I’ve got some news, Dad,” my daughter began, “and I don’t know how you’re going to take it.” Father-flash: marriage? Pregnancy? A same-sex partner? Moving to Australia? I might’ve been able to absorb any one of those more easily.
“I’ve been accepted into the Chicago Police Academy,” she continued. “My first day is Oct. 31.”
Halloween, I thought. How perfectly, frighteningly appropriate. My adorable only daughter, the marathon-bicycling English major, is going to be a cop. And not just any cop. A Chicago cop. Some of you remember them. They were the ones on television in 1968, cracking hippie skulls during the Democratic National Convention. I lived in Chicago for 20 years, and to me those cops mean parking tickets and Denver boots and general traffic harassment designed to swell public coffers and aggravate the hell out of low-income wannabe artists like me.
I have a rule of thumb: avoid the cops at all costs. Fasten your seat belt. Drive reasonably close to the speed limit. Immediately repair all burned-out head-and taillights so as not to attract unwarranted attention. And never carry suspicious paraphernalia in the glove box.
Good Lord. If all goes according to some kind of twisted plan, I’ll be the father of a cop. I’m still trying to process.
Jessica filled me in on the details. She first applied for the job two years ago. She passed the aptitude test with flying colors but then declined to come back for the physical. Apparently the cop option didn’t seem like a fit to her at the time. Months went by. Then the police department called again, still impressed with her scores, still wanting her to take the physical. So on a whim, she did. She passed that too. Again, months went by. Then they called again and asked her to come in for psychological testing. It’s good news—right?—to learn that one’s offspring has passed the CPD’s psychological test?
Unsure of her future in general, and concerned as any serious young lady would be, Jessica haltingly went back to her fill-in jobs, clerking for a real-estate broker and doing part-time retail work at a sporting-goods store. More months passed. Then the CPD called to announce that they wanted to do a complete background check: on her prior and present employers, her friends, her associates and her family.I guess the cops never unearthed the fact that I’d been arrested four times for running illegal taxicab fares. I was thrown in the clink on each occasion, and...OK, never mind. Long story, best left unfinished. Anyway, Jessica ran this gauntlet as well, but a hiring freeze meant more delays. Then they called again to ask her back for yet another round of physical tests, at which she did even better. All those marathon bicycling events paid off, I guess.
I didn’t know any of this until after Jessica became one of 20 women and 70 men in the CPD’s class of ’06. The salary’s fair, the benefits even better, and there’s also potential for grad school tuition down the road. My daughter will graduate from the academy in the spring. She will have her own uniform, and she will own her own police-issue firearm.
I’m still processing. Especially about the gun.
Whatever failures existed in her parents’ marriage—and there were plenty (mea maxima culpa)—Jessica grew up exposed to books and music and a strong belief in the artistic sensibility. Actors, writers and comedians came to our home. She’s a fine photographer herself. It never crossed my mind that she would pursue ajob in law enforcement. Those old libertarian philosophies of mine don’t die easy, and being a cop just doesn’t fit the preconceived profile ofwhat a person, never mind one’s daughter, ought to do with her life.
But it is, after all, her life. Jessica has more integrity andcompassion than anyone I know. And a keen mind to match them. And she’d never be happy cooped up in a typical white-collar office. She’s sharp with computers and no doubt will use them often in her new career, but mostly she’s the kind who needs to be doing something. Suffice to say, I’ve swiftly thrown out the window all my negative stereotypes about pot-bellied cops stuffing down crullers and swilling coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Suddenly, Mariska Hargitay’s Law & Order character, Detective Olivia Benson, seems more compelling than ever.
Believe me, I’m still going to avoid any hassles with the cops. But these days I think about what cops do and what it takes not only to be one, but to survive being one. Lord only knows what challenges lie ahead for Jessica Brady as a police officer in the third largest city in the United States.
Rather suddenly, I’ve come to believe that if the police are indeed a necessary fact of our lives, then among their ranks I hope there will be people of integrity and compassion, people with a sense of responsibility, people who are more interested in conflict resolution than in brute force. I’ve certainly got a daughter who is all of that, and her courage in making this career choice will amaze me always, even as it fills me with unexpected pride. I’m going to have to trust that her police training will take care of all the rest that may lie ahead.
One thing all this processing doesn’t really alter is a father’s basic instinct. I’m gonna worry about her. Yep, I’m gonna worry. A lot.