Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Latch Key Kids

By Mark vonAppen

If you're from a generation raised on your own, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.  

Our adolescence looked like this:

We had two working parents, if they were even still together, and a front door key shoe-laced around our neck.  We'd let ourselves in the house after school, turn on MTV, and fend for ourselves until someone came home after dark with take out and bellowed, "Dinner!"  Meals were spent with the TV perched atop the table and scant, absent-minded conversations regarding a day nobody really cared about.  "How was your day Jimmy?"  The answer, "I'm so bored I could scream and I don't think anybody cares about me."

"That's nice dear."

We'd go through the motions, making nice until the nightly ritual was over, retreating to our tiny boxes and taking refuge with the flickering light of our surrogate while mom and dad self-medicated to remain numb to the monotony.  On my own, that's where I'm most comfortable, leave me alone with my stuff, it's easier than dealing with reality.  Annual family portraits did nothing to betray the lie we lived.  White shirts, blue jeans, and big smiles.  


Our belief system is based upon everyone and everything that ever walked away from us. We have it backwards because of who we were brought up to be, always seeking to please someone who isn't and never was there.  Loneliness, boredom, and fear became our friends.  Unspent energy led us to act out, cave in to peer pressure, and blame our problems on everybody else.

If you blame your upbringing for your problems, then quit. Let go of it all.

Mom and dad, the center of our universe as latch key kids, left us alone and we had to face the possibility that they were never coming back.  This was not the worst thing in the world; we had the run of the place and the possibilities were limited only by imagination.  Now, we've grown up and moved down the road, but still there is no support system.   

When we let ourselves inside the door of fire service, we discover over time that the organization, our new, but nonetheless drunk custodians, has left us and now we are latch-key kids of the craft.  We are the forgotten generation, left to fend for ourselves with low bid equipment, no oversight, no training budget, vanishing pensions, and organizations that have all but walked away from everything that makes them what they are, the people.  As the organization plummets toward oblivion with catchy slogans, bloated mission statements, and new patches, we discover that they abandoned us and it pisses us off.  We can either sit around and blame everyone else for all of our problems or we can make something of ourselves.  We can take control.  We must find a new hope that can only be realized when you let go.  Salvation can only be achieved through surrender.  Give up, help isn't coming and nobody cares.  Give up on the notion that someone else will rescue you and accept your situation. 

"Excuses only work for those who make them.  If you don’t take ownership of your career it will pass you by and end up owning you."

Let go.  
Think I'm nuts?  Okay...
We must stop looking to external sources for validation, salvation, redemption, whatever you call it.  We have to stop blaming others for our shortcomings, wishing for some parental figure to validate who we are, and tell us it's going to be ok.  There is no hero, and maybe nobody likes you.  Who cares?  It won't be ok until you accept that.  We must find the inner strength to reject the establishment and find it in ourselves to go on.  We have to do it on our own.  

This whole thing is bigger than us, and quitting is not who we are.  Give up if you're blaming others.  Look around the house and see who's there with you.  There are a lot of brothers and sisters who share your burden.  We are the latch key kids of the fire service, with no direction or leadership.  You must surrender to the notion that no one can do it but you, but you must not surrender to apathy.  There is a lot of freedom in "The Latch Key FD."   Being abandoned can create self-reliance, the ability to adapt, and a desire to contribute needs within the family.  Nobody is home to tell you that you can't reach for greatness, nobody is home to crush your dreams.  
It is only through a belief in the value of people that we can see any of this through.  We do it by believing in our big four, do your job, treat people right, go all out, and be all in.  We are in the people business and our people matter.  If latch key kids are what we are, then we will raise ourselves in a manner that is consistent with our core values.  We know what they are, we live by them, and they belong to us, not to the ones who left us all alone.  It's bigger than the fire service.  These virtues are transcendent.  

Anger is better than indifference.  If people are angry with you because of your passion for the job and family, then so be it.  Hate me for who I am, don't love me for who I'm not.  A corporate mentality has snuck in the back door of the fire service, eroding our family values and making things more valuable than people.  We have to bring family back.  We can't sit around and wait for it to happen.  We have to make our own opportunities.  The stakes are too high for us to give up on ourselves.  

Stop asking why somebody isn't here to fix it and do it yourself.  

For those who don't wait: BB, CB, CO, DM, GL, TR, and Captain David Heath (NHCFD).


  1. "As the organization plummets toward oblivion with catchy slogans, bloated mission statements, and new patches, we discover that they abandoned us and it pisses us off".

    Love it Mark !!! Hits home...Keep doing what your doing its helping more then you think...#LatchKeyKids2013

    1. Thank you Richie,

      We can't sit around and wait to be shown the way. We have to make our own way, as we always have. Stay hungry!


  2. Spot on! Apathy has never effected change upon anything. Create the needed change(s) in any area you influence,

  3. Bingo Mark. Right on.

  4. Brilliant as always

  5. Amazing and quite thought provoking.....all on the job today should read