The Reality of Sacrifice
When I tell people what he does for a living, the reaction is usually positive and affirming – something to the effect of how cool it is, that he’s a hero, that he’s brave, that it’s a great career, and occasionally someone will make an ill-timed comment about how sexy of a profession it is…These things are mostly true, of him and his profession. But being married to a firefighter is almost anything but glamorous.
When I fell in love with him, I fell in love with the man behind the badge, not the firefighter. I fell in love with all that he was at the time and all that he wanted to become, his big brown eyes and his magnetism that has always drawn me in. There were a million little things that told me he was the one. And honestly, if anything made me hesitant, it was this job. Yes, his job is really cool, and he really loves it and it’s a huge part of our lives, perhaps the biggest part of our lives in certain seasons of living, but it makes some things really hard, if we’re only speaking
Most people imagine being married to a firefighter as him coming home, walking around the house, sweat beaded up on his chest and soot smudges on his face as he struts around in his bunker pants and suspenders, shirtless and sexy (and yes, I have been asked if this was the case, and no, it’s isn’t…). Or riding around town on his ladder truck, lights and sirens blazing as he sets off to save the world, and he passes by as I wave in smitten admiration, movie-esque and perfect. Or they see him standing as a pillar in the community, saving kittens from trees and babies from buildings and teaching school children about fire safety.
Okay, that last one is true, he does do those things. And I am unbelievably proud of him, but being the spouse isn’t glorious. It’s lonely. The reality is, he comes home from work exhausted. Damaged. Emotionally and physically completely drained and in need of understanding and support. Support that is hard for him to find the right way to ask for and hard for me to give sometimes. He needs me to understand a job that I don’t do and couldn’t know the ins and outs of and he needs me to support him emotionally in ways he can’t ask for. Understanding, reverence and unconditional support are hard for me to give sometimes, even hard for me to remember that he needs. I have to constantly ask myself what my partner needs from me and how am I going to give that to him; and I miss the mark. Often. Which puts an additional strain on our already hectic life. The reality is that his job is dangerous and I often can’t sleep because he isn’t in bed next to me and I don’t know if he’s safe. I don’t know if the last time I saw him could have been the very last time. I never know if all of our plans for the future will play out, or if I will, someday soon, be explaining to little boys that their daddy died a hero and standing over a flag covered casket.
The reality is that most nights he spends at the station are just him hanging out with the guys, but all it would take is that one call to be heroic, one slip up in training, one mess of a fire, one split second decision to give his life for someone else (because he would make that decision in a heartbeat) and he would be gone. And our lives would drastically change. One call. One second. I think about it all the time. Prepare for it all the time. The reality is that he risks his life for other people. Every day. He has vowed his life to protecting them, so they can go home to their families, even if he doesn’t get to come home to his own. The reality is he isn’t home very often, he works a ton so that we can have the life we do. He is an excellent provider and he’s sacrificial in more ways than any man I’ve ever known, but that comes at a great cost to him. And to me.
The reality is that I’m often mom and dad, and I can’t completely fill his boots, no matter how hard I try. So, sometimes, little boys go without the massive contribution he adds to their lives, because daddy is saving the world and we can’t be selfish, even when we want to be. The reality is that his body is tired, and torn and beaten. He has old injuries and new injuries all the time. He’s often too tired to do the things we need to do or that I would like to do. He needs me to understand that and pick up the slack. It isn’t helpful to complain or wish for scenarios that aren’t conducive to our lives, so I don’t. Sometimes I feel sad about the things we occasionally miss out on or ways that our lives are different, but what our family needs is for me to be an unwavering beacon of support and light. So I take that role seriously and strive for it, though I fail sometimes.
The reality is, I run our lives and I’m alone in everything when he’s working, or sleeping. I do all the things that need to be done at home so that he has nothing to worry about except being a rockstar at work. When he comes home, we talk about fire life or business and I save all the “home drama” to discuss later.
The reality is that our relationship with each other is often much more of a business partnership and far less of a romantic love story. We function well, we’re a well oiled machine, but many times, there just isn’t time for us time. The reality is his shifts are long, 24-48 hours. That’s a lot of time to miss with a young family. A lot goes on, with me and the boys, and not all of it gets talked about. In summers he goes to fight wildfires and we don’t see him for weeks. He misses a lot. Holidays, events, milestones, there is much that he can’t be present for. So I do those things alone. And we understand that this is the sacrifice we make so that daddy can help other people. He spends a lot of time training, to keep himself and his crew safe, and that makes him unavailable to us, so we have to be independent.
The reality is that I often have to be stronger than I want to be or feel like I even can be. Very often. He needs that from me. All the boys do.
The reality is also that he is brave, and he is a hero. The reality is also that he is doing amazing work; God’s work. He saves people’s lives. How incredible is that?! The reality is also that I am overcome with joy and pride every time I hear about something amazing that he did.
The reality is also that the department is our family, and though his job has taken us away from much that we’ve known, they are a tremendous support system and we are never alone in anything we’ve ever gone through. The reality is also that sometimes holidays look different – visiting daddy at work and celebrating at the station instead of at home, but we still get to see him and we are always welcomed with open arms. We have gained an incredible extended family of people who understand our lives.
Our nights are long, our days are longer. We have to constantly check in, communicate, schedule time, reiterate and remind each other of how exactly we are supposed to do this and make it work as a family. There is a ton of work involved, and it would be so easy to resent or blame or lose sight and let it all start to slip. But we can never let that happen.
The reality of being a fireman’s wife is a harsh one. It isn’t for the weak. It isn’t for the fame and glory. It isn’t for the badge bunny just looking for a ripped man in sweat and soot. It’s an extremely supportive and selfless role, for both of us. But I am proud to do whatever I can so that he can continue to do the incredible work that they do. So I keep sight of that always, and I try really hard.
And occasionally I do catch a glimpse of him with his uniform shirt untucked and unbuttoned just enough and his hair all a mess and his boots just thrown on, coffee cup in hand, desperately needing a nap, but he still has those incredible big brown eyes and even bigger heart, and though that isn’t the vision most have of a “sexy fireman,” he’s exactly what I envision, and he’s mine.