Here I am. 10 years after my Dad died. He was my best friend. He was my idol. He was my hero. He was the best goddamn Dad around. And he died a pretty shitty death from pancreatic cancer. He didn’t deserve it but who ever does. My Dad was a legend in my eyes. I grew up seeing his bravery medal quietly displayed in our house. I made him tell me its story a thousand times. It never got old. He was a DARE Officer and he drove a huge DARE Tahoe. Everybody in town knew him. He was a celebrity in my eyes. We never went anywhere without seeing someone who knew him.
I left for college at 18 and around 21 he was diagnosed. I wasted our last year together with optimism about his diagnosis and I took him for granted. I spent valuable time complaining about the stupidest things. He had gotten better. A LOT better before he got super sick again. It didn’t click with me that he was going to die until he was REALLY sick. We had a hospice bed set up in the house and he and I spent a lot of hours finally talking about what we should’ve been talking about all along.
Dad always told me not to be a cop. He wanted a better life for me. He thought I could do better than this life. The day I told him I was going to be a cop was probably the proudest I’ve ever seen him. He told me one day in 2007, “I couldn’t be a rookie cop today. Things have gotten so bad. They’re like the 60’s and 70’s again.” But he also told me they’d get better. That those that rode it out would see better times again. He died before I got hired. He saw me get passed over for my first hiring process and I’ve never seen him so upset. He wasn’t upset with me. He wasn’t upset with them. I think he was upset because he knew he might not get to see me be a cop. And he never did.
The grief I felt when my Dad died is something I wish no one ever had to endure. But unfortunately, so many people have felt it. Losing a best friend. Losing a dad. Losing a hero. It’ll break your heart every time. I lost all three. And I am a better man because of it. I was just a kid who didn’t know anything about the world. I’d had a sheltered childhood, never really gotten into trouble (outside the house) and I’d gone to a small community college where I mainly kept to myself. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had spent the last months of my fathers life stocking groceries over night and working at a video store. When Dad died, something in me changed. I grew up that day. I made a promise to my Dad the night he died. I was hell bent on keeping that promise. I stepped up and tried to lead my family through the planning and execution of Dad’s funeral and burial. Thank God for the men and women who had worked with Dad. They handled so much. I recall finally feeling like a man after carrying my Dad’s casket to the gravesite. A local police chief approached me and asked if there was anything I needed. I shook his hand over the grave and told him, “Well, I could really use a job.” Within 5 months, I had two full time police job offers. Maybe that’s tacky. Maybe it’s rude. Maybe I made a bad decision out of grief. But I don’t think Dad would’ve been upset.
The grief I felt over my Dad’s death weighed heavy on me for a long time. But eventually I learned to live with it. I learned to joke about it. I realized so many of my friends had Dead Dad’s and they survived. I remember being in the police academy that year after his death. I was ordered into front leaning test position and I was there for a LONG time. One of the instructors yelled, “Better go to your happy place!” I knew my happy place was when I was with my Dad. Once there, I could’ve held that position all day. Once, after a particularly long run, the longest I’d ever run, I just wanted to tell Dad. My roommate knew my story and when he saw me choke up, just put a hand on my shoulder. I wept in the shower that day and when I was late for formation, he covered for me. It was the first time I’d ever let the grief hit me that hard. Letting it out was what I needed. I’ve been okay with his death for a long time now. It never goes away, but it definitely got easier. The grief I’ve carried has been a blessing in that it made me grow up when I had stayed a kid too long. My grief has given me motivation and dedication. My grief gave me purpose. Which brings me to the Dead Dad Dilemma.
Would I be the man I am today if I hadn’t lost my Dad 10 years ago? Would I have made the same mistakes if he had been around to guide me? Would I have chosen the department I did when I had two offers? Would he have convinced me to hang it up or make a move to a federal job? Would I have named my son after him if he hadn’t passed away? What lessons have I learned from the grief that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned. Would I have strived so hard to carry on his good name if he was still around to carry it himself? The Dead Dad Dilemma will likely be around for a long time. What impact did his death have? What impact would MY death have on MY sons? It’s definitely worthy to think about but if I think about it too much, I’ll go crazy.
In closing, I love my Dad. I miss my Dad. His absence breaks my heart to this day. But maybe his death made me a better man. Maybe I owe him a thank you when I see him again someday. I’ve got so much to say to him maybe I’ll ramble to him than I did in this post.
If I can impart any wisdom in this mess, it’s this: Talk to your parents when they’re healthy. Ask them for life advice. Ask them to tell you what they’d tell you if they knew they’d never give you advice again. Find blessings in your grief and you’ll overcome it a lot faster. And don’t be afraid to let it all out. Handle what you have to handle first. But pull your shit together when you’re done and move on. You got stuff to do and you can’t afford to dwell in the past. Life’s moving on and if you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind.