I remember my father putting out his index finger and I would hold it with my entire hand as we walked together. He was tall and strong, not just to small me, but to everyone who knew him.
I think he could have done anything. He focused on a few things, and they were great.
Once my Dad told me that he could disassemble and reassemble his dive kit in complete darkness. A pretty good skill for this activity.
While I’ll never be a cave diver, I think I got from him an appreciation for the art of doing dangerous things safely. There are many things in this word that are not objectively safe, but are so worth doing – provided you know how, and then do them with great care. Then, the risk is about on par with driving your car.
If you’ve ever seen those crazy super-magnified grey scale images of the eyes of a fly or something even tinier, that’s an SEM.
When I was a kid, I remember going into Dad’s research lab and there was this huge machine with a million knobs and switches, and he would point me to the two dials I was allowed to touch – they moved the specimen laterally or vertically, so I could zoom around. The zoom would take effect with each sweep of a bright green line going down the screen, wiping away the prior image and painting a new one.
But he was always in our corner. He was determined that we should go to good public schools, and should never under any circumstances be sent to anything resembling boarding school as he was. We didn’t even go to summer camp. Instead, we went camping.
He took a job as a part time ski instructor, which I think he enjoyed but a big reason was definitely so he could afford to take us all skiing. At 5:30 on each Saturday morning in the winter, he would pour all three kids into the back of the station wagon, where we would sleep in our nest as he drove us to the mountain.
Fast forward. In the fall of 1984, I had received the letter that you don’t want to get from your college, saying that you were welcome to reapply for admission if you explained why you were going to do better the next time around. I was a failure. I spent a few months washing dishes, which was very educational in learning why I really did want to make it through college.
In conversations, I found out some things that I hadn’t known. My Mum and Dad didn’t care if I went to the Ivy League. I had put that expectation on myself. Any school would do, if it had what I wanted to study, and the right environment (which for me at the time meant just a tad more supervision).
For the month of December that year, Dad took me to England for family visiting and lots of caving. In January, I restarted at state school (which was close to a lot of awesome caves), switched to geology, and proceeded to get straight A grades until graduation.
Somewhere in the years that followed, I must have decided that I was too grown up to have a Daddy, so I called him Dad or Pops. Somewhere in there, I decided I didn’t have to visit exactly every year.
If there is a conversation that you wished you had had with your father, or something you wished you had done together, and if you are lucky enough that your father is still alive, then the time is now. To have that conversation, and make firm, short term plans to be together. On the other side of the equation, for your children, always make sure they know you are available, and eager, to share such times with them, no matter what are the current pressing circumstances of life.
Because on the day that you are talking across the miles to the doc in the ER, and he starts telling you the things that they tried, and you know where this is going because you’ve seen it on TV, over those few seconds you will realize that those moments you hoped for are never going to happen, and all the wishing in the world won’t change that.
Someday I hope that’s not what I remember first.
I remember my father putting out his index finger and I would hold it with my entire hand as we walked together.
I love you, Daddy.