I was never married to my father-in-law, Melvin Cook, may his memory be blessed. But I did marry into his family.
I’ve never seen him cry. Legend has it, he did. Times, dates, and places are well recorded in the memories of his three daughters and his beloved wife.
Over the 30 years I shared with him, we had perhaps two conversations where he opened up to me about his feelings, both of which were about his family. Surprisingly, they were meaningful and connecting, something I wasn’t used to feeling around him.
But even though opening his heart in conversation wasn’t his norm, it certainly was in his behavior. Mel Cook was a man who could always be depended on. He was always on time, always thoughtful, and always more concerned about you than you were about yourself.
At family gatherings, he refused to take a seat until everybody else had a place around the table. He never took the first piece or the last. Even in his eighties, he lugged the extra folding chairs from downstairs. He made sure you were comfortable, and created spaces and experiences for life and joy to happen.
His jokes were sometimes funny, many times off, but he would laugh at them nonetheless. He shied away from attention, preferring to pass that baton to his accomplished son-in-laws or his daughters. If he had any problems, you didn’t know about them—his difficulties were held close to his chest, so as to never burden others with his issues. He was the quintessential 1970s family man.
He wasn’t nice. He wasn’t “emotionally available.”
He was stoic, powerful, principled, disciplined, and quiet. Always there, always available, he was the loyal rock of his home for 60 years, providing safety, shelter, and life for his family.
And he was in love with them. With each one of the souls he took responsibility for. When his son-in-laws came, his care and concern expanded to include us. And when the grandchildren came, they folded into his protective bubble like they were his own.
He passed with the same enduring qualities as he lived. Fanfare, celebrity, and fuss were absent and replaced with legacy, consideration, and foresight. His dearest wife, my mother-in-law, opened the packet he arranged, containing everything she would need to continue living in safety, security, and dignity. Their relationship continues and deepens after his death, as she finds herself speaking to him and sharing with him now more than ever.
In many ways, I’m his opposite. Perhaps that’s why his daughter fell in love with me. Perhaps that’s why I’m shedding tears as I write, something he would never do.
Mel was the salt-of-the-earth man that built this world. He sacrificed everything for those he loved, his only goal to leave this world a better place than how he entered it — for others, not for himself. While he wasn’t “emotionally available,” he was perhaps one of the most available men I’ve ever known. I miss him, and men like him. And so should you.
*Dedicated to my new grandniece, Mila Ava Bas Leah