A Story I Want To Believe
Even a lifetime later, my father still bears the scar, a visible mark on his hand from
that terrifying day.
My older brothers were part of some of the greatest football teams the state of
Iowa has ever seen. At one point they had the longest winning streak in the entire
state and two straight championships to show for their efforts. My father, along
with other fathers, would even go to the practice field to watch their sons work on
When you attend a small school, athletes have to wear many hats. As a part of the
practice, linemen were expected to run the opponent’s pass plays so the defensive
backs and linebackers knew what to look for. Full speed, well, as full speed as a
bunch of slow linemen could make it. Linemen are usually on the line for a reason
and it had nothing to do with their ability to catch the ball. Most of these plays
usually ended with dropped passes or defensive backs intercepting the pass and the
lineman just trying to get out of the way. If a lineman somehow caught the ball and
took it all the way, it was such an embarrassment that the defense had to run out to
a nearby cornfield and return with an ear of corn as penance for their failure.
My brother, Matthew, was one of the few linemen who was good at this drill. Never
know for his speed, he, unlike most of his fellow teammates in the trenches, was
able to maintain his focus as the ball zipped into his hands even when he could feel
the defensive back breathing down on him. At one point he held the record for
making defensive backs run to the cornfield.
This particular practice, the quarterback threw the ball a touch too high. My
brother went up for it and a defensive back named Rob delivered a brutal hit. You
know it is a brutal hit when the coach’s stern mask drops and he starts running as
fast as he could towards the crumpled body of my brother still lying on the ground.
He found my brother smiling. Concussion protocols were not what they are today.
Coach, holding up four fingers, asked my brother how many did he see. My brother
replied, “two” and smiled again like he was making a joke. He got up, jogged back to
the huddle, and finished out the practice.
As my mom fixed supper, my father, who had kicked off his boots, sat in the kitchen
watching TV. When you live out in the country, people usually call before they stop
by. So, we were kind of surprised to hear the front doorbell ring. My father got up to
answer it, as I trailed behind him to see who it could be. I’ll never forget that
woman’s face, a confusion of features as if she was in such shock her face did not
know what emotions it should show.
“Your son is lying in the middle of the highway,” she said to my father.
Even from my vantage point behind two grown adults in the doorway and through
a brown rail fence, I could see my brother’s red moped tipped over on its side on the
road in front of us and a figure that I knew was him not moving next to it.
Now, I am no speed demon. But when you are in junior high, you should be able to
keep up with your middle-aged father, especially when he is not wearing shoes. I am
pretty sure she did not finish her sentence before my father started booking across
the yard. My father has trouble walking across a room without shoes on. So, I have
no clue how he made it across our front yard so fast.
I hadn’t even gotten halfway across the yard when I saw my father do something I
am pretty sure is impossible even to this day. He hurdled the fence without breaking
stride. He didn’t touch it. He simply leaped it like it wasn’t even there. Down the
ditch and back up the other side, he was kneeling next to my brother before I could
By the time I arrived, my big, strong brother was blue and having seizures, causing
him to ram the back of his head into the asphalt. It is funny how things slow down in
such moments. The front wheel of the moped slowly spinning. My brother’s rising
and lowering back down to the ground. In my mind, even though I stood in the same
spot, I walked around the entire scene.
My brother had swallowed his tongue. It was then my dad did something you are
never supposed to do. My dad pried open my brother’s mouth, inserted a finger and
fished his tongue out of his throat. Naturally, in the middle of his seizures, my
brother bit down. Any doctor will tell you it is a good way of losing a finger. I don’t
think my dad even screamed or cried. My lineman brother biting down with all his
strength. My dad just holding onto him for dear life. Eventually, my dad was able to
get his wallet between my brother’s teeth.
Although it seemed like forever, it was probably only a matter of minutes until the
ambulance showed up. As the EMTs tried to find vitals that were not there, it was
then that I noticed the blood running down my father’s hand and that
uncomfortable whiteness. My brother had bit into him all the way down to the bone.
They weren’t going to move my brother until they found a pulse, but my dad with all
the authority of a man who had driven the ambulance for over a decade until we had
moved out to the country informed them that they were. My dad says he knew his
son was gone.
My father sat in the back of the ambulance and at the hospital with him as the
EMTs, doctors, and nurses jabbed his son with needles and put pressure on various
spots trying to get a response. The doctor in the ER told my dad that they needed to
get my brother to the hospital in Des Moines, a mere forty-five minutes away, where
they could better deal with him. He would give him a shot to stop the seizures, but
the odds were pretty slim that my brother would make it there.
My dad, still barefooted, says, as they loaded my brother’s body into the
ambulance, that he said a little prayer. He thanked God for giving him such a good
kid and turned his child over to Him.
It might have been a coincidence, happenstance or whatever you want to call it, but
at the same moment they jabbed a needle into my brother, he said “ouch,” and
opened his eyes. He looked at everyone like he could not figure out what they were
so concerned about.
The next day when the doctors examined my brother they found nothing wrong.
No signs of a concussion or any of the events of the previous day. In fact, the doctor
told him he could go to football practice if he wanted to, something that most
certainly would not happen today.
I don’t know much. I certainly, even decades later, don’t know what to make of that
day. Was God there or was it just an accident of fate? I don’t know. I do know this.
Fathers love their children more than their children will ever understand or know.
When your child is broken and injured, unable to get up on his own, you will do the
seemingly impossible to try to save them. You will even bleed, take more pain than
one can imagine, and carry a scar forever for them if that is what need be.
I like this story and I would like to believe God made the difference. I don’t know.
What do you think?