For the most part, I had a very normal upbringing. Or so I thought. It wasn't until I was older that I realized my friend's dads didn't leave at the drop of a pager tone.
My friends didn't spend hours playing hide and seek around firetrucks while their dads did paperwork or worked on those same trucks. They didn't know what a power ride was. They didn't go lights and sirens through the local parade every single year. They didn't know how exciting it was to bring snacks to their daddy spending his Saturday at a live training burn.
They especially didn't know what it felt like to shout "Love you, be safe!" every time their dad rushed out the door because the very real reality was he may not come back.
Here are a few things I learned from my not so normal upbringing.
1. Microwaved supper 3 hours later is better than no supper at all.
I can replay my Mom putting Dad's food in the microwave clear as day in my head. Only because it happened nearly a million times growing up. It never failed the pager seemed to know when we had all just sat down to eat. Even more so it knew when Dad had just taken his first bite of food.
A slight sigh from him as he got up to leave while Mom put his plate in the microwave. I can also replay the moment he returned home going straight to the kitchen to fill his empty stomach. My favorite part was I can honestly never remember him being mad about it, always a smile and joke along the lines of "The damn pager can wait until I finish this time."
2. Be honest.
It doesn't matter how sneaky you are or how good of a lie you're telling. HE WILL FIND OUT.
I've known my father for well all twenty years of my life and you bet your ass if he wants to know something, he will know it. Sometimes even if he doesn't want to know it, he ends up knowing it. Honesty will get you much farther in life.
3. Work for it.
Nothing good in life is just handed to you.
My dad conquered his fear of claustrophobia by sitting in the middle of our garage floor every night and putting a barrel over himself. He sat there in a barrel at first for only a few seconds but night after night suddenly one day he wasn't claustrophobic anymore. If you want something, if you want to do better and want to be better, work for it. It's that simple.
Be the weirdo sitting in the garage with a barrel over yourself.
4. You will never improve without first making mistakes.
If you are not making mistakes then you are not trying hard enough and you certainly are not learning anything.
I can't even recall the number of times I have watched my father vent to us about his problems and even failures. With every mistake made and problem I faced over the last twenty years, this man has easily become damn near perfect at what he does. He would never agree with me and of course nobody is perfect but like I said he comes damn close.
5. God, firefighting, and family... In that order.
I know what you're thinking, how can you say this volunteer firefighting thing comes before your family.
I thought the same thing as a little girl, who just wanted to crawl up on her daddy's lap and watch a movie with him, only for him to run out the door the second those stupid pager tones dropped. I can't say exactly when, but one day I realized it wasn't about me.
My dad was leaving to go save someone else's daddy who was having a heart attack. My dad was leaving to help someone else's grandma who had fallen and can't get up. My dad was leaving to put out the fire that consumed someone else's home.
The second those "stupid" pager tones dropped I had to share him, he was needed by someone else having a much worse day than I was.
Once I realized this, the disappointment I once had when I watched my dad rush out the door soon turned into pride. For twenty years I've watched him be completely selfless, leaving no matter what, at the drop of a single tone to go help other people.
So yes, in my family we say our prayers, fight our fires and hug each other. In that order.
The lessons are endless. My dad continues to educate me and make me a better woman every day that I'm alive. I will forever be thankful for my not so normal life and the man behind that life.
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