It takes a special kind of selflessness to be on the frontlines, helping one’s community, or nation. And when that public servant is also a father? The challenges and rewards are compounded. In honor of Father’s Day, we salute a few of these fearless dads.
Recruiter, Army National Guard
Two sons, ages 7 and 4
Paul has served with the National Guard for 20 years, the first six part-time. He was activated after 9-11, and has been a fulltime recruiter for them for the past decade. After several years in that position, he saw a professional shortcoming in his work.
“I’d never been to Iraq. Never been to Afghanistan. Never been to war,” he says. “As a recruiter, I couldn’t tell them what it was like to go overseas, to war.” So in 2012, he took a sabbatical from his state-side recruiting job to serve in Afghanistan, with the blessing of his wife Leah. He says that the scariest thing he’s encountered in his two decades with the National Guard was the fear of the unknown when he left for his year of service in Afghanistan.
It was very hard to be away from his wife and young sons, Paul says. And the moment he arrived back home—a couple of months early due to a medical concern with his wife—wasn’t quite like we see on news clips and in the movies, when young children race up to embrace their parent. His boys were accustomed to seeing their dad in uniform. And he was wearing civilian clothes when he arrived back in New Orleans.
“When they went to the airport to greet me, my sons did a double-take,” Paul says. “They didn’t know it was me. I had to get down to my boys’ level and say, ‘Daddy’s home.’ It was surreal for them.”
Paul says that being in the National Guard was always something he wanted to do, to be able to be in Louisiana and serve his state and his nation. Having children—he calls their births the proudest moments of his life—has changed his perspective on his service.
“Before we had children, I would work, and come home, and I just didn’t get that rush of pride,” he says. Then his children started to realize what he did, and asked him questions about his service in Afghanistan.
Paul’s wife says that their older son already wants to be a soldier when he grows up. Paul says, “I’ve never indoctrinated my kids about being a soldier. They see me in uniform. They see me as a recruiter. If that’s what they decide to do, too, that’s fine.”
Two adult sons, ages 34 and 33, an adult daughter, 29, an infant son, 8 months old, and five grandchildren
Brian Gibson says that he’s always wanted to help others, to be on the front-line. Eight days after graduating from high school, he was in the Marine Corps boot camp. Since serving in the military, he’s been a police officer, an EMT with the police department, and then for 20 years, he was a paramedic. Over the years, he encountered multiple altercations.
“Everything is reactionary,” he says. “You don’t have time to be scared.”
One call that really affected him occurred years ago, and involved children—resonating with the then-dad of three. A mother was having “personal issues,” and wanted to hurt her children. “We were in the process of telling her kids that we were taking her to the hospital, but her sons didn’t want us to do that.”
Eight years ago, Brian switched careers and became a nurse. While he was no longer responding to emergency calls, his schedule still kept him away many nights. The birth of his youngest son, Ridge, changed that.
“This little fella came along and I realized that public service takes a toll,” Brian says. “I missed a great portion of my other children’s lives,” working multiple jobs to support his first wife and their three kids. After the birth of his youngest son last year, he switched his work schedule from nights to days, and in March, took a new position as house supervisor at Louisiana Continuing Care Hospital at West Jefferson General Hospital.
He says that he spends “all of my time trying to make up my absences to my children. We have conversations when I say that I’m sorry I wasn’t there for them.” He says they’re understanding, and realize that he did what he had to during their childhoods. Now, Brian is balancing work and family, and enjoying his second shot at being a dad—to his adult children as well as his infant son.
Detective, New Orleans Police
One son, 20 months old
Brandon Singleton says that he was recently watching a video that showed a bully picking on a kid. “I realized that in school, I was always the one sticking up for those who were being bullied,” he says, “It’s my calling.”
He started his career in public service as an officer with Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries. Later, he worked in enforcement for Alcohol & Tobacco Control. For the past 11 years, he’s worked with the NOPD. He worked during Katrina, which he says was frightening because he was dealing with a great unknown, with no oversight to guide him. “Everyone was just doing what they thought was right” he says. “After a week or two, we got our act together, but that first week? It was really scary.”
What upsets him most, now that he’s become a father, is any crime that involves a child—which he says account for about 10 percent of their cases. “Before, it would affect me,” he explains. “But after you’re a dad, it hits you hard. You think, that could be my child. Once I had my son, it changed my perspective.”
Brandon recounts a few recent cases that really upset him. A couple of SIDS deaths, and a couple of suicides. “In the past, I wouldn’t have dwelled on it as much. Now, I bring it home, to see how I can keep it from happening to my family, to my son.”
Still, Brandon is happiest being a police officer. He says that it’s definitely not for everybody. “A first responder, a police officer, a National Guardsman—they’re all basically the same personality.”
Captain, New Orleans Fire Department
One daughter, 1 ½ years old, and one son, 5 months old
His father was a fireman for 33 years, but Neil Dugas didn’t always plan to follow in his footsteps. He studied engineering in college, and thought that he’d work in the insurance industry. But he found himself taking a job as a fireman for the benefits, and grew to love it. He’ll be marking 17 years with the New Orleans Fire Department this August. He’s always served in the French Quarter, and says that location makes for some harrowing moments.
“The old houses in New Orleans—you don’t know the structural integrity of the buildings when you go into fight the fires.” Or what’s going on underneath them. A few years ago, Neil was battling a fire and a gas line exploded under the house; he was badly hurt, with second-degree burns on his face and arms. “It looked pretty bad,” he says.
Neil works 24-hour shifts every three days. Now that he has young children, he says that being away during those shifts is hard for him—and his wife, too. It’s a sacrifice, but he’s serving the community. He says it’s difficult to narrow down the most rewarding part of his job; he’s done CPR on countless people over the years, saved gunshot victims, rescued people off balconies. But incidents like the one he recounts here seem to have the most profound impact on him.
“We just had a guy a couple of weeks ago at a hotel. He was 71 years old, and was ill, vomiting. He thought he had food poisoning, and did not want to go to the hospital.” Neil had to convince him that he should go get examined. The man relented, and Neil later learned that his assessment of the sick man was right: it was not food poisoning, but rather a medical emergency that required life-saving surgery.