I struggle with what I have to offer in writing to an audience of wives. The practice initially sets me back as I don’t want to appear as though I have all the answers. (Trust me, at least in the fire community I work in, nothing is less welcomed than a know it all.) But my wife insists I have valuable input. And there does seem to be a question or two that many of you ask in different ways that bears addressing. Today I’d like to offer insight into the “what does he expect when he gets back from a rough call / duty day / shift” query. At least, my perspective as a career firefighter at a busy urban house. Which may be one more than you have today.
The job that we’ve chosen is wonderfully rewarding. The opportunities to impact peoples lives in a positive way drives most of us to efforts far greater than we would most likely put forth were we say sitting in a cubicle, answering the phone and entering data,etc. (You get what I’m saying) These efforts and the usual outcomes of the effort can usually keep us motivated, sustained and generally not pissed off at our job. There are however times when despite our best efforts there is nothing we can do to be “excited” about the job. Whether this is precipitated by a bad call, an extremely busy shift, an extremely looooong shift or a less than pleasant fellow fire house inhabitant being, well, less than pleasant.
Any one of these situations can cause a guy to suddenly shift from “this is the best job in the world” mode to “can I really do this for another 10, 15, 20 years” mode.
My belief is that this is perfectly natural. I’m not a mental health professional but something about my interactions with people in general tell me that the guy who runs around with the “rainbows and unicorns” attitude 24 / 7 is usually masking some pretty painful stuff and not being honest with himself or those around him. You know who I’m talking about here? I don’t mean that super nice guy who always seems to have a positive attitude, is friendly, genuine, and understanding. I’m referring to that robot who’s always pouring his sunshine on ya just a little too thick. Yeah…..that guy. So, since we’ve established that it’s perfectly natural for even the best of us to get a little dragged down with the potential circumstances of the job we need to answer the question.
What can you as a wife / girlfriend do, or avoid doing to help?
I find the best thing Lori can do is act natural. Since what’s going on in my head is natural, I find the easiest way for me to adjust back is for there not to be a bunch of adjusting to this circumstance or that situation. I’m probably honked off that something at the firehouse went contrary to how it usually goes for me or the crew and the last thing I want is to return to “tranquility base” (home) and have something be different there. Let me give you an example of a conversation I don’t want to have standing in the kitchen of my home with the person I love the most.
Lori: “Hi honey, how was your shift?
Me: Not so good, but I’ll be cool. What time does Luke have practice tonight?
Lori: No honey, somethings bothering you, tell me what it is.
Me: Well I had to take a 4 month old baby girl out of a pillow case and pronounce her dead this morning. You see her father put her in it and slammed her around the room beating her to death inside it, anything else you want to know about it cause I have details if you need them?
I just did all the adjusting I want to do for the moment surviving the challenging crap I just went through on shift. I don’t want to “adjust” where I find my comfort and strength. I want to gather strength and be comforted. For me and a lot of men, that lies in knowing that there is sanity in the world of tragedy and pain that we witness. You guys are that assurance of sanity and normalcy. Please don’t mistake what I’m saying here for “don’t say anything to him at all”, or “don’t ask me questions about my day”. That’s not at all what I’m saying. If Lori asks, I tell her. What I appreciate is when she listens, maybe even discusses an aspect or two of the situation and then we go about our business. If I want to process things further we talk more later when I bring it up or after I’ve had a little time to bask in that normalcy and sanity I was talking about. I’m not advocating walking around on eggshells here either. All I’m saying is that this is one of those areas where the firefighter has to be the gauge on how it’s handled. It’s not healthy to have things unspoken in a marriage. After I’ve got my head back on straight and I’ve had lots of hugs and kisses from our youngest daughter I’m totally open to Lori giving me the “what was stuck in your butt when you got home the other morning?” line of questioning. That’s my obligation to her (and my mental health in general) to share with her what’s going on in the space between my ears. If things are overly cluttered or I don’t think I can get the pressure relief needed from a pleasant conversation with Lori than it’s also my obligation to seek a professional to “thought and word vomit” on. They get paid to clean that stuff up.
So there you go. Act natural ladies. The pressures off. No major obligations on your part.
Go about your business and let the process be the process. There’s nothing to fix that is going to get fixed unless the dude doing the job wants to admit it might need fixin. And even then, he has to be the one to start the fixin if need be. (Hard to swallow I know if you’re in a relationship with someone who needs fixed but ain’t admitting it, hence my admission earlier that I am not a mental health professional). I hope this lends some insight, That’ll be a $15 co-pay. Oh, and I see we’re out of time, please see the receptionist to make another appointment on your way out…..