Sometimes you need a bulletproof vest to do what you love

Jasper De Man

You know how people will tell you – usually through a pseudo-motivational social media post – to find a job you love so you won’t have to work a day in your life? I guess that may be true. When you love doing something it can also come with less than great side effects. Ranging from the harmless to the flat out dangerous.

I’ve overloaded my calendar more than once by taking on too many tasks I actually love to do. That’s a pretty harmless example. Other people’s dedication to their job can put them and their loved ones at risk. My father is one of the more dedicated people I know when it comes to his passion, or his calling, which just happens to be his career. Its his 67th birthday today and he’s still working harder than ever. When recently an Amsterdam lawyer was executed in cold blood, it was a harsh reminder that at times, he’s been at great risk.

Twenty years ago – boy, I am getting old – I was in high school. I remember one day in December, mid-year exam period in Belgium, I had been studying physics until late the previous day. My dad woke me up before he had to leave for work. “Good morning Jasper,” he said with his head peeping in from behind the half open bedroom door. “Good luck with your exam today.” Half asleep I mumbled something along the lines of “Thanks.” “Also,” my father continued, “a criminal escaped who has threatened to come after our family. I’ve put a printout of some mugshots on your desk. If you see that person call the number of the paper straight away. Okay? Have a good exam son.”

“Wait… what?”

My dad was and still is one of Belgium’s best-known criminal lawyers. In this particular case, my father had been the defense layer of the convict’s partner in crime. During the trial, dad got a better result for his client, leading to the grudge and threats. Not only had this unsavoury individual made threats towards children, it turned out he had contacted my school, inquiring about my brother’s and my schedule for the week. For the foreseeable time we had to adjust to a new lifestyle: police patrols with dogs around our house every few hours, mandatory notifications to the police every time we’d leave the house (so they could plan our escort), and a bulletproof vest my dad had to wear under his shirt every day.

This was not the first time the dangers of my dad’s profession seeped into our everyday life. One of my earliest memories is of several heavily armed police officers hanging out in our living room, watching over my older brother and me while my parents had to go to some gala night. Just like the morning of that high school physics exam, some criminal had threatened our lives.

“Risks of the job!”

“What did you expect getting involved with killers and mobsters?”

Many people quickly equate lawyers to their clientele (found guilty or not).

Thanks to many thrilling TV shows and movies, people have a somewhat dramatized view of the average lawyer’s life (at least in a country like Belgium). In reality, a lawyer wants to be able to leave his or her job at the office once in a while, just like any other person. And just like any other person, he or she doesn’t want to see their family at risk…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating against being dedicated. In fact, I’m proud how dedicated my father has been to his passion of the justice system. I didn’t always love he had to rush back to the office after every dinner, let alone having to wear a bulletproof vest. A measure with questionable security, as my dad stated soberly in a recent interview: “it doesn’t protect you if they aim for your head.” Nevertheless, I have always been proud of his dedication and never backing down.

Well, death threats definitely put my own harmless example of an overflowing calendar in perspective.

So, what I am trying to say is: find a way to make your passion your job and love what you do and all that good stuff… but stay alert for the risks… because sometimes they require a bulletproof vest.

And happy birthday Dad! You make me proud every day. That’s also something I wanted to say.

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