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Siege2Surge: Fire watch

It is 2100 or 2200 and you are beat. The dishes are drying, tomorrow’s lunches are made, tempers are cooling after a clash with your teen, and the coffeepot is set. If every man is a comfort-seeking missile, then you are now homing in on proximate targets.


But Dad, TOUGH: DON’T EVER BE UNAWARE NO MATTER HOW TIRED YOU ARE. You are leading an elite unit in fierce spiritual combat and now you must execute your sixth and final Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): fire watch.

“Night has a special significance,” explains an Iraq-war Marine veteran and friend, “as it is mainly when we can be most effective against our enemies, and when we most expect our enemies to try out their nefariousness on us.”

“Night,” he explains, “is the beginning of a whole new set of circumstances, dictating a whole new operating environment.” And you must “own the night,” as they say in special ops.

In garrisons and on forward operating bases, fire watch refers to the sentry’s duty to keep a general 360-degree security against all threats. On fire watch, you as a dad may not have the opportunity to scream, “HALT! FALL TO THE DECK ON YOUR FACE! NOW!” at the shadowy figure that just cut a hole in the compound fence and is now affixing a breaching charge to the wall of the armory, but you carry out an equally grave duty in defending your home’s spiritual and physical perimeter.

Before you master fire watch, you must identify the enemy’s three primary tactics. First, your home faces an unprecedented blitzkrieg by ether every night.With so many connected devices, your child is just one innocent, listless or prurient click away from becoming a statistic: the average age of pornography exposure is 11.

Second, your home faces chronic overextension in today’s wartime conditions. “Too much pressure and not letting the engine rest,” explains one veteran, “can cause a stress fracture.” Or worse. If you are to remain alive and viable and lead your unit into tomorrow’s mission, you must be disciplined about your unit’s rest — and your own.

Third, your home faces the nightly assault of your own comfort-seeking: whether an IPA or fantasy football, bill-paying or your study of St. Thomas Aquinas’ annotated Summa, your head is constantly prone to going off in the ozone. Instead, your boots need to be on the ground as you carry out the three phases of fire watch.

First, secure the perimeter: lock the doors, set the alarm, power off all devices, unplug your kids, and then read to each one of them. “Dads who don’t read to their kids are idiots,” states one smart dad. “Storytime,” he explains, “is a humdrum yet powerful moment of communion between father and child … all feels deeply right with the world.” Don’t rush this. Pick up the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lives of the Saints, or Scripture, and make the world right.

Second, activate your home’s spiritual sentries by praying with your children to their guardian angel. Then make the sign of the cross on your child’s forehead as you give your father’s blessing: “May the Lord bless you, protect you from all evil and bring you to everlasting life.” Then kiss your child.

Third, connect with your wife. Be a blessing to her. Much more can be said here. If you have any questions, reflect on St. Paul’s word to you: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (Eph 5:25).

Night has a special significance: “At the evening of life,” wrote St. John of the Cross, “we shall be judged on our love.” During fire watch, you as a husband and father will be judged on your love. Own this fact every evening — and you will own the night.

It is 2130 or 2230 or you’re too tired to look at the clock. Tough. Since your first minutes on the grinder this morning, you have gone on to shoot the sun, perform a controlled reentry, call the family to mess, lead the debrief and begin the fire watch. You and your wife, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, are activating the graces of your marriage. Close beside you in the quiet and noble office of your fatherhood stands St. Joseph, “head of the Holy Family, glory of home life, pillar of families, terror of demons, and protector of Holy Church.”

As night descends and you delegate the rest of fire watch to St. Joseph, terror of demons, you lie there in wonder at it all.  You are blessed — absurdly so — to have been chosen for such a mission.

Johnson is associate director of the St. Thomas More Institute.





© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017