Father’s Gift was More than Summer Vacation

The fondest memories of my youth are of warm days on family vacations- simple, precious times when we were young enough that mandatory summer jobs, summer school and summer heartthrobs did not steal the warm sand from our toes.

Schedules didn't seem as necessary then, unless it meant being out on the water. I can still feel the tight-fitting, antiquated, bright orange life preserver pushing against my face as I sat studying my father's smooth, consistent motion as he rowed a heavy wooden, red boat on a mile-high mountain lake.

I was about five then and have been seeking similar days - sometimes to a fault - ever since. My search was partly the desire to give my kids a shot at what my dad gave me - a taste of what could be just around the bend - without forcing them to go there.

Truly, my dad’s way of leading was definitely by example, whether it was at a lake retreat or in the backyard of our home. He gave us all enough rope to hang ourselves and I certainly took advantage of the opportunity a few times.

He chose now-antiquated phrases like "keep your shirt on" or "hold your horses" when we were too eager to sprint to the dock for a plunge in the lake, start a softball game in the road, or dart to the picnic table for a meal.

Nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I found a small cabin on a fresh-water lake in the Cascade Mountains. I was drawn to it because it was a combination of the places my dad used to rent for us a generation ago.

While our kids now have grown and gone, I still catch myself saying "keep your shirt on" when pushed to make a decision much sooner than expected while reading a paperback on the dock. I like to row there and clearly remember how all four of our kids had once sat in the bow, tight lifejackets riding high on their chest, much like I had sat in the bow of that wooden boat with my father more than 50 years ago.

This will be my 13th Father's Day without my dad. I will repair the dock, hope the out-of-town kids make it up the mountain this summer and wish every time I put the oars in the water that I had one more treasured moment with the man who first showed me how to row.