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Firemen and Fools
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2001

Who are you - a paramedic, a soldier, a nurse, a banker, a stock broker, a teacher, a policeman, a farmer . . . is that who you are? If it is, you're a fool.

I suppose that sounds a bit rude, especially after the events of September 11, 2001, when this country suddenly fell in love with our military, policemen, firemen and paramedics. If you make your living running into burning buildings, Lord knows you have my respect and admiration, but if that's who you are you're a fool.

I was a never a fireman - I never had the nerve, but I was a medic in the military, a civilian paramedic and a federal law enforcement officer. I was also foolish enough to believe that is who I was - until life handed me a real job, until I took on real responsibilities, until I got married, was blessed with children and became someone really important.

The world would be significantly improved if mothers, fathers, wives and husbands came to realize that those other things are just jobs. Your job is not who you are - it's a HAT!

Banker, teacher, soldier or fireman - it's nothing but an ever-loving hat that you wear. It's not even your hat; they hand you that hat, and pay you to wear it, but they only let you wear it for a while. One day, no matter how maginificent you looked in that hat, or how faithfully and well you wore it, the time will come to take it off and pass it on. Someone else will wear your hat and you know what, the Earth won't stop spinning and the world won't come to an end!

The fact is, the day you quit or retire, someone else will wear the hat that meant so much to you. That very same day, someone else will sit in your chair and decide who gets what loan, grade Mary's homework or advise Ethel Razabadowski how she should best protect her retirement nest egg. In your mind, you want to believe that you will leave an enormous hole when you go - you can see that hole now if you like.

Just stick your finger in a pool of water and pull it out. That hole is all the hole that you'll leave.

If your significance on this planet is defined by a hat, how foolish is that! How many of us have subordinated our children, our spouses, our friends and families to a hat?

Excuse me? Surely you're not going to hand me that song and dance about the "dog eat dog world out there," responsibility, feeding the family, the roof over the head. . . . no, don't play that song for me.

Show me what the final figure is - what would it cost you, after taxes, to spend a couple of hours at the park throwing a ball around with the kids? Hand me your daily book - I've got a red pen. I just bet I can reschedule your "pressing engagements" so you can make it to the school play.

The average father spends less than an hour a month actually talking to his children - what kind of nonsense is that? Do you know who your daughter's teachers are? When was the last time you had lunch in a school cafeteria? Has your son ever run with a ball when you weren't there to watch? Can your daughter sing? Do you consider yourself to be a "Family Man?"

Fathers have always been the worst offenders, but moms aren't doing much better these days. Caught up in career objectives, we've totally abdicated our responsibilities to ourselves, our children and each other. Husbands, wives and parents, we've chosen to abandon our lives and our families for the sake of a hat.

As in all things, there are exceptions; sea duty for example. If you're military obligation puts you out to sea, or on some sand dune for months on end, there are things you just cannot do.

Bill E. Branscum, SR
May 1963

Sometimes, life and responsibility can separate you from your family. I understand about that; I learned about that at an early age.

On the other hand, physical separation does not mean you have to stop being a family. If you care about loved ones, you can find a way to show it.

For example, you might send serialized postcards where the letter wraps from card to card. If you did, your kids might keep them forever. These are postmarked 1965; I have hundreds of them.

Who in your life will remember you in forty years? Who in your life will take things you give them and keep them forever? What did you do for them today?

When your son wants to show you his school work, when your daughter has colored something really spectacular, when the kids want to go to the zoo . . . when your life calls your name, but you have more important obligations, stick your finger in that pool of water again, watch closely as you pull it out, and get your priorities straight.

Don't dedicate your life to someone else's hat.



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