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Dad, Help

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DAD HELP
alamy

I can't quite get over the news story about Kelly Thomas, the 37-year-old homeless schizophrenic man who got beaten to death by cops in Fullerton. The details are violent and inhuman, horrid on so many levels. But it's the recording of him crying out during the beating that shreds me. "I can't breathe," he yells. Then, "I'm sorry, dude" to the cop who's beating him. And finally, "Dad, help."

His father was not there. I've watched him, his father, on TV -- a ramrod straight retired sheriff who pushed the case until the DA finally filed charges. He looks like the kind of man who knows exactly how to protect his son from a bully. When I see him I think how does he handle it -- that last plea? What does his mind do when he hears it? How many tears has he shed wishing he had been there to protect his son? How would I handle it?

None of my children are schizophrenic, homeless, or have been beaten to death by the police, so I can't possibly know what he's going through. There have been scares, some bad. My oldest is an addict, and my wife and I at one point realized we had to prepare to lose her. But she's now got nine years of sobriety. The youngest was misdiagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when he was a child, and there were months of painful tests and looking down the barrel of bad outcomes. The second to youngest, 19 years old, got arrested this summer using a fake ID to get into a bar. I worried about him in police hands, mostly because he acts so entitled -- he seems like the kid who might get a beat down. While he didn't make any friends when he asked if he could "just pay a fine or something," he went unscathed. Still, there is something in that "Dad, help" that touches me at my core.

I first heard it on the news weeks ago, then again last night, and read the article in this morning's paper. Then my oldest, my daughter who turns 30 on Saturday and spent the night last night because she wasn't feeling well, came into the kitchen certain she had strep throat and needed to see the doctor. She wondered if her little brother would drive her, and I said I would. It's been a long, long time since I've driven her to a doctor's appointment, but it just seemed like what she needed. At a very different level, Dad, help.

Later in the afternoon I drove to the 19-year old's new apartment to take him grocery shopping essentially for the first time. We walked the aisles figuring out what he can and cannot make for himself, and which items to get more of because they won't go bad. Back at the apartment, I helped him plan out how to share the kitchen with his new roommate. Dad, help.

Yesterday, my youngest now 18, and I spent the morning college hunting online. He wants out of Southern California in the worst way, but is primarily interested in Film and TV. He's looking for something non-traditional, but wants the dorm experience. His first want list was so specific it yielded only three colleges that met his criteria. Slowly, with some prodding, the rules got loosened a bit and the list grew. Dad, help.

Yesterday afternoon, my middle daughter, wanting to help the oldest plan her birthday party, asked if I'd babysit her daughter. She was 22 when she got pregnant and whether or not was given serious consideration. She got a lot, but she gave up a lot. So I try to lend a hand with my granddaughter when I can. Babysitting turns into a big event with all her Little Mermaid dolls. I am always relegated to the role of Ursula, the mean sea witch, but I camp it up with gusto to her peels of laughter. Dad, help.

My second to oldest daughter is in Bali for a month. We haven't spoken since she left and I worry about her, but take comfort in the amount of third world travel she's already negotiated, and her Facebook postings. She's among the most academically accomplished of my kids, but with little application of it thus far. I think we both know when she gets back we're headed towards a conversation about what's next for her. Dad, help.

We lost their mother, my wife, five years ago to a cerebral aneurysm. She went for a walk on the beach one summer morning and never came home. With five kids, it was a challenge for two of us, with never enough attention to go around. With her gone, there's even less, so I do as much as I can. Maybe too much. Too much for them, and I wonder should I be pushing them more from the nest? Too much for me, and with them now 18 to 30 years old, I wonder should I be looking at what's next for me too?

But it's that fear, that they'll need me by their side to protect them, to be Dad, and I won't be there -- they'll be too far away, or I'll be distracted, or they'll be in the wrong hands, police or otherwise -- that creates a pit in the bottom of my stomach. It's what I look for when I see Kelly Thomas' dad on TV -- how would I handle the worst fear realized? So maybe the ride to the doctor's office, the grocery shopping and the rest of it is just a long shot at improving my odds -- the hope that I'll be there if that plea ever comes. Dad, help.