Do you remember taking the kids hiking up through the old farmstead? We picked wild blueberries the size of marbles. They were so thick, it literally took an hour to pick an entire winters worth. Do you remember going to your grandmothers grave and planting flowers for 5 years in a row, before we moved away? Mini roses and baby’s breathe over bags of soil that we had to add to the sandy to make things grow.
Do you remember the long hikes we went on every spring down the river, after climbing over 2 hours down into the gorge? We took backpacks for our collection of treasures; arrowheads, fossils and the bleached out bones of animals that had been swept away and drowned. The best score ever was the beaver skull, complete with teeth.
Do you remember going camping across the country? Setting up tents in the dark in less than 5 minutes, everyone doing their assigned jobs before giggling and laughing as stories are told by flashlight. It always took so long to get to the destination because we enjoyed the journey along the way. When the kids saw a mountain in the distance and said it would be awesome to climb, we pulled over and climbed for 3-4 hours.
We scaled the rocks and cliff face over the lakes to see the petroglyphs. We stopped into the Trading post and bought our Native tea and smoked whitefish. We bought real slingshots that could take down a squirrel at 30 feet or a brother at 5. We bought wooden guns that fired elastic bands that hurt when they hit you. No eyes were damaged but there was a split lip when it was thrown in frustration and lack of ammo.
Do you remember using the fallen deadwood to cross the wider rivers and having someone slip and start to fall? Listening to the full commando, military precision of the ensuing rescue mission was hysterical. The water was freezing, though not very deep, and they hung like baby lemurs from the branches desperate to not fall in and get wet. Boys learning to be men using nature as their educational facility.
Do you remember teaching them how to fish? How to find the best locations to find worms and then put them on a hook. The look on their faces when they had to clean and gut their first fish was priceless, but so was watching them cook it on a fork spit to eat off a birch bark plate we had make earlier when we were foraging, to go with the fiddleheads we had picked earlier.
Do you remember taking them panning for gold? Seeing their different personalities come out in how they went about the business of getting rich. The youngest would have died in the water in his dedication to keep going if we did not promise to bring him back again the following summer. I am pretty sure he had borderline hypothermia.
Do you remember going 500ft down into the coal mine? The kids wore boots, raincoats and hardhats. They got to use a pick axe and take home the bag of coal the mined, that we gave out to the other students in their classroom at Christmas. It took us hours to glue gun ribbons and coal then hole punch cards in December. But it was fun listing to them talk about the adventure we had had the prior summer.
Do you remember taking them amethyst mining? How after they collected their treasures, they started taking the hoses, holding them to their groins and pretended the long steady stream was them taking a piss into the bushes. They were laughing and carrying on and not paying any attention to their environment and that’s when one of them saw the wolf charging through the bushes coming from the forest edge and set them all screaming and scrambling, falling ass backwards over each other to get away, only to discover the ‘wolf’ was in fact the camp owners Irish Wolfhound. I seriously almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard. They were so relieved at not being almost killed that they overcame their embarrassment quickly to see the enormous humor of the situation. But it drove home the point I had been making all summer about always being aware of your surroundings when in the woods and they gained a new healthy respect for things you can’t see, but can see you.
Do you remember teaching them the responsibility of using and owning a pocket knife and as they got older, a skinning knife? Handy little tools that we always ended up using on the adventures we took. Teaching them to use a hatchet and use it for throwing against a target made them feel like mountain men. It’s amazing how long they would practice for, just to claim bragging rights. It was perfect that I would step up and nail it on the first throw, every single time. I loved how they couldn’t believe it and thought I had been practicing all winter just to do it. I never told them it must have been blind luck every year.
Do you remember teaching them to ride a bike, throw a ball, to learn to skate, tie their shoes? Do you remember teaching them how to start the barbecue or making some simple and nutritionally balanced family meals and to bake cookies? Do you remember taking them grocery shopping and learning about pricing and value? Do you remember teaching them how to drive a car? Taking them to the back roads in the country when they were 13 for their first experience. Then onto the city streets at 16 and seeing them in all seriousness learn that doing is harder than watching.
Do you remember having them dig up and transplant trees to a better location as part of their ecological duty or having them dig up then plant the vegetable garden? How about teaching them about money management and understanding their bank accounts and what interest meant and service fees? Do you remember explaining the risks of lending money without security or proof of the terms for repayment and explaining that defaulting on a loan from your brother meant he would not do business with you in the future and you would lose the ability to get future credit from him? Awesome life lesson seeing the realization of what that meant, bloom in each of their eyes.
Do you remember teaching them to do their own laundry and set them up on a schedule to take care of their clothes and property? Doing basic maintenance of minor household repairs and doing weekly cleaning and organizing of the house? Teaching them that it was important that they contribute and that their skills were needed. They leaned independence and gained confidence that they could handle themselves and their environment. And if they couldn’t or wouldn’t do it themselves, then they had to have enough monetary resources to pay someone else who was willing to do it for them.
It’s days like today, Father’s Day, that I can not celebrate or acknowledge you in any way. Because the only thing they learned from you is that you were too busy to join us, as I went about the business of teaching them how to be men. You never made time for them, or for us, and so you are not part of our memories. It used to make me sad, how you removed yourself from our life and blamed it on your need to work and earn a living. Things would always be better ‘next year’, you would promise to come with us ‘next time’.
You never even noticed when we stopped asking you to come with us and we just kept going about our lives. The time has passed and you no longer have the chance to influence their lives as children. There are precious few memories to think about and there are only 1-2 pictures to post of shared times over a 20 year span of time. You worked your way out of our history. You weren’t a good father to them – I was.