Back in the old days my family participated in what was known as "dinner-time". This was when families gathered around the dining room table at night and would actually partake of a meal in the company of each other. It was a great opportunity to catch up on what was going on in each other's lives, lavish compliments upon my mother for her prowess in the kitchen, and invariably get insulted by one of my three brothers for one reason or another!
During the course of this ritual, it was also quite common for my father to put his fork down, look me in the eye, and declare "you're going in the Navy when you get out of high school." I, of course, would answer "oh no I'm not" every single time. Now that's not to say that there's anything wrong with the Navy, I'm sure it's a fine branch of the military service, and I was even a Navy wife for awhile during the course of my second marriage. However - when I was 16 - 17 years old, I was just as stubborn as my father and if he said I was going to do something, invariably I would want to do the opposite. I later found out that this was my father's intention all along and that he had practiced a great deal of reverse psychology on me in my youth. I can still remember when I called him on that one evening and he said, "well, it's about time you figured it out." This was, of course, when I was home on leave after I had joined the Air Force and not the Navy as my father had decreed!
For some reason, the memories of this were going through my head yesterday while I was at the doctor's office getting my weekly infusion of iron and looking out the window at the nurses leaving for the day. I wondered how people decided what they wanted to do for their lives, how they picked the occupations that eventually defined who they were in life, how many people were really doing the things that they wanted to do, and how on earth did I get to be a dispatcher of all things???
I always knew that I was going into the military after high school. When others were taking the PSATs and SATs I was taking the ASVABs (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). While my friends were all taking college prep courses, I was taking business courses because I knew I wasn't going on to college directly after high school. I was raised in a military family; my Dad was career Air Force and it was what I knew best in life.
At the age of 17, my Dad found himself on a troop ship heading over to Korea before he even had his high school diploma in hand. He later went on to earn not only his GED but took many college courses and always scored high in his classes. He got out of the service a few times but always went back in and in 1974 he retired after twenty years of service with a long, distinguished career record complete with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star medal awarded during his time in Vietnam.
At the age of 17, three days after I had my diploma in hand, I found myself on a plane to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for six weeks of basic training to be followed by eight months at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi for training as a ground-to-air radio communications equipment technician. It was never my intention to become an electronics technician when I first decided to go into the Air Force. I wanted to be a Law Enforcement Officer but I had scored high on the electronics part of the ASVAB (how - I just don't know!), there were no openings in Law Enforcement at the time of my enlistment, and my recruiter talked me into giving radio repair a try. In retrospect, perhaps I should have been as stubborn with him as I was with my father but it turned out okay and I met some great people throughout my career - even though I spent most of it stationed in New Jersey!
As for how I ended up in dispatching ... well, I needed a job after my first husband exited stage-right from mine and Michael's lives and I eventually saw an ad in The Stockton Record for telecommunicators. Even though I had no idea what the job entailed, the pay looked good so I applied, took the test (which I thought I had failed miserably!), and soon found myself emerged in the sometimes exciting but most times frustrating life of a 911 operator and police dispatcher. I've left dispatching a time or two in the past vowing to never put a headset on again but it must be my calling because I've invariably gone back to it over and over again. If you had asked me when I was a kid if I wanted to be a 911 dispatcher when I grew up I would have probably looked at you like you were crazy! Most people don't even know what a 911 dispatcher is - never mind want to be one! And usually once they found out what one is, they still don't want to be one! We are a unique breed unto ourselves!
If I had it to do over again, I would still have gone into the Air Force and I think I probably still would have been a radio repair technician for awhile but I also think I would have gone onto college and become a history teacher. For those of you who are sitting there and reading this and thinking "but you could still do that now!" let me just say - no, I can't. I know that a lot of people start their careers over even when they're older than I am but I'm not one of those people. Maybe I don't particularly relish the thought of myself dispatching for another 15 years or more but it's what I do best in life; I have a gift and a talent for it even if it does drive me crazy from time to time! I like the people I work with and they seem to like me and sometimes in careers, that's half the battle - finding something you like to do, something you can do well, and liking the people that you're doing it with.