Old and New Friends

When I was hired by the Chicago Police Department all my friends and family were thrilled for me. They knew I wanted this job since I was a kid. Especially the guys I grew up with. We played cops and robbers in the alleys and yards as children. They knew my family and my history and saw it as the perfect match.

All through the academy, we went out each weekend like we always had. Our friendship remained as strong as ever. Once I started working afternoons or midnights and my days off began to rotate we got together less often. It was understandable. I was working on Saturday night when they were going to bars and parties.

When my days rolled around midweek my buddies were less inclined to go out since they had to go to work early in the morning. Since I was dating the woman I would eventually marry, the time I had to spend with my buddies was even less.

At the same time, I found that my new police friends were happy to stop for a drink after work, midweek. It was always someone’s weekend on the job. Watch parties were held during the week, not on the weekend. It was understandable that I would spend more time with my new friends and less with my old buddies.

I remember calling an old friend and mentioning how they never call me when something is happening anymore. He honestly responded they never knew when I was working and didn’t want to disturb me if it was the middle of my night.

Slowly we grew further and further apart. These were the guys who stood up in my wedding and I stood up in theirs. They were the guys that I played softball with at the schoolyard. These were the guys I had my first beers with while we were underage.

It started with weeks, then months, and soon became years, between get-togethers. Looking back now it is fifteen years for most of these guys.

The friendship void has been filled by the guys and gals I worked with over the last 35 years. Those friendships that were forged while working freezing cold midnight watches racing from call to call seem to be stronger than anything.

Two days ago, I spoke with my old partner. He is retiring soon and there is a little get together for him next Tuesday. Notice how this is midweek not on a weekend. Of course, I will be there. Heck, he was there for mine five years ago. We were partners for a couple years and have a friendship that seems to keep growing. He is like an uncle to my sons and his brothers are like family to me. I’ve spent many holidays with his family.

Perhaps it would have been different if my old buddies and I had married women who were friends. That might have been the incentive to keep us linked over the years. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. None of our wives had a connection other than through us.

Now I meet buddies I made through the department for coffee a couple times a week. There are three groups of friends that meet for either lunch or breakfast every month. I live in an area where a lot of police officers live. I seldom go to the grocery store without running into someone I rode in a squad with.

I have a lot of police friends who retired and moved to Florida or Las Vegas. Thanks to social media I keep in touch with them almost daily. Unfortunately, most of my childhood buddies aren’t on Facebook. There are a few that I meet regularly over a drink, but these aren’t the guys I thought I would always be really close to.

A lot of the new coppers figure that won’t happen to me. They figure they will stay tight with their grade school buddies and will make the effort to keep close. They don’t realize this job changes things and childhood friends take notice. Their friends will change around them too.

Work stories take on a new life. An accountant doesn’t tell tales about the books he’s keeping that compare with your recent auto pursuit. Your buddy the plumber might tell about rodding out a clogged sink and you counter with the burglar you caught after chasing him over backyard fences for three blocks. After a while, you tire of his stories as much as he does yours.

I don’t know if you can counter this friendship attrition. It almost seems to be as natural a part of life as breathing. Some do and you can tell they worked hard at it. You must remember that as your life changed, so has theirs. They got married, bought a home, had children, and then worked hard to pay for it all. Just like you, only not with you.

So, if you’re like me you move on. Cherish your police friends. Jump at the opportunities for reunions with old friends, even if it’s at a funeral or just a chance meeting on the street. Realize your friends will change because you have changed.

The group photo at the top is a group of my police friends. These grey haired and for the most part retired old guys worked with me in Chicago’s 015th District (Austin) from 1985 through 1993. We stopped for a few cold ones after attending the wake of another friend that we all worked with and respected.

Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union and served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.