What's the big deal?

The time my dad ran from the police

Photo by Kindel Media on

To properly enjoy the details of my dad’s delinquency, you need an idea of the man he grew up to be.

Pre-pandemic, my parents went to the Dominican Republic to visit their friend, Dr. Canario.  They’d run many medical mission trips together over the years. 

Strolling through San Juan’s downtown area one afternoon, a young man approached them shouting, “Hello, Dr. B.!  Don’t you remember me?”

Dr. Canario helpfully mentioned the young man’s name and reminded my dad of the burro ride and mountain clinic they’d done together.  The man gave an update on his life, thanked my dad, and hugged him.  My parents had absolutely no memory of this guy.

Later, Dr. Canario explained the young man had been a “problem kid,” up to no good and heading towards self-destruction.  He’d been hired to take care of the donkeys for my dad’s medical team, and after spending two days with my dad, everything changed.  The kid became a model citizen and built a good life for himself.  

The young man credited my dad for the turning point in his life, and my dad has no idea what he said or did.  

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go around changing people’s lives like that.  My dad is special.

A “problem kid?”

One evening when he was about eighteen years old, my dad was hanging out with two buddies, Dave and Ted.  They lamented the destruction of a nearby woodland to make way for new houses…and decided to do something about it.  

Under cover of darkness, the boys entered the construction site to wreak havoc.  The idea was to damage the machines enough to stop the work and save the woods.  

My dad shoved rocks and dirt down bulldozer exhaust pipes while Dave and Ted cut out wires, throwing them into the woods.  

When a police car rolled up, the boys took off running.  My dad was fast, knew the geography, and was determined to make a clean getaway.

The first “What if?”

Have you seen news stories about a young man shot while running from the police?  

Sometimes the fleeing man is guilty of something, like my dad.  

I’m glad my dad wasn’t shot.

Responsibility for his actions?

My dad was turning the corner to Ted’s house when the police car pulled up with Dave and Ted in the back.  My dad still gripes about “those idiots” who got caught, but he turned himself in, too.

The officers spoke with Ted’s parents and gave the boys a stern warning.  

The next day, according to my dad, “was a dark day, indeed.”  My grandpa drove him to the home of the construction company owner to apologize.  

And that was it!

They didn’t even make him pay for the damage.

Another “What if?”

My dad likes to make it sound noble: eco-terrorism on behalf of defenseless baby toads.  From the point of view of the construction company, punk kids intentionally destroyed expensive equipment they needed to earn a livelihood.  

The boys were guilty of trespassing, willful destruction of property, and running from police officers.  Depending on the circumstances and the strictness of the judge, that can land you with substantial fees, a criminal record, and 6 months of jail time.

I’m glad the officers didn’t feel obligated to teach my dad a lesson and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.  I’m glad he didn’t face a judge who was trying to make a statement about petty crime.  

If they’d pressed charges, he probably wouldn’t have gotten the scholarships he needed for college, and might not have been accepted into medical school at all.  

His whole life potential could have been crushed that night.  Instead, it’s just a funny story he tells his kids.

What would the world be like without my dad?

My dad is quick to redirect credit, but he made Geisinger’s heart attack response one of the fastest in the country.  If you live in the Susquehanna Valley, there’s a good chance that he’s saved the life of someone you know.  

He’s authored chapters in medical textbooks, started scholarships, and mentored more young doctors than he can count.  Sunday School teacher for 15 years, scoutmaster, church deacon, children’s soccer and basketball coach, mission trip leader.  All of this while being the best dad in the world.

Oh, and he’s an unrepentant vandal who ran from cops.

The last, big “What if?”

“Yeah, if I were a Black kid doing the same thing these days, there’s a good chance I’d be shot.  Look at Ahmaud Arbery.”

It’s impossible to measure all the good that would have been lost that night if things had gone differently.

Neither can we measure all the good we’ve lost when a young man is jailed or shot for acting like my dad—when we treat him like a threat instead of the next Dr. B.

Read more:

Why do Black men run from the police? by Leah Blankenship