“Of course, there was an explosion from me and my sibs. It was like pushing the plunger down on a blasting cap; at that signal, all seven of us, nine and under, ran headlong, top speed and dove onto that holy mountain of a man, which moments ago had just settled onto our living room carpet.
“He erupted with a grin and repeated his call, It’s . . . Nutsy-Coo-Coo Time. He’d stretch out his arms and we, seven small fast moving bodies, hurled into him from all sides. He articulated an exaggerated, Oomph, laughing as he fell to the carpet on his right side. We piled on like we were in a football game. We hit him with all our collected might because we knew we couldn’t possibly hurt him and he’d never harm us. So we heaped on. Then up he’d rise onto his knees, lifting all who could hold on.
“The next twenty minutes passed as we pounded at him, grabbing him about his head and twisting his ear. Generally, we harassed him like puppies with a rag between them, while he growled and barked playfully at each of us in turn. He grabbed us and tossed each surely into the air. He spun us like pizza dough being stretched for sauce. Each of us clung to their piece of that gentle mountain, our paradise. Dad shook us until all the troubles of our day fled from us like dust beaten from old rugs. Eventually, we lay on the floor all played out, but before we drifted into a happy nap, Mom appeared and called us for dinner.
“My father knew how to make one-to-one connections with people, even when in a crowd. That was one of his special gifts. Sometimes all it took was the twinkling of his eye and his broad Irish grin. This was good because he couldn’t spend a long time with any one of us. But he was good at finding the right moment and stretching it out. He could turn something inconsequential into something that could change life.
“When I was four and a half or five I had a bad dream. Now, I can’t remember what it was. All I know is I panicked and screamed out. At once, my father appeared out of the dark beyond my door. He lifted me up without a word and took me straight out of the room, somehow leaving the bad dream behind. He carried me down the hall, his strong arms holding me secure and into the bathroom where he stood me on the counter by the sink.
“I looked into the mirror in front of me. When I saw my dad behind me, in the mirror, he was still taller. But only when I looked at him directly did I appreciate his real height. He smiled down and said, ‘There now, you’re okay. Hey Buddy, you know what you need is a good glass of cold water. Ah cold, Michigan Straits! Nothing better than a cold glass of water, to shake out the webs . . .’
“Now, I don’t know if my father really liked cold water in the middle of a winter night. Perhaps, he just chose it as something nearby to focus on. But he busied himself getting a glass of water. After assuring I was standing safely on the counter, he found the open end of the Dixie cup dispenser and pulled one out. It popped into his hand. He turned on the cold water tap and waited for a time. He told me a joke I don’t remember. Although I laughed, I think I forgot it immediately.
“Feeling good to be near my Dad was all that mattered. His size, the warm strength within him and his soft, cotton flannel outside, all made me feel warm and safe. Just to be with him there in the bathroom waiting for the water to cool was enough.
“After he told his joke and squeezed me around my shoulders, Dad put on his best chemistry professor look and bent to test the temperature of the water now splattering out of the faucet. He stuck a large finger under its insistent splashing and held it there for yet another long minute. With the impatient expression of a person waiting for a late bus to arrive, he shook his head again, ‘Where is that cold water?’ he demanded.
“Then a bit later, ‘Ah, there it is’. He shook himself with a loud ‘Burr’ and I laughed. He took his cup and filled it to the brim and said, ‘Let’s see about this’. He lifted it to his lips and took the contents of the waxed, paper cup into his mouth all in one big gulp. Holding it there like a mouthful of fine wine, he swooshed it around a time or two before letting it go down his throat with a single twitch of his Adam’s apple.
“’Ah’, he intoned and turned to me. He said, in exaggerated beatnik fashion, ‘Cool, man, cool’. He pulled the words out into a smile. Then we laughed together; laughing at him, laughing at me, but most importantly, laughing at all bad dreams.
“We both knew it was extremely corny but I couldn’t help but play along. He handed me my own cup. Down I gulped it and repeated to him, ‘Cool man, coooooooool’.
“I don’t remember anything else that night . . . just that! It may’ve only taken three minutes but to me it changed my life because that was the moment I fell in love, truly, deeply in love with my father.
“For many nights after that, I’d pretend a bad dream only to get my father to leave his warm bed for our quick nightly ritual. He, no doubt, was tired but it was the only exclusive time I had with him. He never declined or questioned me. Our time together was only a couple of minutes long and lasted for only a couple of weeks but after more than forty years, all we had to say to each other to know everything was alright was, ‘Cool man, cooooool’. You see, I know my father was a man of hope not because his words were hopeful but because I was full of hope when I was with him.”
“I’m still not sure why . . .” Adam interrupted impatiently.
“Don’t you see?” Jacob implores, “I adopted Dylan because I had been gifted to be the son of a man who knew how to make things special. And just about thirteen years ago I felt an increasing pressure . . . like an obligation, inside me . . . to pass on what I’d been given, not to let it end with me.
“Being a father is like being a son of two dads: you must take your orders from both above and below. Being a father isn’t like working in an agency. It’s being connected. That’s why my Dad called it a type of immortality. But it all becomes meaningless if you break the line. I was feeling this pressure to become a father, nothing more. I wasn’t looking for a particular kind of kid. It wasn’t about what I wanted but what I could do for someone else.
“My being a father was about me doing what I knew would make my father proud and was a necessity because a tired man once gave me a drink of cold water in the middle of the night. I wanted . . . no, needed . . . to honor him in that simple and awesome task.”