For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
In 1974, Harry Chapin released a song entitled Cats in The Cradle; it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. I was only 13 years old, and probably more interested in the Eagles and Chicago than a ballad singer, but I remember the lyrics had an impact on me then, as they still do today. The story centers on a father too busy with his daily grind to spend time with his doting son; still, like most boys growing up, he idolized is his father and wanted to be just like him…
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you, dad"
"You know I'm gonna be like you"
It struck me personally, because my brother and I were raised by my mom and step dad, and only got to visit my paternal father once or twice a year. He had remarried to a wonderful woman, and they had a son of their own. My step father was a very driven man, and a strict disciplinarian – something not unusual for the time. It did not seem to impact me then, but he was not much for tossing the ball around or spending time with our studies. Still, he was a good provider.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw, I said, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that's okay
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
It said, I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him
As a young father, I remember wanting to provide a good living for my family, while still spending time coaching my son and daughter’s sports teams, going to the park, helping with homework, hosting backyard barbeques, and seeing their faces light up at the crack of dawn on every Christmas morning. The problem was, I was a firefighter, working a crazy schedule, and motivated to promote quickly through the ranks. So, like many reading this article, I missed my share of holidays, and found myself balancing work with fun, even on my days off.
Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?
Time has passed, and by most professional standards, the drive and determination paid off: my walls are full of degrees and I became a fire chief at a fairly early age. My kids have also grown, married terrific spouses, and each has two beautiful kids. Neither live in the state in which I reside. My first marriage did not survive, but I’m also married to a wonderful woman that has spent her entire life investing in to her family (total: 12 brothers and sisters).
The fire service has been a large part of my extended family since 1982 – I can’t help but wonder if I invested wisely into the things that I have come to understand matter most: faith and family. This past Sunday was Father’s Day; I received a text from my son and a nice phone call from my daughter.
I've long since retired and my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I'd like to see you if you don't mind
He said, I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad
It's been sure nice talking to you
It’s hard not stumble across a story about a celebrity or a first responder that has suffered very publically from some form of stress and/or depression. Studies show that both genetics and environment has something to do with how we manage our melancholy. Still, as first responders we live lives on the fast track, thriving on the adrenaline fueled by the unknown. One has to wonder if we have invested wisely enough to deal with the eventual outcome.
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey challenges his readers to “Begin with the end in mind.” To illustrate this point, he asks us to imagine attending a funeral…our own funeral, complete with organ music, people dressed in black, sprays of flowers circling a church podium, and photographs telling the story of your life.
Then comes the eulogy: What would you have the speakers say? Did they talk about how much money you made? The rank you earned? How big your house was? How many cars you owned? The degrees littering your office wall and LinkedIn account? Or, did they talk about what kind of caring husband or wife you were; the treasured memories created with your kids, or the genuine investments you made in your friends. Would they tell stories of when you helped another firefighter roof his house, the time you spent coaching little league, when you bandaged a knee, or the long days at the lake or snow skiing… Did they talk about where you placed your faith?
Covey’s challenge is based on imagination – the ability to envision in our minds what we cannot at present see with our eyes. The good doctor teaches that if we don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then we empower other people and circumstances to shape lives by default. This is not to say that work, overtime, promotions, strike team deployments or any other aspect of what it means to be a first responder are not important. It means, keep it in perspective.
I’ll retire in a couple of years. I hope that when the day comes that my friends and family share their memories of me they will have lots of great stories to tell. If not, maybe it’s not too late.
I called my dad on Sunday; he was in a restaurant with family and friends. It was loud – I guess I’ll call him again in a few weeks.
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
You Tube/Song: HERE