“Your dad is in the hospital.”
Those six words will put anyone’s heart straight into their throat, but especially when you are a 12-year-old child whose father is a police officer. This occurred in my family in 1990, long before the age of constant, instant communication. At the time, that was all we knew: dad is in the hospital.
The Ride of His Life
One quiet night, my father had stopped a vehicle (the reasons why becoming blurry 27 years later) and he made the mistake of reaching in to grab a bag of drugs off the front passenger seat while the driver was still behind the wheel and the car was running. With my dad’s entire torso of his then-220-pound, six-foot-one-inch frame inside the car, the suspect floored it. The imagery of what my dad described next in his typical overly casual tone, I will never get out of my head.
“My legs were hanging out of the passenger door,” he described, “And the guy just sped down Lake Street trying to sideswipe anything he could to take my legs off.” Parked cars, lamp posts, trees, fire hydrants, and garbage cans all became targets while my dad clung to the steering wheel, quite literally for his life. Complicating things was that Lake Street dead-ends into an interstate freeway some 20 feet below.
The steering column’s automatic gear shifter freewheeled as my dad tried to force it into park (or reverse, or anything else but drive) in a frantic effort to slow the Buick that had unwittingly become a potential four-door, four-wheeled coffin careening rapidly toward doom.
Eventually, the car slammed into a large oak tree some four blocks after Mr. Toad began his wild ride and my dad crashed into the windshield, breaking a hand and suffering a concussion. The hospital visit was brief and his time off passed. The Buick was impounded and sold for scrap, the drugs were destroyed, my father returned to duty, and Mr. Toad spent some time in prison.
For my part, I handcrafted the best award that an unartistic sixth grader can, along with the help of some awesome blueish-gray metallic card stock that my mother (the schoolteacher) happened to have given me months earlier. That paper was precious to me because I loved shiny stuff and I had not even used it yet, waiting for just the right time. What better purpose than a medal for my dad, the hero!
I called it the “Sergeant Riggs Medal of Valor” in honor of the multiple beatings that character took in his pursuit of justice in the Lethal Weapon series. The medal hung on the fridge for quite some time and, knowing my dad, it is probably still tucked away somewhere in his “memories box.”
Children, wives, husbands, extended family, and friends across the country and globe are connected with someone like my dad. My family boasts three uncles and a cousin in addition to my father who all served long, distinguished careers keeping people like Mr. Toad off the streets and keeping us safe.
We children never fully understood the risks our dads took but their wives learned to endure the endless anxiety, interrupted sleep, and looming, lurking potential that “The Call” may come one night and change the family forever. A ringing phone piercing the night at 2 a.m. calling dad to investigate a crime scene is expected and even tolerable. A phone call at 2 a.m. to announce a hospital admission, however, is downright frightening.
My dad survived that harrowing night and went on to work another 12 years for the local police force, 28 in total, retiring as a lieutenant. Not everyone’s dad survives, though. Not everyone gets to make a Sergeant Riggs Medal of Valor to present after a successful discharge.
With one son of my own and another on the way, I am thankful for the sacrifices that my father and uncles made for me, my brother, and my cousins. We at Reno Dads Blog unequivocally state our support for all the dads in uniform who have sworn to protect us and our loved ones, past, present, and future (Of course we support the moms in uniform too, but hey, this is the Reno Dads Blog).
This year marks the 55th time that May 15 will be celebrated as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the days surrounding it as Police Week. We invite you to put a blue light in front of your house in support of our police officers this week. They work a dangerous, thankless job, so let’s thank them, at least with this small token. Then the next time a family gets that late-night call that dad is in the hospital, those kids and spouse know they are not alone.
Thank you, dad. I love you.