Being a firefighter can be hard at times. Just like it’s hard to be a Dad at times.
You’ve got all these thoughts running through your head and sometimes it’s really hard to turn it off.
A lot of times you’re at work worried about the kids and sometimes you’re with the kids and can’t help but to think about work.
Let’s face it the job takes it’s mental toll.
I know for me, especially after I’ve had a hard shift, I just come home and I hold my kids and wonder am I doing everything I can to make sure I don’t f*ck them up? Are they bothered by me leaving for 24 hours every 3rd day?
It’s hard because we see the worst as firefighters.
We see the chronically ill kids, we see the bad accidents, we see the kids that are abused.
It really does have a lasting effect on us, wether we believe it or not.
It has us questioning our role as fathers and if we are doing a good job.
So how can we be better fathers and firefighters?
Step one- Be Fully Present
This can mean a lot of things, from putting down your phone to getting those thoughts out of your head.
You can’t enjoy your kids if you’re constantly thinking about something else, or trying to escape reality through social media.
Give yourself a few minutes before you walk inside and just breath and calm your mind. Or sneak away to the bathroom for a breather. It really helps to have a place to get your mind right when it starts to slip
Remember you need to change gears from firefighter to dad. (and then back again!)
If you are fully present, it will help with both sides of the coin. It will allow you to sleep better at night knowing that you involved your kids, and it will help you when you are at the station, wondering if they are better off without you (they aren’t, they need you so much more than you realize).
Step two-set up some legacy things
At best these will be items that you can share with your kids when they are older, at worst they are items that will be shared with your kids when you’re gone.
Make them happy you’re a fighter, but proud that you’re their dad.
This also means making sure that you have life insurance (and a good amount!) in place. It’s hell on your family if you pass away and leave them with only enough for a year or two.
Get some large 15 year term policies while the kids are still at home to make things easier if the unthinkable happens.
I took the kids the other day to get a firefighter bear at build a bear that has my voice recording. Yes, it helps for the days that I’m away, but I know it will mean more if I’m gone.
We simply can’t think we are invincible. That’s how we hurt our families the most.
BE A MAN AND MAKE A PLAN!
Step three- set up special daddy and me time
Well this may seem like a no brainer, between working and volunteering and life, the kids aren’t always put first.
It’s simply not possible.
After all we have to work so that we can take care of them.
And what do we even do with them? I asked my wife enough times she finally gave me a list of things to do.
But something that we can do and we need to do more of is setting up special times and events just for daddy just for you and the kids. Sometimes simply letting them help you with a project around the house is all they want and need.
(Here’s my secret list- get food, go play! It’s simple. Normally we do chickfila and the park, or the bounce house, or the water park. When they are older we are going to hit the trails)
Step four-prioritize your self care
Why should you prioritize self-care when you should be spending what precious little time you have free with your kids?
Here’s the secret, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your kids.
If you’re stressed out and yelling at the kids ( because we’ve all been there and done that.) You simply won’t be the best that you can be.
I assure you that you cannot fill from an empty cup and if you are not taking care of yourself… your cup is empty.
I had to learn this the hard way (and maybe you did too) but lets not be knuckle heads. Firefighters are dealing with rates of burnout and suicide (and grumpy ole men who won’t retire) at rate that are WAY too high.
If you’re an ass at the station, you’re probably a grump at home. Take care of yourself.
Step five-keep all things in perspective
It may seem like a really big deal to you now, but it probably isn’t.
What I mean by that is, your kids being with you is a relatively short period of your life.
If you live to be 70, 18 years doesn’t seem that long.
And if you really think about it kids are only really interested in you for the first 10 years or so. Then they go through that rough adolescent stage, then they become adults and your friend.
So when you’re in the trenches of parenthood wondering if you’re screwing everything up just remember that this is a very short period of time. And somethings that you want to do without your kids could possibly wait until they are older.
This doesn’t contradict self-care as you still need that to be fully functioning, this just means that you shouldn’t work six days out of the week while your kids are itty- bitty and then wonder where the time has gone.
I hope this helps you become the firefighter and father you are meant to be
Life has a funny way of working out. I never thought I would love being a father as much as I do, nor did I know that Firefighting was my calling. But that’s the way it works.
Trust the process. And don’t take your kids, your wife, your life, or your crewmates for granted.
Let me know some of the ways you make the fire life work with your dad responsibilities.