For him — God — taking my father, I unleashed nightly in vulgar, seething teeth-clenches, a rage I doled in whispers. I lulled indifferent to what smiting and thunderbolts I might beckon back in return. I hunkered and grew numb. And it was with that, by the time I was 26, I froze out what faith I had — in church or God or religion.
I don’t know what religion means now. I scoff at it. I find, now, in some ways I always have. I’ve always been leery of priests and nuns like an aversion to snakes and spiders. These pontiffs of life never seemed to have experienced lives of their own, yet they lorded over like they knew all and better than any of us. I wouldn’t feel the need to go there, to church, not really ever. I wouldn’t pay homage to these joyless, brooding creatures I loathed and felt hardwired to fear. Except for the occasional mass at Christmas or Easter and always from the far back row, my obligation was over. Then, unceremoniously, at some point, I stopped altogether. Praying. Going. Believing. Half-believing.
Having said this, I’m ashamed to say, since then I’ve prayed audibly to God a handful of times. One was the attacks on September 11th — with the anthrax powder mailings following after that. Beneath my ocular calm, I ratcheted in insular panic. Dad had been dead three-years and I was without my heavy-weight to look to for advice or just a calming glance. There I was, my adult me, reeling and lost.
I began grasping for what was within reach. Silly as it seems, I found myself emulating actor Russell Crowe after Dad died. And for a time, perhaps desperately, a focus on something strong somehow helped guide me through deep pits. I would later learn that Dad too — in the absence of his own father — shaped his demeanor as a man after tough-guy actor Charles Bronson.
But as I settled into my maturity, I found myself still pushing constantly toward my own ends. I remained haunted, tediously, by whether I could live to be as tough as Dad. Projector light idols, at some points, didn’t suffice. And I found myself taking police tests and running track laps, ever more on my way to leaving my burgeoning path as journalist to chase down what it was HE did.
So there it was, when I was maybe 32, leaving journalism to become a cop in uniform. I look back on what were Dad’s waning days, and he seemed so grateful that I drew more and more toward writing. Perhaps he saw me finally breaking from my resurgent curiosity for the job and life he long existed in. But on that, he wasn’t right. In his absence, even with me having matured as a man, I still lived in ways within a boy’s warped view. The police. What did I expect that life to be, maybe something like TV? He never bragged or loudmouthed in war stories. He hardly shared what it was his shifts as a cop were like at all.
In all my childhood that’s what dazzled most — seeing him come and go in uniform in his police cruiser. Still, he warned, again, again, not to follow a step in the work he did. The warnings what not to do — was that what possessed me? The question reels anew, just now, as I’m passing by some cops making a car stop when I’m on my way with my oldest daughter for coffee and hot cocoa. “What was it like to be a cop?” she asks, what she follows with, “Do you miss it?” And it takes me back again to then.
Now here I am at 32, now doing what Dad did — police work — in uniform and patrolling in a police cruiser. Sometimes I find there is precious little time – for stopping all the cars I want to toss, for a DUI accident with injuries, and alarm calls at strip malls and suburban houses, all on the same night. And sometimes there is lots of time to think. I find I’m always on edge, always, just a little.
(Tune in next week at Prattlon.com for Part 3 of 4)
Jason James, a native of East Lyme, Connecticut, is an award-winning essayist and journalist, focussing on experiential nonfiction. He previously served as a police officer and as a DEA Special Agent.