Although we had confidence in Dad’s diagnosis, we were a tad skeptical. At that moment, however, Mom pulled into the driveway. Again, I can’t remember who told Mom that Luke “almost cut off his nose” but it must have been one of us liars.
To us, Luke wasn’t that bad, at least as compared to the other ways we’d injured ourselves. Mom took one look at Luke and said, “We need to go to the hospital.”
While we boys were thrilled to see some of our old friends at the emergency room, we were confused at Mom’s diagnosis. Dad was there. He heard the story—that Mom didn’t believe—and he cleaned the cut, so that should have been the end of the story.
Yet Mom thought we needed some professional assistance.
Most of the time Dad or Mom made a decision, the other didn’t come home and veto. I have heard other houses work on this system, whereby one parent makes a hard-and-fast rule establishing a lifetime ban on an activity just long enough for the other parent to come along and blow the whole thing to bits. Not so with my folks.
Mom and Dad knew about this whole “divide and conquer” mentality that kids have. They’d been kids before. They knew that some parents would rather cave into the whining and pleading of the children instead of holding onto rules and parental decrees. They knew those parents existed, but my Mom and Dad shunned such actions.
While they knew about “divide and conquer,” they also knew about “the unified front.”
For the uninitiated, “the unified front” sounds like some Cold War underground operation that fought against Soviet infiltration of the garment industry—or something like that. (Those Soviets were into everything!). No, “unified front” simply meant that my Mom and Dad shared the same “party line” when it came to parent/child communications. If Mom laid down the law, Dad knew about it and robustly defended it. The same with Mom.
With expectations that Mom would continue to support the unified front—and with blood seeping out from under the band-aids on Luke’s nose—we were shocked, SHOCKED!, at Mom’s declaration. She thought we should go to the hospital. She had gone against what Dad had said. The unified front has been broken, we all thought.
We watched for signs of an argument or a closed-door meeting in the other room. Neither happened. Dad calmly walked to the car, and we followed.
When we arrived, it was like homecoming at church, with hugs and kisses from long-lost friends. We’d had a relatively uneventful month of June, so we had grown a few inches since the last time we’d been in the emergency room.
When the nurse took off the band-aids, she remarked, “These band-aids were a good idea to keep this cut closed until you got to the emergency room.” Mom looked at Dad accusingly and Dad smiled with confidence.
Dad didn’t think Luke needed stitches at all, while Mom thought she could see the frontal lobe of Luke’s brain through the cut. When the doctor came in the room—it was actually a curtained-off area where we could peek at the mutilated and intoxicated on either side of our little rectangle of concrete floor—he took one look at the cut and said, “Wow, who did this to you?”
Luke smiled, mostly because somebody thought he’d been in a fight bad enough for the cut on his nose. To tell the truth, none of us had been in a fight that bad yet, but Joe and I could lie well enough to at least convince people we had been. Poor Luke—bad liar.
When the doctor reached for the needle, we knew that Mom was right and we knew that the unified front was over. At least we thought we knew.
There’s something about my parents that we didn’t know about: while they agree on the rules of the house, they maintain those rules differently.
Need some help with homework? Mom’s your best bet. Dad has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to stuff like making posters or memorizing the Gettysburg Address.
Gonna get punished? Gamble on Dad. Mom’s just too creative to risk a punishment on. She might think up something weird like having you dig an irrigation ditch with a baby spoon or something.
Are you sick, or injured? Well, we found out which one we needed to go to: Mom.
After the doctor finished stitching Luke’s nose, he ended up with eight stitches. Luke didn’t get a stitch or two just to close the up the wound or to make his face look right again. The doctor wasn’t humoring anybody. Luke got eight stitches legitimately. The boy actually needed them.
It took us about two seconds to reflect on the situation: Dad was way off in his diagnosis. Our world began to spin. We had a million questions. Did this mean that Dad was going to be off on everything? Could we trust him to “feel our head” for a fever or to look at our throats to see if we had malaria? Standing in that hospital, we had our answer: no way.
Before you get too rough on old Dad, remember: he’s not Mom. He has a major definition deficiency when it comes to sickness or injury. He went to the same school of diagnosis that football coaches and drill sergeants attend. In fact, most of his diagnoses were flashbacks from his days as a boxing coach. He couldn’t read the nuances of health that many professional must be able to read. He couldn’t just take a look at one of us and know we were sick. Mom could. Dad could not.
Even obvious stuff like a chopped up nose gets by Dad. Like a colorblind man who can’t tell the difference between brown and red, Dad has a difficult time determining what an injury is and what is not.
After Luke got his stitches, we tested the “unified front” and we failed. They were still as unified as ever, and we discovered that fact quickly. When we got hurt or sick, though, we didn’t ask Dad’s opinion. And Luke was more careful about how he put his toys away.