Reflections on fathers, goodness and the better angels of our nature

By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal

On Father’s Day, I was sitting at my dining room table reflecting on my own need for comfort in the midst of the turmoil that has afflicted our nation over the past couple of years. In some ways I have begun to think the better angels of our nature have deserted us. What started me thinking along these lines that day was the awareness that I no longer have a father to call that day, nor do I have him to call any day when I am feeling low.

In February of 2015 on the day before my birthday my father went into his bedroom to take a nap. He never woke up. Had he lived another two weeks he would have had his own birthday, his 92nd.

For much of my life I had wished for a different father, one who was bolder, more willing to take chances, get out there and make a splash in life.

In time, and over time, I made peace with the reality that my father was simply a good person, a good neighbor and someone other people looked to for comfort.

My father worked until he was 88. He didn’t ever do anything particularly sophisticated — to him the opportunity to work was being around people, how he loved people. His second stroke made it impossible for him to go back to work, and that was really the beginning of the end.

As I was growing up I remember my father mostly in the background of our family life. He did have a problem with alcohol until I was around 13, which he eventually dealt with through his religious practice. I think that was a good part of the reason he was in the shadows of my mind. There were some painful memories from my early years. But as an adult he was always there for me if I asked, and though those occasions were not frequent, he never failed to provide the support I needed.

He stood by my side through a divorce in my late 20s. He and my mother were married for nearly 69  years and I know the break up of the marriages of his oldest son and daughter too were not something he knew how to relate to and something that saddened him greatly.

But we were his children and therefore for him it was not about what was right, it was about what was needed, and we needed his support.

Several years ago he had a near miss with death, so I wrote his eulogy fully expecting to have to deliver it on behalf of the family within a short time.

He didn’t die then, of course. But I still had the eulogy and decided not to let it go to waste, so I called him one evening and read it to him over the phone. He really loved that, and it seemed to say everything that needed to be said between us.

A few months after his death we decided to hold a memorial service for my father. I wondered whether anyone beyond immediate family would be in attendance. We arrived at the church and gradually people began to file in. I guess by the time we began the service, there were about one hundred fifty people there — pretty good for a guy who had outlived most of his friends and was away from any sort of public life for many years.

What I found most surprising was the number of people who I went to school with. People I had not seen in 40 years in many cases, some 50. One by one they came to me and told stories about how much my father had meant to them. Several of them described him as sort of a second father for them.

It seems that while he was in the background of my life he was a busy guy and appeared in the background of their lives as well, at sporting events, on social occasions, the nights of the proms, even one occasion when a young couple, classmates of mine, had gone out to neck in the park and gotten their car stuck in the mud. They were afraid to call their parents so they called my Dad. He of course went and pulled them out and never mentioned it to me. Each of them had vivid memories of a time when Dad had said something when he knew they were down or having a hard time. That’s the way he was with them; that’s how he was for me as well.

Too bad you didn’t know him. He would have liked you too; of that I am certain. He was a better angel.

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