williams family photo
“Daddy, did you bust any bad guys today?”
That’s not the routine homecoming an average 8-to-5 working father hears when he walks through the door. But it is if you’re a law enforcement dad–a career, and consequent lifestyle–where nothing is ‘routine’ nor ‘average.’
“He understands good guys and bad guys,” said Wade Williams, a detective with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, of his 6-year-old son Carter. “I try to explain to him that if someone gets arrested it doesn’t mean that they’re all bad but that they made a bad choice.”
Williams and his wife also have a 4-year-old daughter named Avery. “She is very easygoing but is in the princess phase. She wears a dress everyday and some days I really think she thinks she’s living in a fairy tale,” he said with a chuckle.
With both children in school and Williams weekly schedule plus 24-hour on-call duties, the Williams’ schedule is hectic. But it’s nothing compared to when Carter was a newborn and Williams was on night patrol.
“I would work from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. When I got home I would try to go to bed as quickly as I could. I would get about three hours of sleep,” Williams explained. “But then I’d be up with Carter because my wife would be at work.”
For nearly a year, Williams was lucky if he got five hours of sleep before a shift. For some people, that may not seem like a big deal. But for an officer working the streets at night, sleep deprivation could mean the difference between life and death.
“I was a walking zombie at some points,” Williams remembered. “I don’t know how I did it. The hardest part would come at 2 or 3 a.m. when the road was sheer emptiness. I drank a lot of coffee.”
Williams got a reprieve from that schedule, when, after four years on the job, he earned a promotion to the detective bureau, and a Monday-through-Friday work week, in 2008. “There is certainly more responsibility with this position and I’m tethered to the agency in a different way, but I also have more flexibility,” he said.
The Worst of the Worst
Being a detective, though, comes with its own set of burdens for a family man. Just ask Sotiere (pronounced SO-teer) Nicholson, a child crimes investigator with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Nicholson’s case load involves everything from neglect and abuse to child pornography.
“We see the doom and gloom and we see the evil that lies in the darkness. We have a different [parenting] perspective,” he stated. “I remember one time I worked a particularly difficult case and I walked in the door later that night and scooped my 4-year-old daughter into my arms and said, ‘I just need to hold you.’ And she simply said, ‘OK, daddy’.”
Nicholson and his wife adopted Olivia after fertility treatments didn’t work. He said she is whip-smart but also admitted that he might be over cautious because of what he’s seen in his job. Nicholson doesn’t allow Olivia to play on anything with an internet connection (computer, smart phone) without his supervision, and if she is outside playing, so is he.
“It’s not going to be my child. Everyone in law enforcement has that mentality,” Nicholson explains. “Most people I see are reactive, not proactive. I’m the opposite. She’s only four. If she plays outside I’m going to be out there with her.”
Protect and Serve
Personal safety is always on the mind of former investigator, and current Naples Police Department Road Patrol Sergeant Seth Finman. He requested the names of his two children not be used in this article to protect their identities.
Finman and his wife have a 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. He said juggling his kids’ school and extracurricular activities at these ages is more demanding than when they were infants. But it’s the added responsibilities of a being a cop that throws the family for a loop–especially during emergencies.
“I can’t emphasize this enough. The one difference in a law enforcement job than in any other job is that you’re expected to show up. In Florida, that means when a hurricane comes, or another natural disaster, we have to show up for work. We can’t leave the state. Those are things a lot of other families don’t have to do. They can pack up and move to somewhere safe.”
And Florida is one of the most dangerous places to be a cop. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Florida led the nation with 14 officer deaths in 2011. “Most jobs have a healthy balance. A police officer’s job has no balance,” explained family therapist, author and radio-show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Schlessinger said the relationships a cop builds with his wife and kids are paramount to his success–on the job and at home. “The home becomes his haven,” she added.
Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman
There is no doubt that each of these cops–Williams, Finman, Nicholson–is a great dad. But they all admit to having a secret weapon, and it’s not a Glock.
“I could not have done my job on the street or at home without the love and support and help of my wonderful wife,” said Williams. “She’s the one who deserves the credit.” When Williams gets a 4 a.m. call about an armed robbery, his wife knows she’ll be handling the kids’ morning routine by herself. When Finman is assigned to a special team to protect the First Lady on an April visit, his wife understands the extra commitment. And when Nicholson comes home after poring through child pornography images on a suspects’ computer, his wife and daughter are there with comforting hugs.
“There is nothing like coming home after a rough day, and my daughter says, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ It changes my whole attitude every time,” Nicholson said.
Not a bad way to end a day that’s been anything but average for a police dad.
Patricia Carlson writes for magazines, blogs, websites, and radio and television stations. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Patricia also works as a media trainer. When she’s not pounding keys, she’s a full-time mum.