Friday, November 20, 2009

Be the Man Your Kids Want You To Be

I've had some sobering news this past few weeks.

A close friend was in a car crash late at night on a curvy road. There were four people in the car, and they had all been drinking. My friend was driving, and the accident crushed both of his legs. His girlfriend is under intensive care, and the other passengers were thrown from the vehicle, but walked away unharmed.

I visited my friend in the hospital. His injuries were healing, but his emotions were still on a roller coaster. He reminded me of another night, about a year ago, when were were out drinking and driving around the city. "You are the shittiest designated driver I've ever seen," I had joked. That wasn't quite so funny anymore.

Another friend recently confessed to me that he was drinking too much in the evenings. This was time spent at home with his family, and he wanted to break the pattern. He found that the hour between arriving home and having dinner was a crucial one for self discipline, so he arranged his computer calendar to send him text messages every 15 minutes with reminders. These reminders would say things like "Be the man your children want you to be." That is some heavy emotional blackmail, if you ask me, but it was effective. I admire this.

I told you those two stories so I could tell you about this one.

Yesterday a couple followed some tire tracks off the road near a creek on the Oregon coast. They found an upturned SUV, filling with water, the passengers hysterical. Children were crying. They called emergency services, and a local guy heard it on the police scanner. (Who listens to a police scanner on a Wednesday afternoon?) He jumped in his truck and drove up the road.

The first man plunged into the water to help remove the passengers and couldn't open the doors. He broke the windshield with a rock to rescue the driver, a woman in her twenties. The second man arrived on scene and entered the water with a knife in his hand. He found the children in the back seat and cut their seatbelt straps, then passed them to safety through the icy water.

The woman was hysterical. "There's three!" she yelled, "He's in the front seat!" That's when the men went back into the water and found the six-month old baby, strapped into the carseat, submerged in the water. They cut the baby out, carried him to shore, and began CPR on the little lifeless body as sirens and paramedics arrived at the scene. Doctors were able to revive the little boy, who is listed in critical condition.

The police indicated that the driver was "very intoxicated" at the time of the crash.

There were a number of rescuers that day, made up of friends and neighbors and good samaritans, but I cannot stop thinking about those two men in the water.

These are sobering stories. This is not meant to be a comment on the dangers of alcohol, or a confession of fears, or a condemnation of drunken drivers. These stories bring up a lot of feelings for me.

Maybe I want to point out this simple fact: parenting is a sobering activity. Learning to love and be loved by the children in your life is its own kind of rush. Taking good care of your own little family brings many surprising rewards. It leaves me a little unsettled, and quiet, and much, much more careful.

If I'm going to be the man my boy wants me to be, then I need to remember these stories. I want to be the man in the river, holding the knife. That's the man I want to be, and I think I can be that man. I might to have to get a good knife.

Here's the story.

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