My dad was a police officer for nearly 40 years, and because I was his daughter during 38 of them, a few things have stayed with me — some poignant, some amusing and many that fill me with pride. If you grew up with a parent wearing blue, you may relate to more than a few of these.
First, I am so thankful my dad’s no longer on the street and my sister, who followed in his patrol car tracks, is now a dispatcher and also off the street. Deservedly, law enforcement is under tremendous pressure and scrutiny in this era of 24/7 cameras that serve as visual evidence (versus a history of cop-says/civilian-says).
For those officers like my dad who honor the badge with their integrity, recent headlines have been heartbreaking, because we know these tragedies don’t represent every law enforcement officer. A Facebook post from a self-described “black man wearing a hoodie who’s strapped” gives me hope there are more people like us out there than those who default to presuming police mean harm.
While society has changed since I was a child, what hasn’t changed is my unwavering pride in my father’s career and the work ethic he instilled in me. As a teen, I bristled at his protectiveness. Now, I am grateful.
So, what’s it like to grow up as a police officer’s child? Well, you can relate if:
- Your policing parent ran a background check on your prom date. All of them. Come to think of it, I wonder if my dad was gathering DNA samples from preschool playdates?
- You were born nearly two decades before you were allowed to go to a movie downtown (aka out in society) with your friends and no adults.
- Your friends both admired and feared your patrolling parent. You continue to blame a weak dating existence on this fact.
- You can close your eyes and smell shoe polish and hear the old school sweep of bristles across the toes of already-shiny black shoes.
- The clang of a padlock on a file cabinet still reminds you of childhood wake-up calls in the pre-dawn light. The sounds of my dad unlocking his service revolver came well before my alarm went off.
- When you enter a restaurant, you look for the seat farthest in the back and then sit with your back to the wall so you can see everyone. Sound paranoid? Police officers work to protect us every day, and often that means escorting members of the community to the jailhouse. Some of those folks don’t feel like hugging their arresting officers if they run into them in public.
- That time you were pulled over in high school you audibly prayed the officer didn’t recognize your name so you could just take the damn ticket and tell your parent yourself.
- Your heart sank into your stomach when that same officer ended the stop with, “Say hi to your mom/dad for me.”
- When the keg parties at the park/field/water tower got busted, you didn’t even bother to run because you knew responding officers had already recognized your mom’s/dad’s car parked out front. You know, the tank-like Crown Victoria with the most updated Fraternal Order of Police sticker.
- You learned to drive on a Crown Victoria and subsequently can parallel park a frigate during a hurricane while eating a burrito with your toes.
- You can’t pass a police officer in inclement weather without nodding compassionately and wanting to hand them a coffee.
- You choose not to hand them a coffee because you remember your mom/dad holding up a hand and politely explaining, “What goes in must come out, but thanks.”
- You see a rookie cop getting soaked by a springtime storm and can see your mom’s/dad’s head shaking sadly at the lack of preparation.
- You see a dirty orange cone and bristle with the understanding that the construction workers’ lives may be more at risk if that cone isn’t washed off in a cop’s driveway so it gleams in warning. You briefly consider dashing over to your parents’ house to get a clean one.
- Your friend’s brother loves to tell the story about the time he saw your mom/dad directing traffic and some woman ran over one of her/his coveted orange cones. As she/he chased her down, whistling and yelling, a police hat may have hurtled through space at her car.
- You know real cops can whistle shrilly and distinctively without an actual whistle. Or their fingers. You know this because the sound directed you through many childhood obstacles.
- You learned to drive in snow after going to an empty, snow-covered parking lot after-hours and watching your parent show you “all the things you shouldn’t do” while grinning slyly.
- You beamed with pride when your parent wore the police uniform to school, even though that was because she/he was attending a play or recital in between shifts and off-duty details.
- You run toward someone in trouble, not away.
- You don’t hesitate to call 911 when you see someone in trouble because you know that’s why it exists.
- You remember the sound of a thick leather belt laden with tools, from radios to handcuffs, creaking and clinking as your parent sat down for breakfast or dinner before going back out on the road.
- You babysat for your parent’s younger colleagues’ kids and spent the whole ride home at the end of the night listening to the colleague talk about how awesome your parent is.
- Your civilian parent joked about your police officer parent just working “another pay job” like it was free money, but you all understood it meant Mom/Dad would work around the clock… again.
- At a younger age than your civilian parent would have preferred, you understood that a “hooker” was someone who would talk to your police officer parent and then get arrested. I mean, that stuff was good dinner table conversation when they thought we weren’t paying attention!
- Your heart aches every single time you hear about an officer shot. Or hit by a car while stopped to help someone.
- Your heart aches every single time you hear about a police officer breaking the law and marring the profession.
- You know there’s no such thing as a “routine traffic stop,” and you know that because your police officer parent finally told you the story about the time her/his partner saved her/his life after spotting a driver reach for what turned out to be a sawed-off shotgun — during a “routine traffic stop.”
- You will never see a uniform without thinking of your parent, and you’ll never hear a police scanner without feeling just a twinge of worry.