Growing up I took the fact that my father was a State Trooper for granted. We would fight and argue, but no matter what, whenever he left for work he’d always tell me he loved me. As I progressed through high school reality began to set in. I would watch the news, seeing officers get shot, get into accidents, and involved in many other gruesome events. Then tragedy hit close to home. My father left one day and later on, I met him in the hospital. From that moment on, my life was on a different track. I vowed to make the most of my time with him. However, it didn’t stop there. Fast forward a few years and cops were making the news left and right: troopers shot, officers ambushed, cops facing jail time for a split-second decision, it goes on. During this time my father was on a call and accidentally backed off of a porch and hit his head. It was diagnosed first as a concussion, but there was something much more demonic hiding beneath the surface. My father had awakened symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and our family’s life would soon change dramatically. Living with a law enforcement officer as a father has taught me to love everyone unconditionally and to always leave on a positive note because we honestly never know when someone’s last day will be. But with a trooper, the stakes of losing them are even higher.
When I was a child I looked up to my dad. To me, he was just dad, nothing more nothing less. I remember his shifts jumped around from first, second, or third. Whenever he worked second shift I vividly remember sitting in my bed, waiting for my mom to go to sleep, and then sneaking into the living room to wait for him to get home. Whenever he would arrive I would immediately hug him and we’d watch TV together. Some days I could tell something was wrong but I was too young to understand. Other times when he worked third shift and I would ask my mom why dad couldn’t play catch with me. At the time I didn’t realize the magnitude of his job; he would tell me he “caught bad guys” but I didn’t comprehend the ramifications of the job. I loved seeing him. When I was in elementary school and played youth sports he would take his lunch during my games so he could watch me. I’d get so euphoric looking up in the stands trying to spot him and then magically seeing him in uniform after I scored a touchdown. Looking back, he sacrificed so much to give me the best life he possibly could.
Fast forward a few years, I was now in high school. I attended a regional math and science center while still playing three sports. So, my time was limited. However, I would still see my father on a day to day basis, and he would still attend my games. I began to mature, gaining a higher-level grasp on the real world; until one-day things changed. After my last class, I had gotten a call from my mother saying my dad was in the hospital, my heart dropped. He had gotten into a fight at work and tore his rotator cuff. I sped to the hospital and saw him. He was okay, but after listening to the story it was amazing he even came out alive. He had gotten into a fight with a man who tried to light a gas clerk on fire and then drove to another gas station with three tires on his van. My dad asked him to talk inside the gas station, and the man started running after my dad and before he could grab his taser the man was on him. They both went tumbling through a glass pane. The man had grabbed a knife out of his pocket and proceeded to stab my dad in his chest (where his bulletproof vest was, thank god) until a bystander came and tackled the guy. My dad got up, with, at the time, a dislocated shoulder, and handcuffed the man. My father is 5’8” and a retired Marine; the suspect was 6’4” and also a retired Marine. However, the man was an escapee out of an asylum in a different state, over three hours away. This event started to unfold my understanding of the life of a police officer. I began to make more time for my father because he could’ve been taken from us that day.
Not even two years later, another event occurred. One that was gentle on the outside, but disturbing within. This was during the time when cops were making the daily news about either shooting someone or getting shot at. My father was called for a raccoon in a barn; an old man wanted it out. As my dad pulled up, he noticed the house looked abandoned. Immediately a red flag was drawn. He proceeded up onto a porch that was about five feet above ground and knocked on what he thought was a door. No answer. He waited a few minutes and then heard a noise to the left of the house. My dad had his hand on his gun and started to back up. When suddenly a figure appeared around the corner, as my dad took one more step. But there wasn’t anything to stand on. He fell five feet, hit his head, and was immediately dizzy. The figure was the old man. After going to the hospital, the doctors believed he suffered a concussion. But in the next coming months, we discovered this was so much more. After 17 years of service, every single gruesome scene he had to experience was now set free. His dormant symptoms of PTSD had arisen. I had seen my father cry maybe three total times before this accident, within a month after I had stopped counting at twenty. He couldn’t listen to certain songs we used to grow up listening to because he once had to pull a dead body out of a car and that song was playing, now it triggered the painful memories. Seeing my father jolt up out of a nap and start bawling is something no child should have to do. He once woke up after dreaming about being shot six times in his chest (he had never even been shot on duty) and he went into the bathroom after having trouble breathing to see six bruises placed sporadically on his chest the size of bullet holes. This is only touching the surface on the interactions and experiences he has had to endure.
This situation then progressed into a legal and mental battle between my family and the state. There were five doctors who would not sign off on releasing my dad back to work however the insurance company would not allow him to retire leading to a push and pull battle. Subsequently, one year after the incident, my dad was relieved from duty, losing his seventeen-year pension and benefits. This hit my family like a truck and has left a huge mark. However, throughout this process, my father and I have grown closer. After the storm passed, a rainbow arose.
The occurrences of him screaming and crying decreased. We could now have tense conversations without him snapping, and he became more emotional in a positive way towards me. Overall my relationship with my father had to be pulled back in order to go forward. It was a blessing in disguise. However, the ramifications are still prevalent. My father has not made much progress in his case and an appeal is in our future. As of now, my family is continuing on with my mother’s income, trying somehow to put me in a position to go to college. The life of a police officer is hard as it is, but it also carries over into their family. Events like my father taking down an ex-marine and almost dying or him falling and receiving PTSD are things that a police officer must come to accept as reality. In some cases, there are events that are even worse. But the bond and relationship I have with my father is unlike any other. These experiences made me realize my father isn’t guaranteed another day on this Earth, and the sad truth is at any moment his PTSD could alter his thoughts and he could take his own life. I’ve tried to build upon the relationships in my circle, loving unconditionally, and appreciating the people who keep our community safe. If there’s one thing being in a law enforcement family has taught me it’s to not take anything for granted.
Note: essay has been altered to remove names, locations, and any other personally identifying information.