Monday, August 12, 2013

For Dad

Last Friday, I got one of those phone calls that you’re never really prepared for, even if you think you are. My father died. And the time came to wrestle with all the personal emotions that come along with a parent dying.

Although I’ve never said it quite this publicly, it’s not really a secret that I struggled with my relationship to my father over the years (I’m saying it out loud now because I’m finding it helps me to let go). From my perspective, he grew out of the person I knew and became someone I didn’t. It seemed like we lived in very different worlds. I won’t go into the details here, but I think it’s fair to say we each were somewhat disappointed in the other. We maintained a civil family relationship, but the truth is we just weren’t very close. 

I have one older brother, Alex, and two significantly younger twin half brothers, William and Andrew. While Dad was in the hospital, Alex and I discussed the best memory we had of him. He used to take us hiking in Acadia pretty frequently when we were little kids. Sometimes Mom came along (before the divorce, of course), but usually it was just the three of us, carrying a backpack stuffed with windbreakers, tuna-fish sandwiches, and sodas from either the Pine Tree Market or the Seal Harbor General Store. Dad's favorite mountain was Pemetic, but we went all over the island and hiked a wide variety of trails.

One day when I was maybe 7 or 8, we hiked up Dorr Mountain. From the summit, we descended the north slope. For the most part it was just a nice hike in Acadia, much like many others. But then suddenly we did something new. We started running down the trail, just letting gravity pull us along, flying down the open granite ledges completely unrestrained and making mid-air decisions about where each footstep should go. For almost a mile down to the saddle between Dorr and Kebo, we basically flung ourselves down that mountain. We whooped. We hollered. We laughed. And we loved every slightly risky second of it. It was absolutely exhilarating, to say the least. I kind of can't believe he did that with us (these days you'd have to wear a freakin' helmet or something equally idiotic), but he did. And now, as a 41 year-old semi-regular marathoner and very frequent trail runner, I think it's one of the best things he ever did for us. 

So on Saturday, Alex and I picked up William and Andrew and one of their good friends and hiked up the east face of Dorr Mtn. from Sieur de Monts. The views out over Bar Harbor, Frenchman’s Bay, and Downeast Maine were spectacular. A few clouds puffed around on the horizon and some leftover fog curled into coves up the coast, but otherwise the air was dry and it was pretty much a perfect summer day. Water cascaded everywhere from Friday's heavy rains, splashing down the sides and into the trail and over the edge towards the Tarn. You couldn't keep completely dry, but it was excellently refreshing in the warm morning sun. 

Partway up, Alex and I told William and Andrew why we had brought them there. That we wanted to honor a good memory of Dad, and that we wanted to share it with them. So we did that. Despite the slickness, we ran down the north face of Dorr Mountain, leaping down ledges and swinging from trees and making lots of split-second decisions. I think everyone enjoyed it, and hopefully we all have that good Dad memory now. 

During the last half mile or so as we walked back to the parking area, I lagged slightly behind for a bit (I didn't have to say anything; Alex got it and kept the others walking) and said my own personal goodbye. It just felt right to me. The exact place didn't matter that much. It was nowhere and everywhere, and definitely a thought-that-counts moment. 

And the best part, dippy as it sounds, is that in the telling of that story to my mom that afternoon, and then later to my girlfriend, it felt like I released a lifetime of built-up emotions. Which I’m so glad for because really, what's the point in keeping any of that stuff now? It just doesn't matter anymore, and I certainly don't need or want it. I didn't see that cathartic part coming, but there it was. And here it is. 

Goodbye, Dad. And for real: thanks.


  1. Ben,
    I'm sorry for your loss, but I appreciate your willingness to share this reflection. It's a wonderful essay.

  2. ... Ben.. I'm so sorry for your loss. My heart is filled with emotion that you were able to go back to that special place which will always be yours, and find closure. How endearing to share that with your Bothers as well. I'm happy you have this sweet memory. Nature heals. Thinking of you. -G