Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dad, In Real Life

In my experience, cops are some of the strongest "family" folks around, and yet that can sometimes seem contradictory. The rate of divorce for police officers is as high as 60-75% according to some studies.

One officer who has been married and divorced multiple times is even said to have amusingly stated: "If I ever decide to get married again, I'm just gonna find some woman that I don't like very much, and just buy her a house."

I can vouch for the feelings involved, being divorced once myself. After that one, I met and married again, to my wife Debbie, who I can tell you for a fact is the most wonderful woman in the world.

And yet with all that is good in her and in the relationship, I have certainly made it a "challenge" for her at times. It has only been in the last few years that I have begun to seriously take a look at and understand the challenges of stress on police officers, and their marriages in particular.

Marriage challenges for a high percentage of cops doesn't tell the full story. I know many officers who have great marriages, and who adore their wives and husbands, even if they sometimes need to fight through challenges.

And there are more familial relationships than spousal ones. I have seen few people dote over and care for their kids, and even their aging parents when needed, the way that cops will.


It's my belief that there is something in the ugliness and difficulty that we experience in our professional lives on the streets that makes us appreciate and cherish the peacefulness and innocence of our home lives, and our kids in particular.

Cops are sometimes a little harder on their kids than some other parents, but that is hardly surprising considering that we know first-hand the consequences of any bad choices they may make.

I have been blessed in my own life with three wonderful, beautiful daughters. The first two came along when I was a very young man. Heck, you could argue that my first came along when I was still a boy. She was born when I had just turned 18 years old.

My second came along a year and a half later. 19 years old, and two daughters in diapers! My third daughter came along as a wonderful extra package when I married my wife. I have raised her since she was six years old.

Any responsible, loving father of daughters can tell you what that relationship means. Nothing will break out those protective genes more than having your own little girl to raise and love.

There is no feeling in the world like having a little angel wrap her arms around your neck and say "I love you, Daddy" to you. And as someone whose three girls are now in their twenties can attest, that feeling never gets old.

My wife and I are movie-goers, and yesterday we took along our 21-year old daughter to see the film "Dan, In Real Life" starring Steve Carell of "The Office" and "Evan Almighty" fame.

In the film, Carell plays the title character of "Dan", who is an advice columnist. He lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier, and is now raising his three daughters whose ages appear to be about 17, 13 and 6, all by himself. Well, as we learn, he does have some help in a strong support system of parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

The plot revolves around a family reunion at Dan's parents home, where he and his kids reunite and rekindle what are obviously strong family bonds with his brother and sister and their families, as well as another brother played by Dane Cook.

The character Cook plays is the single brother who has been a confirmed bachelor, but has just fallen for a great girl, played by Juliette Binoche, and is now bringing her home to meet the family for the first time.

I will spare you the further details in case you were going to see the film. If you didn't have it on your list, or hadn't heard about it yet, I can assure you that it will be well worth going to see. A great date movie, but it also works great as a night out for married or seriously involved couples.

A big part of the film is Dan's relationship with his three girls. The oldest just got her license, and is dying to spread her wings by driving more, but Dan plays the protective dad. The middle daughter just met her first teenage crush, her first "love", but Dan plays the protective dad. The youngest is still very fragile over the loss of her mother, and Dan plays the protective dad. You get the picture of this key dynamic in the film.

There is one thing that will always get me - a big, hard, educated cop - to tear up at a movie when it is done well, and that is a touching moment between a dad and a daughter.

This movie gives a couple of those moments, especially towards the end as Dan opens himself up to them, and the daughters basically tell their embarrassing, over-protective dad to "go for it".

Having survived the little-girl into teen-angst years, and then those years into young womanhood, I can tell you that there are few more solid moments than when you and your kids finally seem to "get" one another.

It is a moment that I have pretty much experienced already with my two oldest in recent years, and that I am looking forward to still with my youngest. It is a moment that Dan begins to experience here.

One thing that I can safely report is that this one has a happy ending. In the end, Dan is just like the rest of us, a dad, trying to function in real life through difficult circumstances and incredible twists of fate.

An advice columnist who finds it so easy to help others, he has found it so difficult to help himself. This is a feeling that many cops can easily relate to. But he finds his way the best way that we all can, through opening ourselves up to love, and the realization that it's not all about us.

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