I was 10 years old when I first realized how cool my father was. Dad and I were in the family room when my older brother was led in by two of his friends. My brother's pals mumbled something about an accident, propped Rick against a wall, and then, as boys do when dealing with situations in which adults might potentially hold them culpable, made a quick exit.
Rick's arms were heavily scratched. His tee shirt was saturated with blood. One of his hands covered his face. Speaking very calmly and slowly, my father said, "What's wrong, Rick?"
My brother responded by pulling his hand away from his face to reveal a horribly split lip, a gash down the center of his forehead, a nose that appeared to have been cut into three separate sections, and an array of other gruesome scrapes and bruises.
Dad's voice shifted from his usual baritone to a warm, but authoritative, basso profondo. He managed, somehow, to sound even more relaxed as he said, "Okay, Rick, put your hand back." Then, after my brother had covered his profusely bleeding face again, my father stood from the couch and walked across the room to my brother. He wrapped an arm round Rick's shoulders and helped him out of the door that led to the garage. On his way out, my father, in that same soothing tone, said, "Edward, when your mother gets back, tell her we're at St. Vincent's."
I would later learn that Rick's injuries had resulted from a bicycle accident. He and his friends had set up a series of Evel Knievel-inspired ramps on the rutted gravel streets of our newly constructed subdivision and had a contest to see who could soar highest. My brother won. Sort of.
Rick's accident, which he survived to become a handsome man, took place over four decades ago. What I recall most clearly from that day are the moments just after my father and brother had left. I remember sitting on our burnt-orange-and-rust-brown '70s couch, where I'd been frozen since my brother's friends carried him in, and thinking, Wow, my father is cool. When I grow up, I'm going to be like him.
I was on the cusp of adolescence that summer, so my reverence for my father didn't last much longer. Once my voice cracked, I would be unable to acknowledge the cool of my father for the next decade and a half. Later, because Dad made it look so easy, I took it for granted. I expected him to be the voice of reason and hope in countless crises large and small, physical and emotional and he was.
Recently, though, illness has made comprehension and communication difficult for my father. Of the many things that disease took from him, what I mourned most was his elegant cool.
I had underestimated my father.
A recent holiday visit to my hometown coincided with the sad occurrence of Dad being hospitalized. His hospital stay also marked the longest separation my parents had endured over the 60 years of their marriage. At his Christmas Day reunion with Mom, my father was in a state of confusion, at times visibly struggling to make sense of the world around him. Still, Dad managed to calm the storm in his mind for just long enough to take my mother's hand and in the deep, steady tone I remember so well say, "I love you. I have loved you since I was born."
That is my father. That is the man who tenderly escorted my wounded brother out of our family room. That is the man who allayed the fears and soothed the panic of his three children. That is the man who must now fight for moments of clarity, but when those moments come, uses them to make sure my mother knows that she is, and has always been, loved.
My father is cool. When I grow up, I'm going to be like him.