Aging column: ‘Those who patiently walk us through our youth’
At last weekend’s Colorado Press Association meeting, Randy Bangert, longtime editor of a PI sister newspaper, the Greeley Tribune, was honored as Newspaper Person of the Year. It was a well-deserved recognition of Bangert’s humble leadership, complete with speeches, photos and thanks from younger journalists for all he had taught them.
And that’s the way we think it’s supposed to be. But sometimes, we do not understand the value of life and work lessons until we are older. And when we are the teachers, we may not realize that appreciation often comes later and without fanfare.
A former co-worker of mine, Joe McKinney, described both sides of this truth in a Facebook post. Joe, an officer with the San Antonio Police Department and successful novelist, honored the field training officer (FTO) he was assigned to as a new cop by describing how he came to appreciate him long after their time as trainer and trainee. Excerpts from his post are used with permission:
“My first FTO was a very old dude, an overweight Hispanic man who seemed to be perpetually tired and bored. He’d been on the job for 38 years when I got assigned to him. He’d been a cop longer than I’d been alive. At first, I was a little disappointed, because young officers want to get busy with it. They are in the best shape of their lives and want to put their cuffs on everything that moves. I thought: Damn, this old dude is going to be a slow mover. I’m going to do a whole lot of nothing with this guy.
“But then I started to learn.
“First thing I learned was that my FTO’s first FTO was also an old man. Between the two of them, they represented something like 70 years of SAPD history. One day, after snapping a ticket into place on my sun visor, my FTO told me that police officers have always stored their handwritten reports on the sun visor of their cruisers, secured with rubber bands. According to my FTO, this was a thing even when his first FTO was a young police officer. So, I learned that I was doing the same thing cops back in the 1940s were doing. It was a monkey-touch-the-monolith kind of moment for me, and opened my eyes to the job I was learning.”
Joe talked about one of the categories his FTO evaluated him on daily: “district awareness,” which was about how well he knew his assigned patrol area. He would often react with a sigh of boredom when the FTO would test his district awareness by starting their shift with the order: “… find a different way than the way you used yesterday to get to the Pig Stand.”
Joe followed orders, of course, but said, “I would sit in this restaurant and look in thinly veiled disgust at the menu and wonder why in the hell my FTO liked the place so much.
“Then, one morning, he told me that the onion ring was invented at that very restaurant. ‘No way,’ I said. And then I looked it up.
“My FTO was right. The onion ring, and Texas toast, were both invented at the Pig Stand, the restaurant where I spent so many bored mornings.”
Eventually, Joe learned another reason why the Pig Stand was important to his FTO. In the days before mobile radios, he could park his patrol car next to a Pig Stand window, open that window from the inside and throw his car radio mic through it. That allowed him to stay in touch so he could grab lunch without having to formally check out with the dispatcher.
At the time, Joe thought it was just a funny story about the old days. But he later understood the serious point his FTO was teaching:
“You had the radio in your car and that was it. When you left your car, you were on your own. You either learned how to take care of yourself, or you got killed. Sometimes that meant kicking the crap out of somebody who desperately deserved it, but more often than that, it meant talking your way out of trouble. More than any other lesson I learned from that man, it was that. Talk your way out of trouble. Everybody is better off when cops talk rather than go to the baton or the gun.”
Joe’s words were full of respect for a man he did not fully appreciate until much later in life:
“We learn so much from those who patiently walk us through our youth, and they get so little credit from us in return. I did not appreciate the man when I had access to him. Now, I only have a memory of him. I try to honor that memory every time I put on the uniform.”
Sometimes we never get to thank the people who have taught us the most. We may regret that as we come to appreciate lessons we absorbed in spite of ourselves when we were young. But then we become the teachers and people may not appreciate what we have to offer. But if we are honest and true to ourselves, like Joe’s FTO, we can pass on a great deal of good.
Angelyn Frankenberg is a wellness coach and writer living in Carbondale. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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