A few days after Christmas in 2014, I remember leaning into a coffin, touching my husband Charlie’s face and staring at the last uniform he was so proud to put on every duty day. I kissed him goodbye for the last time that day so seeing my son’s name on the Pasco-Hernando State College Police Academy (Florida) list was something I NEVER expected.
Not long after Charlie was violently killed in the line of duty, my son Andrew told me he wanted to become a police officer. He wanted to honor his father and all the good things he did for the community who loved him so much. Andrew wanted to keep our name alive, but the way the world is right now and the thought of my son out there terrified me. The more he talked to me about it, the more determined and passionate he became. He took a pay cut and began the academy not long after. Not many understand that this isn’t a job, it’s a calling. There’s little money and a LOT of stress. It’s who they become on the inside and they are NEVER off duty. It’s something very few are destined to follow and there is no stopping them when it’s in their blood. After all, he is his father’s son.
On August 26, 2018 my son walked into a classroom for his first day of the police academy. Soon after, he learned all the things his father never told him about this career. I knew that after the first day of that academy, my son would look at everything in life from a new perspective. I wanted the academy to be tough—the toughest thing he’s ever done. And it was. I wanted him to be mentally and physically challenged so that he would be forced to see the world in a different way—the parts of the world that I kept from him, the parts his father protected him from. I wanted this because the things he will see from now forward will follow him for the rest of his life. The horrible things he will see will never leave his mind and I pray he finds a way to work through those days.
I’m so incredibly proud of him because it takes a BRAVE person to answer this calling, especially in today’s world. A world where officers can’t let their guard down to even sit and break bread. A world where they are a target every time they put on their uniform. A world that could destroy them or take them from us for merely exiting their car. A world that you and I will never see or fully understand.
It takes an even stronger person to choose this career after seeing his own father make the ultimate sacrifice that culminated so violently. Andrew is stepping forward to continue our family’s love of law enforcement because he didn’t want our name to die too. In his words, “I just want to finish the good things my dad did. If I can be just half the officer and man he was, that would make all of this worth it.” Yep, all of that and he is SO proud to start this journey. That’s why it’s a calling.
Behind that handsome face of his is the same little boy who loved to help people and went out of his way to make people happy. The same little boy who told the truth and waited to be grounded. The same little boy who took the blame for his sisters when they got in trouble…because he hated to see them cry. The same little boy that made an entire room come to life with his sense of humor and sarcasm. The same little boy who gave up his lunch or a turn to play so that the kid with no friends could join in.
To the community he will be just another officer. To the evil out there, he’s just another target. But to me, he’s my son and a big part of my heart. He’s a brother to his four siblings, a grandson to his Gigi, and a loyal friend to so many. He is a part of his father and I want him to grow old and have his own family one day and enjoy retirement like every officer should. I want him to have all the things in life that was taken from his father and I. I want the community to see him as help and not a threat. I want them to see him as a human being that has a huge heart and a strong drive to help without wanting anything in return, not even a simple thank you.
Hearing sirens, seeing red and blues, and passing officers on the street has always made me look twice to make sure everything looked okay. But now I picture my son in their place, and that rips my heart out and makes me proud at the same time. I’ve done my best to not share my fear with my son and I will proudly stand beside him and support him just as I did his father because I know what this calling means to them. I don’t know why Charlie’s life had to end so violently but I pray my son is able to pick up the broken pieces and carry his father with him when he walks out the door to serve. It’s his only mission in life now and we could sure use that kind of man out there.
On his academy graduation day, the only thing I had left to pass down to my son was his father’s handcuffs. Charlie was wearing them the night he was killed. I had them engraved and handed them to him at graduation. It’s a small piece of his father’s legacy so I know he will find some comfort in that.
To the enormous blue family that has held us up after Charlie’s death, please don’t ever stop sharing the advice and humor with Andrew that his father isn’t here to give him. He needs you in a way I’ll never understand.
To may brave son: I love you, Andrew. You are exactly what this world needs. I know your heart is in the right place. I know this calling is your purpose in life so I hope it gives you enormous pride but keeps you humble…just like your father.