He’s a good man. He has character. Strong values. He is an impeccable gentleman in his dealings with women. He is well-mannered and respectful of all human beings. He obeys the law. He is responsible.
He is uncanny bright. A hard-working student. He finished high school strong, and then off to college where he earned straight A’s for two semesters, tanked his third semester and then … quit. Shocked his parents, who are both academic junkies with two college degrees and two graduate degrees each, between them.
He wandered, vocationally speaking. Meandered, floating. Always with a decent job, but still searching for his passion.
And, suddenly – wowsza – as I type he’s in his fifth month of the police academy. He’s going to be a police officer.
Nobody could have seen this coming. His father is a poet, a writer and a dreamer. His mother is at once gentle and practical. She is a professional educator.
Sitting on a bar stool over a beer, I talk to the man.
At the academy, he says, they are training him to survive. To not die. And, when you are wearing a badge and a gun in a paranoid and angry culture, the “not dying” training pretty much consists of assuming that everyone and anyone you encounter on duty might, just might be thinking of killing you.
At the academy, he says, they are training him not to injure or kill civilians. Not even civilians who are breaking the law or resisting arrest. The academy cohort of which he is a part is the city’s first to receive a revised emphasis on de-escalation techniques. While no one police officer can anticipate and prepare for every move of every detainee, suspect or perpetrator, still, the man is steeped in a carefully researched hierarchy of responses. Voice commands. Verbal warnings for unheeded commands. Calculated, physical distance. When and whether to close that distance, and how. To chase, or not to chase. Hands. Pepper spray. Taser. Baton.
If the perp absolutely insists, then gun.
At the academy, the man says, they are training him to protect and serve. To be a peace officer. Not a punk. To guard and protect the peace. To be the sentry. The guardian. The protector. The first responder to recklessness, disobedience, danger, or evil.
At the academy, the man is being formed into the city’s ambassador. A symbol of everything that is right, good and noble in a healthy community.
My head spins. Peace officer, ambassador. Just, wise and restrained in the use of force. All the while assuming anybody on any day might well try to kill him. This is a juggling act eschewing the traditional bowling pins in exchange for shards of broken glass.
How does one practice a disciplined vigilance in the ugly dangers of this world without becoming cripplingly paranoid? How does one protect a tribe carrying such historically unprecedented antipathy for the protector? How can a man be an ambassador of peace while daily confronting that which disturbs and sometimes bloodies the peace? And how can he walk this tightwire and not become embittered, cynical and hardened in his soul?
In short, how can you be a devoted, faithful, skillful and effective police officer and not become … well, a miserable human being?
I remind him of three allies: laughter, tears and relationships.
This man can laugh. He comes from a family who make bonds of love out of relentless satire, parody and lampoon of themselves and each other. He’s funny as hell. A beg him to never lose his sense of humor.
I remind him of the family mantra: Tears are very important. There will be much to grieve in his line of work – personally and existentially. Cry when you need to cry, I urge him.
I tell him I understand why other law enforcement folks will be his go-to inner circle. Law enforcement is its own culture. A fiercely knit family. But I beg him not to withdraw from the support of friends and family outside that circle who also cherish him.
He’s found a vocation. His passion. He’s going to be a terrific police officer. With his critical thinking and innate problem-solving skills, I won’t be surprised if he becomes a detective. An investigator.
Whatever his destiny, I have nothing but admiration for him. And love. I would really like it if no one shoots him.
See, he was born on Father’s Day, 1991, at 12:47 a.m. Venus, Mars and Saturn were gathered that night to form a bright ‘star.’ I remember, because that is the day I became a father.
Apparently the father of police officer.
Steven Kalas is an author, therapist and Episcopal priest in Nevada. He writes a weekly column for Battle Born Media, the publisher of the Sparks Tribune, on the art of being human. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.