Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Thank you Dad

When pinpointing significant moments in my life, the tendency is typically to go right to the traumatic events leading to the "birth of the machine." However, another moment, more positive in nature, came back to me this past week.

I was 16yrs old and very much a teenage boy. Growing up I had been my Dad's buddy on fishing, camping, backpacking, and canoeing adventures. And yes they were adventures. My Dad had a knack for planning the big trip down to minute details, but struggled when the plans got derailed, often opting to attempt to stay on the schedule despite circumstances. I, on the other hand, had more of a knack of adapting on the fly (thanks Mom!). It made us a pretty good team. Well during my 16th summer my Dad had planned an ambitious canoe/camping trip in Algonquin Park (Ontario) with a good friend of his and a number of other people. He asked me if I'd like to go and I said yes...until I decided to go all teenager. I mentioned I was 16, right? And you know about girls, right? Well I had a girlfriend, maybe, I thought, I don't know (I was 16). Camping with Dad...not cool. Hanging out...cool. Sorry Dad, can't make it.

As I sit here typing I can't believe what a douche I was to my Dad. This isn't a day trip around a local lake. This is a week roughing it in Canada. My Dad must have been obsessing on the details of the trip for months. It had to be a huge event for him (he'll deny this). I know, because if I were to plan a similar trip now with Dylan, it would be a huge event for me. A coming of age kind of event. And here was some 16yr old dismissing it like it was nothing.

My Dad left for Canada without me, and my "girlfriend" dumped (can you be dumped if you're not really going out?) me. And it dawned on me that I had made a big mistake. And yet the story didn't end there... adapt to the moment. As it turns out my Dad's friend John knew of one member of the group who was joining late. Pittsburgh was a slight detour for him, but these were good people (better than me at that time) who cared about others. We reached him (no cell phones kids, so this was no small feat) and he detoured and picked me up. We met up with the rest of the group around Buffalo I believe.

It was a physically demanding trip. You only had what you could carry. You carried your canoe between lakes. Lots of paddling. Lots of walking. Lots of carrying. The first couple of days I could not carry a canoe by myself. By the end I could. By the end I would run the trails with the gear then go back and get a canoe so others wouldn't have to make two trips. I had started to think about assisting others, not just taking care of myself. I also had begun to appreciate that my Dad, a week earlier the source of endless embarrassment, had some skills and had indeed taught me many of them. In some of the more technically challenging sections of water, I discovered that my paddling skills were as good if not better than anyone's, except Dad. And while he still had his "moments" (searching for his Instamatic camera while we floated into a HUGE bull Moose in the Tim River comes to mind!, trying to just flat out pull a very large leech from between my toes...salt helps...and fire!), he was really the leader of the expedition and someone I wanted to make proud.

So while it's more than 30 years late, thank you Dad. Thank you. Thank you for your patience with a me. Thank you for teaching me. I still hope to make you proud.

Love, Joel

PS: Sorry about Thanksgiving.