Back when I was just a kid my father was still on the police force and rotated watches every 28 days. That meant he wasn’t home for dinner almost one-third of the year. The three of us always ate together with no TV or even radio to distract from our conversation.

We talked and joked and enjoyed the meal. Then my mother or I would make a mistake and tell him about something in the house or garage that needed to be fixed or changed. Rather than risk forgetting about it, my father jumped from the table and went to examine of fix the problem.

My father was a fixer. He didn’t know how to deal with an issue other than trying to fix it. Whenever anyone had a problem, he’d try to fix it. My mother was always mad that he ruined dinner. He never understood the issue. He only knew how to fix things and the sooner the better, so he didn’t forget. He never understood that some things were simply conversation and could wait.

He had been a police officer since 1938 and police fix things. When there is a problem between two neighbors, the police fixed it. If a married couple was always fighting, the police fixed it. When someone was breaking into garages at night, the police fixed it. It is what they did and it was what he was.

That fixing takes over your life. My mother would come home from work after a bad day. She wanted my father to listen, just listen. Instead, he tried to fix it by coming up with solutions for her problems. She knew how to handle her problems; she simply needed to vent. He didn’t know how else to help.

Being a fixer was so ingrained in my father that he couldn’t help himself. I see it more and more in both retired and active duty officers. I’m not sure if they were fixers before they came on the job or if it’s the job that brought that out in them. I’m not sure if it is a hereditary trait or something learned. I am a fixer. However, I have realized my problem and try to address the issue.

When my sons were young, and my wife was taking care of them, I made sure they never went without by working my regular CPD job and picking up every side gig I could find. I wasn’t alone. Most of the guys I worked with were the same. Some were court whores, writing tons of traffic tickets and making plenty of arrests to make sure they were always in court. Others worked what we called Special Employment on their days off. Others like me worked security at one or two places in their time off.

Fixers are also the officers you see coaching park district, grade school, and church sports teams. They saw a problem or a need and fixed it by doing the job themselves. Being a fixer is a great trait for a police officer but it is one that needs to be reined in off duty. Most of our best police officers are fixers.

In the end, being a fixer can take the officer away from the people they care most about. I remember for a while I was working District Tact on days. I showed up in the morning and my partner and I went out and did our job. After that, I ran home changed clothes and ran off to my security job at an athletic and tennis club. The pay was decent, and my kids got to take advantage of the membership it came with. At midnight I left there and drove over to a business nearby that hired us after they had been vandalized several times during the night. I parked my window van in front, crawled into the back seat with a blanket and slept there. I hoped I would wake up and catch anyone messing the place up.

At sunrise I went home, showered, and took my sons to school. After dropping them off I grabbed a cup of coffee and a bagel to eat on the way back to the district to start another day.

I managed to do that for a couple months. Eventually, the business that was being vandalized decided it no longer was in need of my services. That great gig ended. I say great because the money was good, and I got to sleep. I got to see my kids for a couple of minutes each day and my wife and I got to speak when passing in our house’s hallway. Eventually, that took a great toll on my marriage and we divorced. So you see, being a fixer caused a problem.

Like most fixers we tend to fix other people’s problems at the cost of our own wellbeing. We can’t see what it is about our lives that need fixing or we simply ignore it to fix problems belonging to others.

I never realized I too was a fixer like my dad, until a woman I was seeing after my divorce complained that I never just listened. I had to always come up with a solution. She wasn’t looking to me for a solution she just wanted a friendly face to talk to.

Over the years I’ve tried to be less of a fixer but it’s in my blood. I try to listen and do nothing but nod. After a while, the fixer in me comes out and I just handle it. Fortunately, I’m older now and my days of jumping up to go do most anything are limited and, well, I’m just too lazy now.

Police officers have mounting pressures today. Between bosses at work with ridiculous demands and more citizens with cameras everywhere you turn, not to mention Internet authorities telling you how you’re simply a racist bully, you need a place to vent too; something to ground you; something to keep you sane. That something is family.

Whether you’re married, have brothers and sisters, mother and father or simply friends, you need to make sure you don’t push them away by being a fixer. Save fixing for work. Save time to be with your family.

Look around you at work. See who might be burning the candle at both ends. They may be a fixer. Talk to them. They may need a good listener. We lose more officers to suicide than homicide each year now. If you can help an officer by spending ten minutes and a cup of coffee with them, please do it. Maybe someone will offer to buy you a cup of coffee when they see you need a listener.

Run low and zigzag … and keep warm out there.

– Robert Weisskopf (ret. Lt.)

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