The summer of 2020 was unique for all of us. Mine was no different. Things were shutting down everywhere. Reports of sickness and death ran through all the news platforms constantly. We did not know what to believe, what was accurate, or the true sense of urgency that we all know so well now. I was a single dad with two kids at home, nowhere to be, and all day to get there. The dishes and the laundry were never done. We had no idea what to expect or what the end result of all the chaos would be. I was also embarking on a new career after having worked the same job for eighteen years with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. On top of that, I was able to do something for the first time in almost twenty years: sleep. Not knowing any different having worked on-call in the death care industry for so long, it was mind-blowing to think that when I laid down at night, I was going to wake up in that same spot at some point the following morning. Do not get me wrong, I loved my old job. There are some nice folks along the Red River in towns like Durant, but I sure did not miss making trips to work with them at three o’clock in the morning.
Fast forward twelve months and all of a sudden, I had my first academic year under my belt. It seems as though I just blinked and the world kept turning. After being so accustomed to a profession and career for so long, I was the new kid on the block again. I made a few mistakes those first two semesters and sure acknowledged the fact that I still had a lot to learn in higher education. That being said, it was just like my colleagues told me; that first semester would be the toughest. All of the classes in the funeral service department and my Medicolegal class at the FSI had previously been taught by more than capable professors. I had shells of classes that were like well-oiled machines. All I needed to do was compile material, make them my own, and get organized.
My classes “caught” me about week three that first semester. I was terrified. Having taught as an adjunct and having been an instructor for various law enforcement academies across the state for years, I was not used to having to outline something for sixteen weeks. I knew my pace as well as I could predict a coin flip. Fall of 2020 I felt as though I was staying a chapter or two ahead of the students. I constantly had to remind myself that this material was all completely new to them, I had been doing it for years in the real world, and that things would work out just like all my colleagues kept telling me. I had a wealth of support from staff both in Coyner and at the FSI. With the lack of a fall break and some long evenings compiling PowerPoints, around mid-November I realized I was going to make it. The semester eventually ended, I logged off my last Zoom class for the year, and I was in the books.
My second semester was in the spring of 2021 and what followed after that was like another world. I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect, plenty of mistakes and mishaps to learn from, and the continued support of those around me at the University. The material had been compiled and now I just needed to tweak it, make it better, and the student body was the only thing making dramatic changes. I had new faces, attitudes, and expectations to meet. I was starting to have fun and stress was falling off of me like leaves off an oak tree in autumn. What happened next was the hardest part to wrap my head around; I was going to have a “summer break” for the first time since the late ’90s! Granted this time I had a mortgage and some added responsibility in the form of offspring, but after having worked nights/holidays/weekends for over two decades, I literally did not know what I was going to do with myself.
The kids and I quickly made up for the lost time. Everyone had fun but the bluegills. Between fishing, camping, and cannonballs into the pool, we were living our best life. We began to almost support the ice cream industry single-handedly. The trampoline in the backyard quickly became the best financial investment I had ever made. If you factored usage into the overall cost, I was down to about $0.0023 per bounce. Dad wasn’t exhausted anymore and could commit to being around for more than just chance happenings when his phone wasn’t ringing. I realized before the end of May that I could get used to this routine.
Another transition formulated in me getting back into the funeral industry a bit. Having been on the investigative side of things for so long, I had some rust to knock off with the service side. Always have enjoyed working with the families, it was a transition not nearly as difficult as making the career change into academia. The funeral home I had worked for when I was an undergrad up in Stillwater all those years ago did not even exist anymore, yet the job itself had not really changed. I started working the occasional funeral with a friend of mine from Seminole who had recently opened his own business. Once catch-phrase so often used in this profession is “hurry up and wait.” Being punctual and planning ahead for various scenarios where you have to think on your feet was something I was used to, but the pressure is different when you have a chapel full of people waiting for something. Still, I found the work enjoyable. The challenges coupled with the rewards and I was starting to enjoy every element of my life for the first time in years. Between the faculty support at UCO and the comradery of the death-care industry, I look forward now to what is hopefully a career that takes me all the way to retirement.