Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

I’ll never forget how I felt this day 13 years ago as an American, a firefighter and as a father — and how each held its own kind of hurt that has never completely healed. But of the three, being a father watching the sparkle in my then six-year-old daughter’s eyes noticeably fade just a bit continues to be the memory that lingers most…

image My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter.

As a parent, I debated whether I should shield her from these events, essentially pushing the snooze button to allow her at least a few more minutes of childhood before waking her to this new, colder world. But how long, I wondered, would it be before she discovered reality on her own?

There are at least six news stands near our home, all with their front pages displayed at eye level for a child her age. I thought about the images that would be appearing in those small plexi-glass windows in the coming days and weeks. I thought about what she might overhear during playground conversations as children put their own interpretive spin on the language of adults heard from the radio, television and from discussions between parents after they thought their children were asleep.

My daughter suddenly appeared in the doorway, and I realized that I was still poised — frozen really — with my hand over the snooze button, still listening to the account of terrorism on the radio.

It was at this point that fragmented accounts of an attack on the Pentagon began, along with word of a downed jetliner somewhere in Pennsylvania. And maybe a car bomb near the capitol — a story that was interrupted by word of a second airliner crashing into the trade center towers.

“Dad, what’s happening?” my daughter asked.

She remained in the doorway, a departure from her normal routine of diving onto the bed. I noticed this instinctively, in much the same way she must’ve noticed my hand still hovering above the snooze button.

Neither of us moved; neither of us wanted to. At different levels, we both understood that moving meant setting things into motion that could somehow never be turned back.

Slowly, I drew my hand away from the alarm clock and gestured for her to join me on the bed. There was no running, no broad-smiled dive over the footboard. She approached with obvious hesitation, her eyes moving between the radio and me.

“What’s going on, Dad?” she asked again.

Pulling her close, we listened to the radio as I struggled to find the words to answer her question. After a series of false starts, I decided there was really only one place to begin.
As the events of that morning continued to unfold from the radio, we allowed our voices to carry over the reports of terrorism — and spoke, instead, of what it means to be an American.

Today marks 13 years since I’ve stop setting my alarm to go off with the morning news.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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69 thoughts on “Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

  1. thoughtfully written, the dialogue infused it with more impact. A day like kennedy’s assination that our generations will never forget, and always remember where they were when it happened. Huge events contrasted against the more personal moments between Dad and daughter. Bless you both.

  2. It is so hard for me to look back to that day. My husband and kids had left for the day and I turned on the Today Show. Smoke rose from the Twin Towers and commentators, Matt Lauer I think, sounded panicked while I watched alone in my kitchen. He explained how they had been hit by jets and people were trying to escape from the burning buildings. While I tried to wrap my mind around what happened, one tower collapsed (LIVE) and then the other. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed like that before or since.

    • I honestly debated about running this post because it seemed like it was a topic no one was really interested in, was talking about or wanted to remember. Then I realized that’s exactly WHY I needed to run it.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your memory of that morning. I still can’t watch video or see images of those towers without feeling sick.

  3. This is excellent, Ned. I have my own vivid memories of 9/11…my son wasn’t born yet, but I’ve had experiences since where we’ve heard something on the news that’s horrible and I find myself having to explain it (or try) to my now-six year-old.

    (And BTW, I put up that bitchy post yesterday)

    • Thanks, Ann. I can think of few things more difficult than trying to explain to a child about man’s inhumanity to man.

      I’d even choose the “sex talk” over that.

      (And btw, YAY about your “bitchy” post— on my way shortly to read it! 😉 )

  4. watching the news that day…i didn’t want to and was scared to turn it off. i pulled the kids from school. i needed to hear them and have them close to me. i’ve never been so afraid for so many people. never felt such unspeakable pain for so many that i did not know. helpless grief. i’ll never forget.

    • I eventually made my way to work. It was a deadline day at the newspaper, and the TV was on in thee newsroom. It was the first time I saw the images. I wanted to be with my family but spent the day photographing and chronicling what was happening within our community — church gatherings, mayoral and and other local governmental addresses, local bars filled by 11 a.m. — and while I captured some important images, it was difficult because the lens kept getting blurred by my tears.

      As I told someone earlier, I almost didn’t run this post because it seemed no one really wanted to remember. Then I realized that’s exactly WHY I needed to run it.

      I am so glad you had the chance to be with your family, and appreciate you taking the time to remember that morning with me.

  5. “what it means to be an American”…incidentally that was one of the things I thought about 13 years ago, and I wasn’t just wondering about the people that lost their lives on 9/11, but also about the millions of other people who, like yourself, had to deal with the reality of what being an American meant. Thanks for shedding some light on the matter in this beautifully written post. (I honestly can’t fathom what it must have been like to be an American firefighter 13 years ago, but for what it’s worth you have my sympathy for being one.)

    • Thanks, Arend. And I want to make it clear that I don’t think our pain is any more important than the many other countries who have dealt with the aftermath of terrorist attacks, or that our grief was deeper, or that we’re always in the right. Not at all. However, being “an American” means many things, just as being British or Somalian or Irish does. In the end, however, no group of people deserves to be attacked and murdered in order to make a point.

      Not even Beliebers. (And yeah, it was hard admitting that)

      And as for the added pain that comes from being a firefighter and having some small sense of what it must’ve been like geared up and in that hell… I still can’t watch “World Trade Center” with Nicholas Cage all the way through. It’s about as authentic is it gets. And still too much for me.

      • I read you loud and clear!…One of the things I like about your writing is that it doesn’t demand the reader to pick sides or embrace an opinion, regardless of their political beliefs or background. This post for instance is just as relevant to a gun loving redneck as it is to a hummus eating 9/11 conspiracy theorist. That’s the common ground that could bind people together, wherever they’re from, even if they are beliebers;)

  6. I didn’t learn of the attacks until 2 in the afternoon. I had worked 3rd shift the night before, and didn’t know until my (then) wife woke me up when she got home from work. I watch the TV for almost 24 hours, mortified at what I was seeing. I doubt I’ll ever forget that day.

    • The day should never be forgotten. Not so much to remember the anger or hatred of terrorism in any form, but for those who lost their lives in the attacks, and the lives lost by those trying to save them. As I mentioned to another blogger, “World Trade Center” with Nicholas Cage is about as authentic as it gets from a firefighter’s perspective. The sounds of the air-packs, the terminology, protocol — all spot-on. So much so that I still can’t watch it all the way through.

        • I’m not a huge Cage fan either, but he’s good in this and obviously did his homework and went thru some kind of training. It’s definitely worth a look see because it offers a true firefighter’s perspective on the day and follows the accounts I’ve read by other firefighters who were there. I’m planning to give it another try tonight— like I do every year.

          If you catch it, I’d love to know what you think. And don’t worry about spoiling the ending…

          My best thoughts for you and your family, Scott.

  7. Powerful, my friend.

    But remember one thing: No matter how disorienting, no matter how disturbing, no matter how life changing the events of that morning, your daughter had a pillar to cling to, her security blanket intact. She had you.

    There is no rational explanation for these events. We cannot find the words, because words cannot capture the insanity of events like this. And all we are left with is each other. In a world spinning out of control, your daughter anchored herself to the only thing she could trust, the only thing that still made sense: you.

    And your concern for her gave you focus. It gave you a sense of priority in a new world where priorities didn’t seem to matter anymore. And so your daughter provided an anchor for you, and hopefully some degree of comfort that while you could not control the universe around you, there was a certain security in having her in your arms.

    Peace to you and your family, my friend.

  8. I remember for days how I would just start crying out of the blue, once during supper, my husband explained to our children that I was crying for all those parents who would no longer hold their children, and those children who would no longer be held by their parents. It broke my heart.

      • I could have added ‘poorly’ – instead opted for the simple answer. as said before, even longer to explain. as for the holocaust… which one? the one we commonly think of ? or all of the other many which remain unnamed – yet every bit as horrible. the insanity of it never fades… hmmm Gaza and Palestine ?

        • Sadly, you are absolutely right. And maybe the reason they continue is because they can’t be explained; if they could, then I’d like to think we could prevent them in the first place. That kind of insanity, however, defies logic and requires a kind of thinking that is beyond the spectrum of human understanding.

          And let me point out that I am in no way comparing 9-11 to any of the holocausts, past or present. That kind of injustice to mankind is in its own, horrible category.

  9. Amongst all the images of that day, I remember how helpless I felt. I looked around me and witnessed that same look of helplessness in the eyes of my friends and coworkers.

    That day showed me that evil fools men into performing the most terrible acts.

    I learned that God does not prevent the bad but shows us, gives us the means to overcome.

    • There was an ever-present feeling of helplessness permeating the day, and no escaping it. Without a doubt, in addition to giving us the means to overcome those feelings, God also shows us that though helpless we are never left hopeless as long as we can count on Him through each other.

      Thanks for being one of those people, Steve.

  10. So powerful, Ned. I was never given the opportunity to imagine it from such a POV, a father and his child, how to explain everything, breaking a piece of their innocence. You’re a great writer. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I was working for an American Bank in the UK when this happened. We were all stunned. Our American counterparts were involved and departments in our Operations Centre and Singapore took over the workload .
    It was a dreadful time for all Americans, but it shook us too.

    • It wasn’t that what happened on 9-11 was more terrible than the many acts of terrorism that happen all over the world, but I think it shook people in other countries because America always seemed like the last line of defense. Seeing it broken so dramatically in the then still-relatively-new era of instant news made it especially numbing.

      Thank you for reading, and for sharing.

  12. It was a clear and sunny day in southern Germany. We were all getting loads of books ready to ship and/or deliver and the little TV that Willie had hidden in the stockroom was turned on to Armed Forces Network television. They cut to a live feed from ABC – we watched as the 2nd plane struck its mark. This was about 3:15 in the afternoon. Little did we know that one hour later we were going to be ordered escorted home by US Army and German Bundeswehr armed guards to see those of us individually back safely to our homes off base………………….Never have I felt so alone and threatened as that day. Germany wept with us and stood up in support.

  13. Well done, Ned. The pure evil of that day, the terror felt by the passengers and crew on the planes, the helplessness of the people in the upper floors, thinking that surely they’ll soon be rescued but having a nagging suspicion that worse things were to come, the firefighters “going the wrong way” (up instead of down) because that’s what they do, the people who died for the unpardonable sin of going in to work, the unreal image of the 2nd plane suddenly curving in to crash into the 2nd tower, the mother travelling with her 2-year old daughter on the one plane, having to lie to her that things were going to be all right–it’s all too much. But we can’t forget.

    • So true. All those images and so many more. On the 10th anniversary, I participated with other member from our fire department in a special commemorative flag-raising ceremony. I expected it would be emotional but didn’t anticipate having to constantly steady my quivering chin as we stood at attention in our firefighting gear. Sometimes we have to remember the things we’d rather forget, as painful as they may be, simply because it makes us human.

  14. I was at work. We were not allowed to use the internet or e-mail unless it involved business. My cousin, in another country, e-mailed me (she knew it was forbidden) to ask what was going on. The office was in silence and groups of people huddled around computer screens. The atmosphere was between dreamlike and shocking. Who in the world could grasp what was happening? This was too big, too overwhelming to process. I worried about my daughter and her husband.

  15. This is so incredibly written and brings me right back to that day. I didn’t know, either. I was house sitting my dad’s house as he was in Europe, and I messed up setting his alarm at all, so woke in a panic late for work and didn’t even bother turning on the news while I got ready. Then, as I was driving to work, the regular station I listened to with mindless music and morning show stuff was on… and so I called the guy I was dating, and he filled me in, I went to work, and wanted to go home and my boss was like “what are we going to do?” UGH. Finally, when I took vacation time to leave early to check on my dad (in EU), I went home and watched it over and over with tears and shaking and omg. I will never forget. In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t have a son then. BTW found you from the sister wives site and saw that you have a step son on the spectrum. My newly 5yo is as well.

    • I’ve wondered what would be better: not knowing right away or waking to it like I and so many did. I still can’t decide. All I know is that in the end, you can’t avoid the truth — good or bad — of any situation forever. It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid from a wound. Whether you pull it slowly or with one quick tug, the wound will still be there.

      I’m so glad you found me on Sisterwives. It’s probably hard to tell from this post and my comments on SW that I’m actually a humor columnist (You’ll just have to trust me on that), but sometimes you just have to write what you’re feeling. My son is 15, and we went through a harrowing, amazing and ultimately unbelievably gratifying evolution in our relationship since we first became a family in 2006. We’ve been through everything from physical takedowns to emotional highs. Because of that, he and I have a very special relationship different than anyone else.

      I can honestly say I’ve learned as much from him — about possibilities and the kind of person I strive to be — as I think he’s learned from me. A kid who once took every joke as a personal attack now dishes back jokes, pranks and good-natured ribbing as well as anyone. I truly believe humor has changed his life and helped him be more secure in himself, as well as understand others better.

      Every child on the spectrum has something special and unique to offer. But it’s easy for me to see you’re the kind of mom who already knows that.

      And not just in your obvious good taste in bloggers 😉

      Great to meet you, Kristi!

  16. I remember this day all too well. I had the morning news on GMA and Was on the phone with my mom while my 3 year old and 18 month old were just finished with breakfast. We were talking about trivial things when the Breaking News interrupted with “we interrupt this regular programming to let you know there has been some king of explosion at the World Trade Center… Do we have a camera there yet?” We knew people there. Our conversation quickly turned to this. I hung up with my mom to call husband to let him know. My daughter kepts saying “mommy airplane crashed into building..” And my 18 month old son kept saying “airplane” and making explosion noises….
    When the second one hit… I was shocked again. I could not turn it off… When that building began to crumble I knew it before they were even saying it on the news. I said out loud “all those people!” And I fell to my knees and began crying. I was so worried for everyone including our friends. I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t walk away. My kids were building with Legos and Lincoln logs and crashing toy airplanes into them just like they saw. I realized it was affecting them. But when they saw my tears they both came to me and sad “mommy don’t cry. God will make it better.” I realized they were not affected in a bad way but a good way. At the 10 year anniversary my kids had to do projects at school. They remembered bits and pieces of it as it was in their history books but also some memories of that day. They are compassionate people. They saw friends out there just a few months later and remember that. They were young. But they hate crime. They hate what criminals do. They like police and firefighters. So it’s not being exposed to it that’s bad but how we handle it. What happens next. How they see the right way things need to be in contrast. That’s what makes it a learning experience that there are bad things but we can survive and make it. I do agree now I’m more selective and seldom watch the news. It’s too much.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that with me. And you’re right; without the bad things we wouldn’t know how to handle adversity, nor would the good times be as wonderful without something to compare them to. I’m so glad you children were there with you — and for you.

  17. Hi Ned,
    I can’t tell you how happy I was to read this early this morning. Believe it or not, it’s a day that’s never far from my mind. Like you, my mind went right to my kiddos. Dane was barely 2, so he was ‘sheltered’ and Tanna was already at school. I spent all day trying to get to her–worried about what they would tell her or what she would see. I picked her up and saw it on her face…confusion and fear. “Mama, what happened with the bad men and the airplanes and the towers?” I still get very teary when I think remember that very difficult conversation.
    How could I ever explain? Honestly, I never could and still can’t talk about it without cracking. In fact, I called her after I read your tribute and asked her what she remembered about that day. She said she remembered her and I in the parking lot and thinking that she never wanted me to get on another airplane again. (I had JUST started flying every week).
    I visited Ground Zero three years ago while my co-workers went to a Broadway show. I didn’t want to go down there, but I did. All by myself. I did it for the same reason you wrote this powerful and poignant post–we needed to. Thank you for giving us a space to remember and share. xo

    • First, I think it’s wonderful that you have the kind lof relationship with your daughter that you can just call her up and ask her feelings on something like that. It’s very special and in no small way a reflection of how you handled that terrible day as a parent.

      I know I would like to visit Ground Zero some day. I also know it will probably be extremely difficult to keep myself together. But who cares. There are places where we just need to let down our defenses and feeling everything, regardless of who’s around us. Ground Zero is such a place.

      And sometimes the local tavern… 😉

      Thank YOU, Michelle, for sharing your memory of that day.

  18. Being in Australia, a lot of what occurred was overnight for us. I was heavily pregnant with the Tween and slept through it all. I woke up the next morning and didn’t turn on the radio as I normally do. My older two children were are school camps and I was enjoying the silence. Then my mother called. She said “Isn’t it shocking what is happening in the world”? I replied that I had no idea what was going on and she urged me to turn on the television. I wished that I hadn’t. I sat there with tears streaming down my face and rubbing my belly. I wondered what kind of a world my children were in and what future my little baby was going to have. We had the radio on at work all day listening to every news update. The mood of people everywhere was sombre and all shared the same disbelief.
    I later found out that my older children at the school camps had wondered where their teachers had gone because they all disappeared. The teachers had been called in for a special staff meeting and were listening to radios. Then assemblies were called for the children and they were told.
    In the days following, I had to hide the newspapers from my son because he was distressed by it all and was having bad dreams. We spoke calmly and matter-of-factly about it. That was all we could do.
    Funny how you remember exactly where you were at certain times in life.

    • I can only imagine watching what felt like the world coming unraveled while knowing I was bringing a child into it all. It seemed like there was no way to escape the images, soundbites and constant analysis. Like you, we just tried to keep the explanations simple and honest with our children, while also making sure they didn’t see all “brown people” as terrorists.

      I sometimes wonder how we made it through. Other times, I still wonder if we have.

      Thank you for sharing your memories from that day, Suz.

  19. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the events of the day. I can’t imagine having to look a child in the eye right then and do what you did. Your daughter is very fortunate.
    At the time I was working at a TV station and we had live feeds coming in 24/7. Raw footage that could then be packaged by the TV stations for their pieces. Because I knew it hadn’t hit the air yet I called my husband and as I spoke to him people started milling into my office and he repeated what I was telling him to the people at his work place. My office was full as was his when the 2nd plane hit. I will always have a connection with all those people as we witnessed the horrors together that day. Within seconds I had to hangup my connection and we all had to watch, edit, produce and report the atrocities over and over again for the next several days. I didn’t even try to sleep for the next 40 or so hours and when I did all I saw was that footage over and over again in my head.
    I saw the Cage movie you referred to above and thought it was well done but it was good to read a professional firefighter’s view on it.
    Thank you.

    • That must’ve been so difficult watching and editing the footage every day, having to look at the raw images and sounds over and over. No wonder it seeped into your dreams.

      Thank you so much for sharing those memories with here. As much as we want to forget what happened that day, it’s important we remember. Not for the horror or the hate, but for the love expressed by those who sacrificed themselves.

  20. It’s a gift to be able to write both “funny” and “serious” equally well — thank you for sharing this side of your giftedness with us. In the wake of such a watershed event we each have a story, but not all of us can articulate it so beautifully.

No one is watching, I swear...

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