The Son He Never Had


My whole life, I felt the pressure to fulfill the role of the son my dad never had. I put that pressure on myself, of course, but I felt it nonetheless. He had me and my sister, but he was totally a man’s man. He needed someone to play catch with, so I donned my mitt. He needed someone to fish with, so I begged for a pole. I made tool belts look good, and learned how to put up a tent before I learned how to paint my nails.

Lucky for him (but really, for me) I turned out to really enjoy those things. I love playing catch. And fishing. And hunting. I used to joke and say I was the girliest tomboy to ever exist. Even as a joke, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it.

It was the second year we had gone hunting together. The first time I went hunting with him, I told him I had no problem shooting an elk, but I wasn’t so keen on field dressing it. He expected to hear that. I was the same way with fish. I’d catch them and cook them, but I had no interest cleaning them. He agreed to take me hunting anyway.

Just before 5:30 one particular morning, while it was dark and mysterious outside, Dad’s headlights showed up in my driveway. I grabbed my gear, all our food I had prepared, walked out the door, and we drove to our spot.

I remember sitting in the cab of the truck until it was legal for us to shoot. With the window cracked, we heard the howls and yips of coyotes. Dad was convinced they had come upon a gut pile of a successful elk hunt. I didn’t care what they had found… they sounded evil.

Before first light, we began our hike. A few switchbacks over a dusting of snow led us into the tree line, crunching through some pretty solid snowpack.

Here is where I should mention, hiking with my Dad is like hiking with an unleashed Labrador. He walks (quickly) all over the place, and in order to travel two miles, you have to walk six with his meandering. He gets on a trail of prints or scat, and he follows every. single. hoof. print. Even if you can see where it picks up a few feet away, he’ll follow it as it winds, rather than heading straight on.

If you’re not in any kind of shape, you won’t survive while hiking with him. I know this, because he almost killed me with his merciless meandering.

As the sun came up, we made it to the top of a hill where we sat under cover of some pine trees, and hoped the elk would cross the valley before us. Just as the light peeked over the horizon, we saw a coyote – most likely one we heard earlier – make his way through the clearing below. We watched for a while as he walked away, and rabbits began to appear in the valley after he had passed.

Sitting still on the hillside in the early morning cold, I started to shiver. A lot. I was wearing a few layers – thermal underwear, jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants, and snow pants, all topped off with my bulky hunting coat. With no more movement, however, I started to cool off quickly.

I turned to my dad and whispered through my chatters, “D-d-d-did you kn-kn-kn-know sh-sh-shivering is your b-b-b-b-ody’s way of st-st-st-st-staying warm?”

Without taking his eyes off the valley below, and without missing a beat, Dad whispered back, “So is wearing more layers.” Steam rolled out of my mouth as I let out a silent laugh. Easy for him to say.

We made a lot of memories hunting together. I never did get my elk. For the record, I would have field dressed it…

The thrill of the hunt was enough to get me out there, but that time with Dad was worth every unfilled elk tag. I live 700 miles away from Dad now. There are no early morning hunting trips together. No fits of laughter on the hillsides. No lengthy wandering on the hot trail of the herd.

Every year during hunting season, I think about our trips up the mountain. It wasn’t warranted, but I’m glad I put the extra pressure on myself to do those “manly” things. It turns out I’m a far better cook than I am a huntress, but I wouldn’t trade those little adventures in the big woods for any kind of fancy shoes or manicures.

I do really want some elk steaks now, however…

It Was Just Yesterday…

The other night, I was up too late and trying to get things done and relax at the same time. Every night I try this, and every night I fail. Things end up unfinished and relaxing doesn’t happen because I’m left thinking about what needs to be done instead. I know if I would just take care of things and then relax, I would enjoy both so much more. Yet I continue to try to mix the two…

After wasting time trying to productively relax, I got off my duff and set out to complete one essential task. Little Miss had a picnic to attend the next day and had given me specific orders before being tucked in about what she wanted to entertain her palate with the next day at lunch. She had been in bed for quite some time and I felt I had procrastinated long enough. I snuck back into her room to retrieve the lunchbox we haven’t had occasion to use yet.

I went back to the kitchen and meticulously crafted her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut just the way she likes it. I put fresh cherries and blueberries in a baggie, and loaded up some of her favorite goldfish crackers. It was fun, making her lunch. It’s the simple pleasures of motherhood that make me feel as if I have superhuman powers. As I was enjoying this task, I was struck by the realization this will soon be my life. Before I know it, I’ll be packing her lunch every night, balancing the compromise between giving her foods she both likes and needs.

Using one of her glitter markers, I wrote a little note on a post-it and stuck it inside her lunch box. I zipped it up, stuck it in the fridge, and felt proud of myself for this monumental “mom moment”. Then these old eyes of mine started to leak a little.

The thing is, it was just yesterday I was mashing bananas and strawberries to feed her in her high chair. It was only yesterday I was bathing her in the kitchen sink, and reading “Ladybug Girl” a bajillion times in a row. It was just yesterday I was watching her play on her floor gym, captivated by the linking rings. It was just yesterday I went in to pull her from her crib in the morning and hear her say “rocking chair” so we could snuggle together before the day began.

And now I’m making her lunch. And she feeds herself (and takes for. ev. er. to eat) and she insists on washing herself in the bath. She reads to herself, while only occasionally asking for help with a word. She jumps off furniture and tackles playground jungle gyms. She tucks herself in and comes to wake me up in the morning, inquiring as to the plans of the day she’s excited to begin.

Tomorrow we’re going to tour her college campus. Pick out her wedding dress. I’m watching the grandkids.

There are days that have drug on slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through molasses. Days when I can’t wait for Daddy to come home so I can mentally check out from this mommyhood business. There are days I pray for Jesus to come back if for no other reason than I don’t want to have to hear the Frozen soundtrack one more time.

Then there are days I make my daughter’s lunch and wonder where the last five years went.

It seemed like such a simple thing, to make my daughter’s lunch the night before a picnic, but there’s never been a lunchbox so heavy as the one I placed in the fridge that night. It carried more than a few choice morsels of food. It carried years of precious memories, bundles of future hopes, and an overflow of motherly gratitude.

It was just yesterday