Yesterday I went to the retirement party/celebration for a one of a kind fireman. What a great and unique man, he is a former Marine that has and had more interests than a single human being should have.
Many people would think and they would be right, that just being a fireman would be exciting enough to satisfy any thrill seeker. But not this man, here are just a few of his other interests, bull riding and all of the Cowboy arts, boxing at a world class event, and playing goalie for the fire department hockey team.
A man that you never had to guess what his opinion was on anything and I mean anything, all you had to do was ask. He was one hell of a fireman, knew his job on all levels, and was a willing and generous mentor to not only the new recruit but to many a firefighter and even more officers.
He is the kind of guy that I am pretty sure wanted nothing to do with a party that singled him out for recognition, but he did it anyway. Because he is a team player and having a retirement party isn’t about the guy going, it is about the ones left behind and the ones that came before.
So congratulations Gator and welcome to the club. I’m sure you feel about it much the way Groucho Marks did.
“I wouldn’t be a member of any club, that would have me as a member.”
The decision to have a retirement party is totally up to the individual fireman it is never forced on them. I remember as I was leaving the job I felt no desire to have a party. After all, I hadn’t gone out the way I wanted, I had been shown the door as I had reported to work hung-over and still had a testable blood alcohol level.
Why would I ever have a party? To celebrate being a drunk that was kicked off the job? To give all the haters a chance to say I told you what a loser he was? These were the thoughts I had, it felt better to just slink away like the disgrace I felt I was and leave all that in the past.
I spoke about how I felt in an AA meeting and about my plan to quietly retire. After the meeting a man I very much admire, a former Army Ranger pulled me aside.
“Got a minute Tim?” he asked.
“Sure.” I said.
“I heard what you were saying about not having a party for your retirement and I just wanted to give you my take on that. It’s not about you, you dumbshit, it’s about the other firemen. It’s about giving them a chance to wish you well, to thank you for your service, and to recognize your contribution to the job.
You weren’t a drunk your whole career and even if you were that doesn’t define you. Did you help others? Did you try to give back? Did you mentor other guys? Did you make a difference? Because I’m betting you did, and you know what there are some that want to tell you that, that want to show their respect.”
“So put on your big boy panties and have a fucking party, because it ain’t about you.” He patted me on the shoulder, went and jumped on his Harley and drove away. I will always thank him for that and I do.
Being a narcissist what he said had never crossed my mind. What did he mean it wasn’t about me everything is about me damn it? I thought about what the Ranger had told me and I asked other friends and family what they thought about it. All the feedback I got was to have the party, so I did.
I faced my fears and for me it really was freighting. I knew what I thought of myself and therefore felt that had to be how everyone else felt about me. I was a loser, a disgrace to myself and the job I loved, a drunk, I remembered nothing but all the bad I had done.
I just knew nobody would show up and that was probably the biggest fear, to be left with that final insult and 3 gallons of punch and 2 uneaten sheet cakes, although I knew out of depression and empathy my crew would do their best to hide that evidence.
So just before the appointed start time I sat in the kitchen at the Hero House, 7s and awaited my fate. My crew God bless them had really done a nice job with the concession stand; there was enough cake for the whole job and gallons of punch. I think some of them were as nervous as I was.
The kitchen door swung open and in walked my first lieutenant from station 4 where I was a “Donkey” I hadn’t seen the man in probably 20 years as he had retired not long after I came on the job. I looked at him and for the life of me had no idea why he was there.
“Bob what are you doing here?” I asked. He looked around the kitchen for a moment.
“Aren’t you retiring today?” he asked.
“Well yeah,” I answered.
“Well I’m here for that.” he stuck out his hand and shook mine.
“Congratulations on making it, because there were days I doubted you would. I knew either one of the guys would kill you or you’d kill yourself the way you went at Tim. You were one hell of a fireman.” and off he went.
I sat there stunned I couldn’t for the life of me understand why this man from my past who I had only worked for for three short months had shown up. Why make the effort for me?
And then I found out. These retirement parties are the only place all the old dudes get to see each other, have some cake, a cup of Joe and talk about the good old days. It had nothing to do me and I was glad to have given them a venue to catch up on each other, because that is what I do know, because I am one of the old dudes and proud of it.