When you hear the word “firefighter” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps a cute guy climbing a tall ladder to rescue a kitten out of the tree? Perhaps you’re picturing a supermodel with six pack abs wearing nothing but his turnouts? Better yet, maybe a guy with a mustache and a soot covered fire helmet, staring straight into your soul.
When I think of our firefighters, I think of grueling hours, sleepless nights, and selfless acts committed over and over, all in the name of duty. That’s not all, when I hear “firefighter”, I immediately think of his family. I think of the many hours he spends away from home. I think of his wife who often manages the household alone. The ever changing schedule and routine for his children. The way she feels like she has to take a back seat because he’s out saving lives.
He comes home tired and stressed. He can’t connect. She’s frustrated, angry, fearful. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this story. He’s everyone’s hero, but is he hers?
After a decade of marriage, I can confidently assert how easy it is to ignore the realities of firehouse life. He rarely talks about work and I build walls around my heart. Even though we are both trying to protect the other, it’s damaging. He comes home and needs to rest, wants to forget, and tries to protect me from the harsh realities of his job. If I am being honest, I want to live in my ignorance of what he has to do, how many close calls there have been when duty comes a calling. Ignorance is bliss. I mean, it’s obvious that neither of us can be stressed out all the time. It wouldn’t be healthy for our children. On the other hand, there has to be common ground, balance (if that is a thing). After 11 years, we still struggle, but it’s better. He has learned that he has to share about his day, even if things have gone sideways (because they do). I have made a concentrated effort to involve myself in the fire service. Ignorance is bliss unless it’s causing mindless misunderstandings, anger, a lack of reverence, understanding and ultimately leads to a lost connection between us.
Men fear inadequacy. For them, failure is scarier than running into a burning building. He has to meet everyone’s expectations and attain their approval. A man’s most important need from his wife is respect and admiration.
He may not want recognition or to be admired by his community. He may not even require it from the people he works with, but make no mistake, we wants to be thought of a hero by his wife. He needs to know that she believes in him. He needs her to know that he is capable of greatness. He needs to hear words of admiration. It is especially imperative to those who must do courageous things for a living, that they receive words of encouragement from their spouse.
If all I choose to see is a train wreck crashing through my door at the end of a long 72 hour shit, then that’s all he will ever be. If all he ever receives are complaints, he will stop trying as he will never make me happy anyway. It’s easy to dish out disapproval, it’s much more difficult to find something kind to say. Laying blame and being impossible to please will result in a husband who has given up altogether. Women have an innate and beautiful ability to nurture, care, empathize, and mother. However, if respect isn’t freely given to our firefighter, we get stuck in a rut of control and nurturing can be taken to an extreme. He doesn’t want to be mothered by me. That’s the last thing he needs. I have to give him enough space to be a man even if sometimes it feels like he is just another one of my children. Unless of course, I want to smother him. Then by all means, I could stay in mothering mode. In order for the relationship to thrive, I must step into the role of being his top fangirl. If I want him to be the best version of himself, I have to be willing to be HIS hero.
But how Chelsi? How am I supposed to do that?
✔️Go to the firehouse, learn what he does there.
✔️Open up his latest Firefighter Magazine, read some articles. Listen to firefighter related podcasts, watch fire related youtube videos. Educate yourself about his work.
✔️Go to social events that involve the people that he works with. Connect with other women who are in relationships with the guys he works with. If there aren’t regular social gatherings, start them! Surround yourself with people who understand exactly what you are going through.
✔️Join the auxiliary if there is one.
✔️Attend a class with your firefighter. Educate yourself about danger and trauma and how they affect his every day life. So when that little black rain cloud follows him home (because it will), you’ll know how to help.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear. -Franklin D. Roosevelt
Recognize that to the world, he is distinguished for his bravery and selflessness. Then, become his hero at home.My husband may be everybody else’s hero, but I am his.