in. We moved before you were born and came to us. You haven’t gotten to see your daddy drive the fire engine down the road, sirens blaring as we passed. That always thrilled the other kids. “That’s my dad!” they would shout. You haven’t gotten to take coffees or dinner to the fire station and crawl all over the engine and pretend you were driving. But you will hopefully know your dad is amazing and his job, while a big sacrifice, is also a big satisfaction. Some people aren’t  fulfilled unless they are helping others, and I find that to be admired. I hope you do too. I hope and pray you are the kind of man that is willing to sacrifice for the sake of others and do good to people, even if it costs you something. Especially if it costs you something.

You might not know this, but your dad’s coworkers go all over the world, using their skills as paramedics and emergency responders to help in crisis situations. They volunteer their own time, money, and sacrifice for others all the time. You won’t hear these stories in the paper most likely. That’s a real shame, because I feel like they should be told. These are just regular folks, with families, and problems, worries, relatives in trouble, bills to pay, weeds to pull and lawns to mow, doing extraordinary things.

They provide for their own, yet they are still reaching out into the communities and unto the ends of the world, to help in desperate situations many people can’t face and don’t want to think about. Facing and even entering into the suffering of others takes an emotional and physical  toll. It takes a person of character and purpose and discipline.

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You are living a golden childhood because your dad is an outstanding man. I’d like you to know that. I hope when you realize it you are able to thank him.

Audie you have grandparents that are not only still married, but still in love, chasing each other around. You have a ranch to come to for adventures and fun, a solid family with rich faith and traditions for holiday celebrations, and a safe place to land always. You are cherished and have a heritage I hope you will be proud of.

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No, most of the interesting and good things don’t get into the paper. The stories that should be told to encourage others are often not even whispered. Celebrating heroes has given way to the worship of celebrities, much to our shame.

There’s a great story going on right now. Well, it’s a sad story, but I’m proud of your dad’s part, and the other people involved as well. Not too long ago, a terrible thing happened. A tragedy of the sort that makes your stomach feel sick and keeps a person up at night. Picture a brave soldier, home from multiple tours in Afghanistan and ready to be with his family, build a house for his wife, and settle down to an ordinary life. He’s a good man, and his family is thrilled he’s finally back for good. Dad is on shift one morning and gets called out to an auto accident. A young driver plowed into the war veteran. Dad was able to save his life- just barely, but at the hospital later, they were unable to save his leg. He may yet lose the other leg. To survive enemy fire and then come home to be savaged by a car?! It’s so…I don’t have words for it. It’s maddening, that’s all I can think.

 Dad and other firefighters and paramedics visited him and his family in the hospital. They were all so deeply affected by this man’s fight for life. Here he is home from the war, but fighting for his life again.

They were deeply hurt for his wife. Their hearts broken for the lost dreams of building a home and life, that came home with this man- stolen by a brief moment in time- an accident. It’s just the kind of thing that makes you feel the injustice of all the world in one incident. Such a dark world sometimes. Jesus in us is the hope and cure for our own little corners, but not everyone has Him. We do, so we share Him as we can.

What won’t make the news is that these firefighters and paramedics have been helping to make the trailer that the soldier now lives in, to be wheelchair accessible. Bringing gravel for the driveway so his wife doesn’t have to push him through the mud. Installing a wheelchair ramp, widening the walls, screwing rails into the bathroom. They are working on trying to negotiate a cement company to come out and put a slab down to ease his wife’s burden. Have you ever pushed a wheelchair through gravel? Or mud for that matter. It rains all the time over there.

It won’t make the news that this war veteran hero had his life ripped apart and a limb as well, after he got home safely from war. Or that my husband, your dad, has the heartache of being a witness to the suffering it all cost. It won’t make the news that the very people who saved the life of this man have become some of his biggest champions in starting a new, different life than he dreamed. The story won’t be told anywhere else but here, most likely. But I think it’s a terrible and beautiful story. It reminds me how good our fellow humans can be. Created in God’s image we are. It’s so good to see His image reflected in people once in awhile.

I hope you are able to see our Heavenly Father’s loving heart in your own earthly father. He’s frail and faulty by comparison but he’s such a man! I love him for so many reasons, and I have a lifetime of stories like the ones here to remind me of who he is when daily life gets in the way and I’m mad about muddy footprints on the floor, or something else so unimportant. I hope you can remind yourself about the heroism of your dad on the days he’s grumpy and and just needs to be mind-numb for a day or two or ten. You won’t realize, because he won’t tell you, that he is trying to get over the memories of a call that rocked him to his core. That certain smells trigger an incident that no human eye should see, that when the kids are shrieking in the yard maybe it brings back memories of a car accident involving children who didn’t survive.

Here at home he’s just dad. He’s bucking hay and burning horns on the goat kids for me, or he’s mowing the lawn. When we did foster care he was also the guy changing poopie diapers, praying for addicted birth mothers, and letting babies sleep on his chest.

He used to be Ben’s football coach around the same time. He’s the guy who has invested time in the lives of young adults needing some guidance and direction- even to the point of giving them a room in our home and place in our family.

Jared, you are a better man and father because of your relationship with Doug. He’s been a father to you in many ways. He’s loved you with action, sometimes with a shove, or a kick in the pants, sometimes with praise and kindness. But he gave you what you need to make positive and live altering changes that benefit you and your baby girl.

Joe, since you were 15 years old you’ve been dear to us. You have enjoyed the warmth and love offered you here, I hope. This man has provided a home that’s open, comfortable and welcoming. You have belonged here. He’s given you that, and now you are a man and a close friend. We can’t imagine the holidays without you.

This man below is also a hero, as you know. He took off his cape long enough to come help out at the ranch when my paramedic was away rescuing people from themselves or others this past summer.

This a regular family guy, and a cop. He’s a good friend. I admire him as well. I’m friends with his wife and I see that he and others in his profession live similar sacrificial lives. You children have grown up together. Their children are also outstanding people in the community too. We wives know the cost (mostly) and we try to make a home for these men that is a safe haven. There’s only so much we can do. Fluffing pillows and hot meals make a difference I suppose. Thoughts of home and family drive them on the days they feel the effects of it all building up, because believe me, it’s not just a job.

Next time you meet a firefighter or a policeman, say thank you. It’s the least you can do. Remember your dad is just a regular guy at home, because on his shift days he’s a super hero with a whole crew of people just like him, dads, moms, sons and daughters and neighbors. They are real life heroes disguised as ordinary people. But we know they aren’t. They do things the rest of us can’t, won’t, or don’t.

So, yes, your dad gets the biggest steak, the biggest piece of cheesecake, and the best spot on the couch. Your mother knows when he goes to work next, he will likely be sleep deprived. Some drunk lady may throw up on his shoes and some drug addict may take a swing at him or spit on his uniform. He serves a public sometimes grateful, sometimes not, and sometimes disrespectful or violent.

There’s much you don’t realize about your father and what he does on shift. Much you don’t need to know and he doesn’t want to tell you. Give him the respect he’s due and take pride in the man who is your daddy and my husband and a stranger’s life-saver.

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