Heroes at home and work: celebrating Chicago dads in uniform

Chicago firefighter Carl Veller with his baby Cole.
Photo by Liz DeCarlo
 
 

By Elizabeth Diffin

Senior Editor
 

If you watch the local news any night of the week, chances are you’ll hear a story about a fire, a shootout or some other emergency that makes you hug your kids a little tighter. But how often do you think about the actual men and women who put their lives on the line despite their families at home?

We’ve noticed that lately, these local heroes don’t always get a lot of positive press. So this Father’s Day, we decided to honor some men who are true heroes: committed public servants as well as dedicated dads.

The five families we interviewed take a lot of pride in their heroes, although we discovered that each dad is very humble and serious about helping others, whether as a firefighter, paramedic, policeman or soldier.

 

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Carl Veller, Chicago firefighter

Family: wife Michelle, married 15 years; kids Michaela, 16, Carlena, 14, Melayna, 3, Cameron, 2, and Cole, 5 months

What makes your husband a hero dad?

Michelle: That he sacrifices of himself and his time for others, and especially for his family. It’s not like he goes out and does his job and leaves us lacking. He does it all. He’s an amazing dad.

What do your kids think about what he does?

Michelle: I think as they get older, they’re starting to realize more how much he does and how hands-on he is with everything. He’ll pull an all-nighter and then he’s still toting them here, there and everywhere with toddlers hanging all over him.

How do you feel about him putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of others?

Michelle: I think in the beginning, it was a little more difficult. I try not to think about it too much. It takes a special person to do what he does. I know it’s not something I could do at all.

How has becoming a dad changed your approach to your job?

Carl: I try to do the best job that I can, even though I’m a dad. I want my kids to do the best job they can every day, so if I was to slack off helping others, it wouldn’t make me a good example.

What is the one lesson or value you hope to pass down to your kids?

Carl: To always try to be the best that you can be. And to be able to offer yourself up to others in a responsible way and help others who can’t help themselves.

Which of Carl’s traits do you hope your children pick up?

Michelle: I think primarily would be his heart of service; he shows love through acts of service. He goes out there, and hes giving of himself and his time, not just at his job, but with his family and his friends. He’s always one to help out where he’s needed.

 

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James Irons, reservist in the U.S. Army

Family: wife Tiffany, married 10 years; kids Ashley, 10, and James, 4

How often are you away from your family?

James: At least once a month. It’s horrible. That’s the main reason I came off active duty—to spend more time with the kids and wife. I love the military, but being away is the hardest thing.

Tiffany, what is it like for you to be home while he’s deployed?

Tiffany: It’s tough because you don’t have a mate. It’s tough for the children, especially my son because he doesn’t understand. All my son knows is that Daddy’s gone to go find bad guys, but he doesn’t understand why.

How does your job compare to parenting?

James: There’s no comparison. Being a parent is a bigger responsibility because it’s more difficult than being in the military. There’s someone always there to take your place in the military. As a parent, there’s no one else who can take your place in raising your children.

How has becoming a dad changed your approach to your job?

James: I think that I have gained patience more than anything. It’s easy to look at someone and expect them to be perfect. But you have children and you realize they have to grow and learn and make mistakes.

Which of James’ traits do you hope your children pick up?

Tiffany: His patience. And his budgeting skills.

How do you respond to being called a “hero dad”?

James: I don’t think that there is such a thing. There should be good parents who are responsible for their kids. You’re not a hero if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. I enjoy being with my kids, and if they think that makes me a hero, that’s great.

 

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Steve Jedd, Chicago police officer

Family: wife Jill, married nine years; daughter Addison, 7

How has becoming a dad changed your approach to your job?

Steve: I just try to be a little more cautious now, seeing that I have my wife and my daughter depending on me to come home. When I was single, I just didn’t think about certain situations that I put myself in. Now I don’t want my wife and daughter to ever get “that call.” I love getting calls from them after a really tough situation and Addison just wants to show me she knows her spelling words.

What makes your husband a hero dad?

Jill: He’s the one who packs her bag and her lunch and takes her to school every single day. It doesn’t matter if he has slept. He’s just a very hands-on, very kind person. You’d think him being a police officer, he’d be very tough and strict, but it’s a literally reverse role.

Which of Steve’s traits do you hope Addison picks up?

Jill: Manners. He teaches her those kind of things. Now everything is “Please” and “May I.” And to be kind to people—he’s really against bullying. And she’s brave.

How does police work compare to parenting?

Steve: Parenting is much harder. There is a way to remove yourself from some of the terrible things you see at work, but when it comes to parenting, your whole heart in invested. My worst fear is to fail at being a good dad to Addison.

 

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Chris Florek, Chicago Fire Department paramedic

Family: wife Jen, married four years; son Calvin, 2

Why did you want to become a firefighter/paramedic?

Chris: I always wanted to be a police officer growing up because my dad was a police officer. But I had Boy Scout meetings at the Burnham Fire Station and I fell in love with the fire service.

What makes your husband a hero dad?

Jen: I guess just being able to juggle everything, the crazy schedule and the side job and the hours and still having to be awake during the day when your son’s awake. He’s juggling the two lives.

How do you feel about him putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of others?

Jen: It’s funny because I think that you just kind of can’t think about it, because otherwise you go crazy. He goes to work, and there’s something in your brain that lets you shut that off or you’d be terrified. When he was a police officer, it was a lot more scary.

Which of Chris’ traits do you hope your son picks up?

I love that he knows how to do almost anything. He’s very street smart. That’s a great trait for anybody to have. I hope Calvin has that kind of know-how to do things in life. Also, I think Chris is very community-service oriented. I think that would be a nice trait to have, too—to care about other people and to care about where you live.

How do you respond to being called a “hero dad”?

Chris: I just think it’s important to be able to step up in society and be able to help other people. It’s not so much being a hero as dedicating yourself to service to others.

 

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Kurt Daichendt, Chicago police officer

Family: wife Denise, married 14 years; kids Kaela, 13, Maximilian, 11, Dietrich, 10, Raiden, 8, and Janna, 3

What makes your husband a hero dad?

Denise: He is a hero in every sense. He’s a police officer and an army veteran, and he loves his job. On the homefront, he’s the provider. He teaches our kids safety at all times. We also are a safe family home and a foster home and we’ve taken in kids that are in need. My husband has been on board with anything having to do with helping others.

He’s what every little boy looks up to and says “I want to be a police officer.”

How does police work compare to parenting?

Kurt: Having five children is every bit as challenging as everything I’ve done on the police department. I’m currently an instructor, and in some ways they kind of parallel each other. At home, you’re instructing your children and you want them to have positive outcomes in their lives. The same is true at the academy. I get the gratification of seeing that light bulb turn on.

What is one value you hope to pass down to your children?

Kurt: Religious faith would be the first thing I would focus on. I think if they have that, a lot of the other stuff is going to fall into place.

How do you respond to being called a “hero dad”?

Kurt: I don’t really think of myself as a hero. I’ve had some instances where I’ve done what some people consider to be heroic.

Hopefully the way that I’ve conducted myself in the department and in life in general has been in a way that people can look at it and say it’s been a life well-lived.

 

We received lots of entries for our "hero dads" so we thought we'd share a few more of our faves.

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