Author: Bach, Gene

Family Reflections

Over the course of the last 30 years in the fire service, and simply life in general, I have dealt with a great many people in a wide variety of situations. Sometimes the interaction has been positive, and sometimes it has not. However, when looked at objectively, each and every encounter has provided an opportunity to observe and learn from others. Additionally, I have been able to see some of the inner workings of families and how they do, or do not, relate to each other.

I would have to classify my early family life as blessed. I had parents who were firmly committed to the task of ensuring that my brothers and I had the absolute best upbringing that was humanly possible. Both of them were great proponents of “spare the rod, spoil the child”, and we boys were often subject to lessons of the belt, via the butt. Although I was not very fond of those lessons at the time, looking back I can see that that is exactly what I needed at the time. One thing was always certain: we knew where we stood, and that was nice because after a “lesson of the belt” sitting wasn’t an option.

Mom and Dad, like any other two people who live together, didn’t see eye to eye on everything. For the most part they got along quite nicely. They did, however, have spells of disagreement. Sometimes those “discussions” were a bit animated, but things always seemed to work out for the best in the end. My father wasn’t much for compromise, but my mother was hard as nails when she had to be and seemed to be the only person on the face of the earth who could keep him in check on a consistent basis. No matter how strongly they disagreed, nor what their differences were, separating and disintegrating the family was never an option.

We boys were taught many things growing up. One of those was that it did not make a difference what color skin covered your bones, everybody was to be treated with the same respect and consideration with which we treated each other. We learned that a person’s station in life was irrelevant. People were to be judged in individual merit, and everybody started at the top of the heap until they proved otherwise: and then the option of reconciliation was never taken off the table. We were taught to take care of our things as well as those of others. If there was a mess it was cleaned up. Obviously, we boys were not totally compliant in all things at all times, but the “direction” from the top never waivered. Eventually, we got it, and later in life it was much easier to understand the “whys” of it all.

As time went along, I moved out and got married, and within a few years of that we started adding children to the mix. Now it was our turn to try and guide our girls along life’s narrow way.

My wife, the girl I married 29 years ago, and I, were on opposite ends of the spectrum. She was a mother hen. She had the patience of Job. She could manipulate and mould through her kind words and gentle touch. I, on the other hand, had the finesse of the drill sergeant from the movie Full Metal Jacket. What I wanted, I wanted NOW! I didn’t suggest, I ordered. It is said that opposites attract. In our case it was blatantly obvious that the saying was true. Though we started somewhat distant in our approach to life, over time we moved ever closer to a middle ground. My way of doing things was not the preferred method when dealing with the average girl. My wife’s method was not always the best for our middle daughter.

Our first and third daughters have always been very similar. Each fairly compliant, normally happy, yet easily crushed emotionally. It was often difficult for me to deal correctly with the latter aspect of their character. The drill sergeant approach to these two did nothing more than make them cry and damage my standing in their mind’s eye. I struggled mightily with this for many years, but in time I altered my mindset and moved more toward the motherly side of life when dealing with them. I was also “assisted” in that movement by my wife, who I found could be every bit as nail-hard as my mother had ever been when I stepped over the line. I do not at all consider my changed positions to be a lessening of my manhood. Quite the contrary, I consider it to be an enhancement. It’s easy to play the part of the authoritarian; it’s quite another to be able to put yourself in the position of others and see things through their eyes before making decisions that can affect them, short or long term. There are times when one style is better than the other: the tricky part is understanding which method to employ to get the best results for all party’s involved.

I’ll admit that when each of our children first saw the light of the birthing room I was hoping that they would be of the male variety. My wife, on the other hand, was quite pleased with the thought of frilly things flowing from the closets. Little did we know that with the middle girl we would both get our wish.

To say our second daughter was at times a handful would be a gross understatement. When she was four years old she was removed from the preschool room because she attacked the teacher and left tooth-marks in at least a couple of the instructor’s fingers. My wife was quick to catch on to the idea that the way to handle this one was not through suggestion, but by the way of strict orders. On the other hand, she was the one daughter who would get up early and go fishing with me, bait her own hook, and chase her sisters around the house with a dead bug in her hand. Now that’s my kind of woman! This was the daughter that moved my wife more to the totalitarian side of life.

In the end, both my wife and I adapted, moved toward the center of the attitude aisle, and complimented each other: forming a true team that was able to meet, and topple, almost any obstacle in our path.

But the big question is: what were the results of our efforts? I do believe it was all more than worthwhile. The oldest daughter is a wonderful young woman who has written two books and is married to a California Highway Patrolman. The youngest daughter is happy, loving, does well in school, produces funny videos and, when presented with questionable choices by her friends says, “No, I will not do that because it’s wrong.”

So, what about the middle girl? The young hellion with the mindset of a lion? She is a second year firefighter for Cal-Fire stationed in Weed. She is equally adept at wearing logging boots, or an evening gown. She has a work ethic second to none, manages her money well, pays her bills on time…and tells us she loves us everyday. And, with a half hour until the sun comes up, after trudging through the mud carrying duck decoys, shotguns and other paraphernalia, she is the one sitting next to me in the duck blind sharing a hot cup of coffee.

I am extremely grateful for my family: from my mom and dad through my wife and daughters. I will be eternally grateful for their influences on my life. I am a far better man with them that I would ever have been without them all.

Posted:  9/1/2009

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