Today was set to be the best birthday party, ever. My eighth birthday, though no clown or balloons, was going to be the most special birthday. My dad had started school to be an emergency technician a few weeks after becoming a certified firefighter. He still had a day job and would have night classes, resulting in very few chances to spend time together. But today he was putting away the pager and spending time with his family and friends. I came out of my room dancing on my toes, with my striped dress twirling, in symphony with “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” We had been cleaning all morning and my dad would be home from the store any minute.
I had grown up in the firehall since early elementary school. However, I never could have comprehended the effects it would have on me today. Years later and I still proudly speak of my dad’s part-time career. The fire family has given me countless opportunities. I have gained fire siblings, best friends, babysitters, jobs, and over thirty dads. Though taking prom pictures on a firetruck, getting a full light escort to state, and being sponsored for the Polar Plunge are appealing, we never see what goes on behind the scenes. For all the wonderful experiences comes struggles that never surface.
Just as my little heart had started skipping a beat from looking at the clock, my dad emerged from the doorway with bags hanging from his arms. I filled bowls with snacks as he made a simple meal I was too excited to eat. I ran around lighting every candle in sight and polluting the air with too much air freshener. One hour left.
Three minutes past one and no one showed. Any rational figure would maybe start worrying an hour past the due arrival time, but my eight year old heart was crushed. No one was going to come. As I angrily blew out the first candle my aunt walked through the door, followed by a stream of relatives in the coming minutes. Each relative looked like a float. With colorful boxes in hand they seemed to be streaming through the door in one organized line. Warm welcomes were exchanged, hugs were given, and distant faces became familiar again.
The second everyone migrated to the kitchen I heard a shrill. I sent a glare in my father’s direction, but I wasn’t mad at him. In that moment I think my eyes could have broken that little black box clipped to his belt loop. His pager was going off. Yet, I rest assured knowing he would turn it off and resume the festivities. Nearly ten seconds later and instead of turning the dial to silence it, he was turning it up. He walked out of the kitchen, shooting a look of sympathy my way and proceeded to grab his coat. He was certain he would be back before anyone finished eating, and out the door he went. It was not only raining, but storming on my parade.
I held off on presents as long as I possibly could. There was no sign of his re-appearance and the cause seemed hopeless. Not fifteen minutes after present opening and everyone was out the door. I sat on the couch, surrounded by new toys and clothes, with one box still in my lap. My position stayed the same for what felt like an eternity, and eventually I heard the squeak of a door. Many hours after any sign of a party, my dad was back. Part of me was so enraged I wanted to throw the wrapped item in his direction and give him the, less than effective, silent treatment. However, my plans were stopped at a halt when I saw his face. The look of pure exhaustion and a physique that matched, no anger could boil inside me knowing what he had spent his afternoon doing. Someone needed my dad much more than I would’ve that afternoon, and he was selfless enough to give it to them. After All, the parade went on.
It took me eight years to learn what very well could be the most important lesson of my life. After that day I try to mimic my dad’s selflessness. I was by far the most selfish person at that party, and I would like to think that is no longer the case. For the majority of my early years I would despise the people making me share my dad. Now, I feel grateful for the chance to be a firebrat. So many opportunities have been granted to me because of my fire-family, and the least I can do is exchange my selfish ways for them. My attitude was the only thing raining on my parade. To this day I have a friendly love-hate relationship with my dad’s pager, and because of it, a stronger connection with my dad.