Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, page 205, writes: “…finding where I fit in the world feels a lot like spiritual fishing. The vast, mysterious ocean of experience keeps calling, and…I keep hauling up food…from a common depth no one can see, and then I spend time cleaning what I’ve found and hearing what it has to say.”
I belong to a group that has no application form or membership dues, but when I meet another in this group, we usually give a knowing nod.
I am a cop’s kid.
This fact from my past keeps coming back to me, calling from some deep place in my history, inviting me to see what lesson there is for me now.
I don’t know if my upbringing was significantly different from the kids of the postal workers or factory workers in my neighborhood, but I do know that I had a clearer understanding of how the police force worked than neighborhood kids whose parents were not cops. I knew about police loyalty and closing ranks around a cop in trouble. I understood that cops relied on one another in a way people in other professions did not. When a cop was in danger, he needed to know he could trust another cop.
I grew up knowing my dad’s job was dangerous, and that every day when he left for work, there was a chance he would not come home. Living with that level of uncertainty made me very anxious, an emotion with which I still struggle.
We were taught to say nothing about life at home outside our home, and some cops’ kids will say I am being disloyal by even writing this. But someone recently suggested to me that I have a unique viewpoint because I grew up inside the police system—my dad’s friends were cops, we vacationed with cop families and my godfather was a cop. It was the only world I knew.
During this pandemic I have been thinking about the current crop of cops’ kids and their experiences of being stuck at home. There is no switch cops can flick off at the end of their shifts—they don’t leave their emotions at the police station—and they have been unable to gather with other cops after work for any kind of processing or transitioning from the job to home. I can imagine the emotional stress of life inside cops’ homes during this time of isolation, and it makes my heart ache for them and their families.
My dad shared lots of street wisdom with me.
For example, most crimes are crimes of opportunity, so don’t leave your bike out front unlocked or valuables visible in your car. My dad taught me that family problems happen in all neighborhoods—rich and poor—and that there are two sides to every story.
By the time I was a teen-ager, I had a pretty good understanding of the kinds of things my dad witnessed on the job. He saw abused spouses and children on a regular basis. I remember one time he told me about a child who had been tortured by his parents, burned with cigarettes and beaten until welts formed across his body. How can you stand to see that? I asked. It was his job to try to help.
One challenge of police work for people who enter the job because they want to help is that people often don’t want help and won’t accept help. My dad, like many men, was a problem-solver, but he was often called to situations where people were not really looking for solutions.
When I first heard Tracy Chapman’s song, Behind the Wall, I knew the truth of her words. My dad had often talked about domestic abuse calls being the most challenging because he never knew who would meet him at the door. Would the person who called 911 still want the police? Or would they have changed their mind? Would the abuser answer the door, angry and armed?
How often did cops not show up, as Tracy Chapman’s song suggests? I can easily believe it happens. It is an experience many people cannot fathom—that you would call the police, and no one would show up. Being a cop’s kid, though, I understood that cops did not always respond to calls for help; for example, cops did not go to other cops’ homes.
Yet because I grew up as a cop’s kid, I have deep faith in the police. As an adult, I have called the police whenever I suspected someone was being abused. I trust and rely on the police. I feel part of their family, and even though I have been out of the law enforcement world for a long time, I am still comfortable in that world.
I am grateful when I see a police car patrol my neighborhood and I believe we need a public safety system. But the fact that police brutality still exists at the level it does in this country suggests we need a paradigm shift if we truly want police who serve and protect all people equally.
Madeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.