At the End of My Most Unforgettable Father’s Day.
That’s our ten year old son, Jordan, on the left, and his friend Robert on the right, a few hours ago. In our Ivy-League-focused-from-the-womb Westchester suburb, Robert has always stood out for being a little slower off the mark than the other kids, a little too loud and impetuous, a little too clumsy, and a little too into Harry Potter minutiae. So it didn’t surprise us that, in kindergarten, Jordan took an immediate shine to him – Jordan instinctively goes for the underdog, and he anointed himself Robert’s personal protector and agent. Now, in fourth grade, Robert is a part of the crowd, his quirks tolerated by all and even appreciated by a select bunch of discerning types.
Robert’s mother, Melissa, died of colon cancer three years ago at age 41, leaving him in the care of his father, Evan, a garrulous Scotsman with a smile a mile wide who played right into stereotype by working as a master distiller for premium Scotch whiskeys and a brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker. Finding oneself a newly minted single dad would be hard enough for any man – but try pulling it off in your mid-seventies, which is how old Evan was. He and Melissa had met at a Scotch tasting he was conducting in his kilt, and the 30-year age gap evaporated like Brigadoon in the mist.
With Melissa gone, my wife, Jen, stepped up to mother Robert and smother Evan with help and support.
And then four days ago, Evan went to the hospital with what was diagnosed as a gall bladder problem, which somehow led to congestive heart failure, which soon had him in a coma, where he lies tonight with little likelihood of recovering.
Evan’s older son, Gregor, Robert’s half brother, called Jen with the news yesterday. Jen, slammed in the solar plexus, invited Gregor to bring Robert to our house for Father’s Day, so that he could be around his pal Jordan. Jen then rounded up Robert’s soccer coach and his family, and another schoolmate and his family. Like that, the quiet family hang we’d been planning was transformed into a community intervention, as well as, it seemed, a way of huddling together for reassurance against the frightening vagaries of fate.
From the moment we got the news, the image of an orphaned Robert, who had already been consistently dealt the worst hands life had to offer, plagued us. The boy who needed more support than anyone we knew was about to find himself with even less, all alone in the world. Sure, I could play his dad for a day – but what then?
And then Gregor pulled up, with his lively wife, Paula, two-year-old Clara, five-month-old Baby Evan – and Robert, beaming in the bosom of his family. “Hi, Mr. Jordan’s Dad! Thanks for having us over!” he called as he spilled out of the Volvo and tore into the house in search of Jordan.
The day flew by, for all of us. Gregor and Paula were relieved to be out of the ICU for an afternoon, and Robert and his five schoolmates spent four straight hours in the pool, with no weirdness whatever about the situation they all knew Robert was facing. Gregor matter-of-factly said he’s going to be Robert’s dad, and would accordingly need to learn baseball and basketball. Paula said that given Evans’ age they had known that one day they’d inherit responsibility for Robert’s care, and that while they didn’t expect it to be quite this soon – one month after they’d providentially moved from Scotland into Evan’s finished basement – it is what it is and they were going to make the most of it.
At the end of a sun-drenched day, they piled back into the SUV – a sunny couple in their thirties and the now three in their care, Robert cozily squeezed between two car seats. A family, eluding the shadows together.
Evan doesn’t know it but this was the best Father’s Day of his life. Thanks to sons like Gregor, and Robert, and Jordan, and daughters like Paula and Jen.