A Few Words On Fathers And Sons

An excerpt from:


A Memoir in a Myth

"I became a father because I had to. I needed to repay my father for being his son. It was a strong obligation that I could not dismiss. Then I had a son and he showed me that if being a dad was an obligation, it was the sweetest debt I ever repaid.

"My dad was special because  he could make something out of near-nothing. He always added the ingredient that made the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Take for instance the simple act of coming home from work. Most people sleep walk through it each day, not recognizing its potential. Not my Dad; he made it something that I’ll never forget. He invented Nutsy-Coo-Coo Time and, to this day in my family, Nutsy-Coo-Coo Time is a proper noun. It was a ritualistic part of our early developing life.

Father and Son Cuddling


rusty old vehicle in darkness

"Every day, six days a week upon his return from work, my father performed a slow dance for our waiting eyes. In our PJ’s, bathed and ready for bed, my six brothers and sisters and I waited down the hall and in the kitchen because no one was allowed into the living room until Dad came home. We waited in great anticipation for the headlight patterns that reflected through the bay window into the small living room that indicated Dad was in the driveway. Then  the sound of his car door slammed and assured us he was coming up the walk. A moment later, the door handle jerked and jangled in just the right way: Daddy was home."

man and son smiling in shirts
"The door opened and a mountain of a man entered. Six foot four, 225lbs, clad in a knee length gray overcoat, dark, silent and brooding in the small four foot foyer, he removed his winter wear, shaking the rain off. Two shakes, then three, onto a hanger and put away. Fedora and wool gloves followed. Scarf folded and placed as we waited holding our mouths closed. Waiting, waiting so long . . . as, once again, my father stretched out the moment. It was a delicious agony. He removed and hung his sports jacket up, too, but kept his tie in place.
 “Would he tonight? I’d think. Will he be too tired today? But he never abandoned his ritual.
“Slowly, he turned to the center of the living room, moved, deep in thought, not seeming to know we were there. Finally, he’d turn and go down to his knees, right in the middle of the living room carpet for no apparent reason, still not making eye contact with any of us. It looked for a moment like he might break out in a prayer; his expression was serious and focused elsewhere. Then, all of a sudden, he’d say, slowly pulling out each word in a low, loud and extended boom,


"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.
we dove onto that holy mountain of a man...
“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.”

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