I experienced one of life's great blessings as a father last week; I walked my eldest daughter down the aisle at her wedding. No father's been prouder and the additional sight of my youngest daughter as maid-of-honor and my lovely wife--well let's just say that the Davis women were looking spectacular and my heart was definitely full that day.
On the wedding day it was Kevin Davis, father and husband that was present--not Officer Davis. I was in a tuxedo, not a uniform, that day and although I was armed (Glock 26 in an ankle holster...hey, I didn't survive this long and haven't taken care of my family based on lack of preparation), no thoughts of work entered my mind. Such was not always the case.
Law enforcement can be consuming and we as officers can easily become one-trick ponies. This obsession with work can easily result in a life out of balance--at work we're thinking about being home, while home we're thinking about work. We're never truly present in the moment and we're so one dimensional that the other 16, 14 or 12 hours off-duty are spent thinking or doing something "cop" related.
In addition to the on-duty time spent away from home, cops are constantly picking up off-duty extra jobs. The combination of court cases and secondary employment means that home and family come second or even third. Failed cop marriages are so common they are almost "non-news."
My life was once out of skew. Early in my LE career with my previous agency, I worked almost every evening during the summer at an outdoor concert facility and in the winters worked at an indoor concert venue or shopping center. Years later while working in a tactical narcotics unit for six and a half years; I was a one-trick pony. I worked overtime on a constant basis, chased the bad guys and did narcotics search warrants for my daily fix of adrenalin as well as training the SWAT team each month and serving as a team leader. Although I didn't work many second jobs, I didn't need to as court and overtime was my second job.
I bought a lot of toys--they're all broken or long gone. I made a lot of money, but sadly there was a period of several years when my friends didn't see me very much. For a younger guy, I had no social life.
Someone once posed the question, "How much money did Howard Hughes leave when he died?" The correct answer is, "All of it," because you simply can't take any of it with you to the great beyond.
Many officers are now fond of DROP--Deferred Retirement Option Plans--that are so popular throughout the country. With officers staying on a minimum of three years and no more than eight years after retirement age once they enter DROP in my state, the program has about a 100% participation rate. Problem is that even with the money, if you're not healthy or happy on the job or if your life is not in balance, it could be the "DROP Dead Program."
Don't get me wrong, I don't plan on retiring to the La-Z-Boy with the TV remote in hand (the quickest way to die young), but there are other certainly less stressful ways to work in retirement and there is a life after this job.
It took a while before I realized that spending time with family and friends gave me gifts that were more long lasting than extra jobs. I look forward to those rewarding moments with my wife and kids. I try to be present in the moment. I'm thankful to my family for saving me from myself.
I exercise on a regular basis with my wife, and although I talk to her about work (this is a very stressful occupation), we talk about much more and get to spend time as a couple. Quantity time with family is "quality time." Many officers make excuses that their children get "quality" time instead because they work so much. Sorry my brothers and sisters in blue, children need you present instead of excuses like, "Dad's working and can't make it," every time an event or activity comes up.
I now engage in activities outside of The Job (which includes writing material like you're reading now and getting to travel and meet new people away from my full-time job), and spend time with friends outside of LE.
I'm planning (and you should too) what I want to do when I pull the pin and retire. I learned valuable lessons from my parents (now deceased) who enjoyed life and each others company years after my Dad retired from teaching. They spent time with family, wintered in Florida each year, traveled on a regular basis and had a large group of friends and groups that they socialized with until my mother's leukemia eventually took its toll.
Helen Keller said, "Life is a daring adventure or it's nothing." I'm sure that she wasn't talking about hours at work when she made this statement.
Someone recently brought this home when they mentioned that while on your death bed I'm sure your thoughts will not be, "I should have worked more hours or spent more time at my job."
Being a law enforcement officer has a negative impact on our longevity. With LE personnel dying earlier than their civilian counterparts, we need to fill-up our days with positive energy and the love of our family and friends. In order to make this happen, we need to find balance between the demands of our job and the rest of our life. We then need to grab life by the throat and live it to the fullest as our time on this spinning planet is finite.
Walking your daughter down the aisle and seeing your youngest standing there as maid-of-honor and college freshman makes you think either, "I missed them growing up" or "What an unbelievable journey it's been!" I opt for the well-balanced latter.