For a kid growing up without a dad you sometimes find yourself, usually subconsciously, bonding with surrogates. Personally that was the case for me. The fact that I didn’t know my father growing up didn’t mean there weren’t strong, good men in my life. Even if they didn’t know it, each of them played a vital role in who I am today and who I am becoming daily.
One of those men was Ken Cooke.
Ken was the father of one of my middle/high school pal Patrick. Ken was one of those guys who you liked the moment you met him. It was his warm and sincere personality and ability to discuss just about any topic with ease. His genuine nature immediately made you feel welcome in his world, and around his family.
Living with my mom and grandmother in a very old and less than well maintained single wide trailer growing up was the outward sign that we didn’t have much. Extra activities weren’t always affordable and me ever wanting to have friends over was rare. Mainly things just weren’t good all-around for me at that point in my life.
Some of my fondest memories of Ken are the high school football games. I usually never went for various reasons, but Patrick invited me to go with him and his dad one Friday and I decided to do it. Ken drove all the way down to my house, which was completely out of the way for him and took me. This later became a regular occurrence and I don’t think he ever really knew how much it meant to me. Without those rides, I would have spent many more Friday nights by myself.
The memories though really aren’t about the games themselves, I don’t even remember the outcome of any of them. What I do remember are the conversations with Mr. Cooke. We would talk about almost every topic, he loved history and so did I so we really would go in depth on our theories and ideas from the past. He was an intelligent and well-read man, and his thirst for knowledge really did have an impact on me.
He loved his country, and I recall a particular night when the band was on the field and all the pageantry of a small town high school football game was on display. He looked out across the field then he said, “This Tis Americana!” I didn’t know why that statement stuck with me like it did until recently. I think he saw the purity of who we are as a nation. Beyond all the political, religious, racial and ideological differences, there are moments when none of that matters. That in those moments we are at our most basic level of people. People who don’t see color, or sex or socioeconomic status. We just come together to enjoy a Friday night as a community.
My friends back home are laying their father, husband, grandfather, brother and friend to rest today. I want nothing more than to be there to say goodbye with them. That just wasn’t in the cards. Ken’s struggles over the last decade proved to me what a fighter and determined man he was. The love for his wife, and his entire family was his strength. His courage came from their love and support for him.
So to Ken’s family, know that no matter what else he accomplished in life, he made a lasting impact on a poor kid from Corner. One that I will forever be indebted to him for. Thank you for sharing him with me. Thank you for sharing him with the world.
I love you Ken, goodbye my friend.