Sept. 16, 1975: My favorite TV show was “Happy Days,” and it would be on that evening. I was hoping to see it. After “Happy Days” was “Welcome Back Kotter.” I wanted to see that, too! The season just started and the shows were new. They were not repeats. We only had one TV back in those days, so I had to convince my two older sisters. That was not hard. They both appeared to not care about watching television that night. Maybe they were distracted with homework or had folk group practice. I do not remember. I was relieved but I had one more gigantic hurdle to cross before the television was mine.

My father had the night off after a terribly busy schedule working on “the job” as many would call it. My father was a homicide detective in the most dangerous police department in the world, the New York City Police Department. What my father and I wanted to watch on TV was usually not the same thing. He always would win but, on this night, he did not have a preference. He gave me control of the set and watched with me. I do not remember anything about the episodes of “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back Kotter.” I imagine I enjoyed both of them. What I do remember was the interruption from the local news station, Channel 7 Eyewitness News. I am not sure if it was Roger Grimsby or Bill Beutel or even someone else reporting this bulletin.

I always found those interrupted broadcasts very annoying because they were long, and they would not replay what was interrupted. So, you would miss a portion of the show that was interrupted by the broadcast. But for the first time in my life, that did not matter. That broadcast interruption would always be in my memory. The announcement was about the murder of two New York City policemen. Their names were Andrew Glover and Frederick Reddy. Officer Glover was African American. Both he and Officer Reddy were patrolmen in my father’s precinct, the Ninth Precinct.

The Ninth Precinct was No. 1 in the number of homicides in NYC during that time. Little Johnny, who started the evening being very selfish about watching his favorite TV shows, would be thrown into the reality of our troubled world. It no longer mattered to me what Fonzie did or what Vinny Barbarino was doing. What now mattered was that my father was going to leave us that evening and was going into the front lines of that very tragedy. He would kiss my mother, my sisters and me. He went out through the front door to go into the city to work. We had the horrifying thought that we would never see him again!

We did see him again! Not only that, but we were blessed with many beautiful years with him. He just died on May 8, 2020 from pneumonia. My family would see him six months after that Tuesday evening in 1975 rewarded for heroism by the police commissioner of NYC. We would see him get a master’s degree from John Jay College and would retire from the NYPD after a career of over 20 years. We witnessed him having his dream job, as he would start the Criminal Justice Program at Adirondack Community College. We watched him win two Teacher of the Year Awards and one Chancellor’s Award from the State of New York. He would live to see his two grandsons born and his only son ordained a Roman Catholic priest.

His death was hard for my mother, my sisters and me because we could not give him the send-off he deserved. He also would die one week shy of my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. The past five years, he suffered from dementia. We will soon bury his remains at the Solomon Veteran’s Cemetery. Despite my father’s battle with dementia, my family and I are enormously proud of the courageousness he showed at his death, the same courage he displayed with his life. For a little guy in size, he was always bigger than life!

Last month, as we were mourning his death, it was incredibly sad to watch the murder of George Floyd by a man who should have never worn a badge. We must remember in our prayers all victims of police abuse and racism. We must remove all prejudice from our hearts. All lives do matter! This is the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. We cannot forget this message that many protesters are making. But we do have to balance that and recognize all the great things and sacrifices that our local police departments are making daily. Many are wrongfully reminding us about the few terrible bad apples in law enforcement. The courageous and first responders need to hear the message of respect and pride we have for them.

My rectory is in Chestertown. In the hamlet of Chestertown are two police barracks, New York State Police and Warren County Sheriff’s Department. On Saturday June 20, the community had a social distance parade in their honor. The parade would march past the two barracks showing them the thanks and support they deserve. They were expecting about 20 vehicles. Over 100 vehicles drove past them. Many fire trucks and ambulances flashed their lights and sounded their sirens. Everyone in the parade wanted to show their adoration for them. They wanted them to always keep the faith.

I had a chance to show my respect and honor for many of my parishioners who put their lives on the line for their community every day. Many of them were my father’s students wanting me to know how he had touched their lives. I showed them my father’s NYPD Detective Shield. It was also a day in which I was honored by dad, and that helped me greatly with my grieving process over his loss. I was proud of the community for honoring the men and women in blue. As I reflected on that beautiful day, I was proud of another fact. I was proud to be a cop’s son!

Father John O’Kane is pastor of the Parish of St. Isaac Jogues, Chestertown-Hague and St. James Church, North Creek.