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Defining Moments: The Day I Saw My Dad Cry

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Jack Flynn as a boy, with his best pal Laddie.

When he was a boy, my father had a one-of-a-kind dog named Laddie Patrick. Laddie, half-Airedale and half-Irish setter, stayed constantly by Dad’s side — fishing, playing ball, and even following him to school. In fact, my grandmother had a habit of waiting until my father had arrived at school before sending Laddie outside. This was no problem for Laddie because he would simply follow his boy’s scent and track him all the way to Howard Junior High School.

Arriving after all the doors had closed, Laddie would sit outside the school and wait patiently. Eventually, someone would open a door and Laddie would sneak in after him. Once inside, the dog would walk from room to room until he had found his master.

Of course, Dad’s teacher would immediately demand that the dog be removed: “School is no place for dogs,” he’d say, stating the obvious. My father would obey, leading Laddie outside and firmly commanding, “Go home!” Every time this happened, though, Laddie would soon reappear under my father’s desk. Finally, Dad’s teacher relented, and from that point on, whenever Laddie appeared in class, Dad would say, “Lie down,” and the dog would lie quietly under the desk while the boy went about his work.

Years later, my father went off to join his five brothers (who’d earned the title “The Fighting Flynns of Brockton”) in World War II, but good ol’ Laddie continued to attend school, lying quietly each day at the feet of Dad’s younger brother, Dick. Laddie’s attendance was so consistent that Howard Junior High School awarded him an honorary diploma when Dick graduated. Now, that’s one smart dog.

Years later, when my dad was an adult, he met memorable mutt number two: Casey.

Casey, a runt of a dog who’d remind you of Wilbur, the pig in Charlotte’s Web, entered the world in an unplanned litter of seven pups. His mother, Dagmar, was a purebred cocker spaniel. She belonged to my Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob. Like most mutts, Casey was sweet and gentle — the perfect dog for a house full of kids.

Casey went everywhere with Dad. In fact, I’d wager Dad spent more time with Casey than he did with any of his human family members. Casey trusted my father unconditionally, but sometimes Casey’s blind faith in my dad got them both into trouble.

One frosty November morning, Dad took Casey, me, and my brothers, Mike, and Paul, to Fuller’s Dam pond in Plainville, Massachusetts. The “pond” was little more than a weed-choked puddle of goop covering about two acres of boot-sucking mud.

Soon after we arrived, Casey spotted two Canada geese swimming about 50 yards from the shore. The dog froze and locked eyes on his master, and Dad gave the word: “Get ‘em, Case!” Casey plunged into the water and headed straight for the unsuspecting fowl. That’s when the trouble started.

Swimming was never Casey’s strongest suit; in 40-or-so-degree water, he quickly began to succumb — his hind legs mired in deep mud, forepaws plunking frantically.

Dad wasted no time. “I’m coming, Case!” he yelled as he stripped down to his boxer shorts and — to our horror — dived into the frigid water to save his friend. Somehow, Dad kept clear of the muddy bottom, freed Casey’s hindquarters, and led him to safety. They reached the shore, exhausted, both man and beast suffering from hypothermia. We got them warm and dry and breathed a sigh of relief. Disaster averted.

Casey and Dad would have many other harrowing adventures in the years to come, and I wish I could say they learned from their mistakes.

Many years later, deaf in his old age, Casey crossed a busy street and was hit by a car. This was a defining moment in my life: I can still see my father carrying his lifeless old friend to the basement and placing him gently on a workbench. For a moment, Dad was silent; then he began to cry. I’m not talking about just a few tears — I’m talking about gasping, heaving, convulsive sobs. Casey had been my dad’s dearest, closest companion. And now he was gone.

Many of us have known extraordinary animals like Casey, whose almost-human ability to understand us changed the way we Flynns look at the world. These amazing animals leave us with lifelong memories and remind us that we’re better for having known them.

 

Special thanks to my brother, Mike Flynn, for allowing me to borrow ideas for this post from his forthcoming book, Come Back When You Can’t Stay So Long, a chronicle of the many misadventures of my father’s life.

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