Everyone thinks that their Dad is a hero. Everyone is correct. But when I say it, I also happen to be factually accurate. (I'll get less smug in a sentence or two, don't worry)
So brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, because you are about to read a very heartfelt article with lots of very on the nose metaphors. You'll just have to bear with me because truthfully, I regret nothing.
My childhood may have been one that other people think was sad, fraught, or surrounded by tragedy, but it wasn't. It was a childhood that was very aware of just precisely how lucky I was to be surrounded by warmth.
Here we have, 5 essential lessons that having a father as a volunteer firefighter taught me, and maybe even one or two that I taught him...
1. Everything is relative.
It's perfectly fine to come home crying when your friends are being mean to you and you're not sure you're that great at maths any more. However, when your father gets home from work (and you have to train yourself to ensure that the 'when' never becomes an 'if') you have to leave what troubles you can part with at the door, just as he does. It is great and perspective-giving. You are, however, valid for thinking that your problems might get pushed aside on occasion, but in retrospect, some of the things I complained about were super petty.
2. Believe that where there's smoke, there's fire.
In short, believe your instincts and follow your judgement, because if there's anything he learned, it's that there's no smoke without fire. This is true of your relationships, friendships, and general feelings that something might be amiss. He always had to follow the trail of smoke and learn not to let too much get into his lungs and corrupt his heart. In turn, he always taught me to protect my heart (and lungs; no smoking for me!).
3. Sometimes what you think is the light at the end of the tunnel is actually fire, and the building's falling down.
Make sure you take stock of what's around you and check that the gleam in your boyfriend's eye is charming rather than 'gaslight-y'. Green doesn't always mean go. My father taught me to know when it is and isn't worth running into a burning building - emotionally and physically. It's incredibly hard sometimes, and sometimes there are things that you lose in that decision. But first and foremost, no matter what your intention or occupation, you must always value your life for yourself. The world needs heroes, it doesn't need people that don't have an appreciation for their own happiness.
4. Sometimes life is sad and people aren't actually a match (unfortunate pun) for the natural elements.
Having a father in such proximity to death and danger on a daily basis is not something that was felt lightly, nor something that one ever gets used to. It ensured that I had a healthy respect for my life and an appreciation of how valuable it can be to protect the lives of other people. Saving lives is no small feat, and it's not always enough, and you just have to accept that. My father bore a burden that I really can't comprehend, so I won't bother trying to put into any more words than I already have used. It's one of those things that you experience; you don't try to understand.
5. It's important to always find the light in the dark.
While light in the dark to my father always meant a fire or glowing embers, he always retained that it was a good thing. Not a good thing in the fire existing, but in the beauty of something burning hot and bright and energetic against what can otherwise be a dark and claustrophobic experience. As such, we must always find the light. It doesn't necessarily always guide us in the right direction, or even keep us safe. But we need the warmth to keep up going through the night. Fire isn't home for anyone, but it can represent a beacon, a ray of hope, or a warning. We would do well to heed them.
So there's my slightly melodramatic account of what I learned from my Dad, but here's two sneaky tidbits that he has since confessed to learning from me:
No matter how bad your day was if you have a home and a toddler that will run into your arms, you realise you can walk through just about anything to get back to them.
That said toddler will always lie about having coloured the walls red, even if the crayon is still in their hands when you walk through the door.
The second one was less about my Dad being a fireman, more about my previous self being something of a menace with a pen in hand. Oh, how times have changed.
One thing remains though, I love you, Dad! (Go and call yours!)