Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday.

I wanted to post a photo of him from the 80’s wearing acid-wash jean shorts and sporting the most badass mustache you have ever seen, but I wasn’t sure he would fully appreciate the hilarity of it. But then I remembered that he has photos of himself in drag on his Facebook page. In my Dad’s defense it was for a benefit and he does have the legs to pull off that particular tennis skirt. At any rate, this photo was pre-digital camera and has yet to be scanned so it’s sitting safely in a box in California. Next time, Dad, next time.

My Dad is a journalist. He traveled a lot when I was growing up and whenever possible I would tag along. This proved for some interesting experiences and my Dad has enough stories about me to fill a book. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was his primary source of inspiration for a book he wrote a few years ago titled Camping for Dummies. You’re welcome Dad.

I know I tested his patience levels on a daily basis, but my Dad put up with my quirks pretty well. Or at least he didn’t push me out of the boat when we did a weeklong tour of Yellowstone Lake in a double kayak. (I sort of paddled. Some of the time. ) And he didn’t send me to a psychiatric ward when I tied our yellow Labrador to a cardboard box using shoelaces and told everyone we were training for the Iditarod.

No, my Dad put up with me pretty well. And while he enjoyed teasing me (I once told him, while dancing to the music in the car, that I should be a back-up dancer. To which he responded, "Yeah. Way, way in the back"), he was always the first to stick up for me. 

One experience in particular stands out to me. When I was 12, our next-door neighbor’s son held me down and tried to kiss me. Being the ladylike little girl that I was, I punched him in the face. Not surprisingly, his mother was upset and she stormed across the front yard and up the walkway leading to our house in order to berate my Dad for my violent behavior.

My Dad listened to her quietly, nodding in all the right places and making sympathetic sounds. He let her go on for awhile and while he appeared calm, I could see his jaw clench ever so slightly. When she paused long enough for him to get a word in edgewise, he simply stated, “Your son kissed my daughter against her will. She punched him. I fail to see the problem here.” And with that he shut the door.

For the win, Dad. For the win.

My Dad always encouraged me to write. He was constantly bringing home books for me to read and always had time to glance over the stories I wrote about a little girl and the pony she received for Christmas. HINT HINT, Dad. My Dad is also a sucker for a good story. He completed the Eco-Challenge—one of the world’s most difficult and notorious adventure races—just for the story (now you know where I get it from...). The picture I had of him in my room growing up was from this race. He looks emaciated and haggard, but he’s smiling. I love this picture. Sure, it’s not the most flattering photo, but it sums up my Dad. The worse the situation is, the bigger his smile seems to be. I think he might be insane. Unfortunately it appears to be hereditary.

Take this situation, for example. 

One of our father-daughter trips was a weekend backpacking trip in California's Point Reyes National Seashore. It was cold and wet, I had blisters and bruised muscles, and we were testing out some backpacking meals that tasted like soggy cardboard with peas and carrots. 

Dad: Isn’t this great?
Me: No.
Dad: I love being outside.
Me: I have hypothermia.
Dad: This weather is so refreshing.
Me: I have blisters.
Dad: There’s some duct tape in the First Aid Kit.
Me: My backpack is heavy.
Dad: How many goldfish crackers do you think I can fit in my mouth at one time?

(37. In case you were wondering.)

It was during these sorts of father-daughter trips that my Dad also taught me some pretty important lessons:
  1. Don’t pick the M&Ms out of the trail mix. Seriously. Don’t do it.
  2. Duct tape is really effective for blister prevention everything.
  3. This is poison oak. Don’t touch it. (I touched it).
  4. This is a cactus. Don’t touch it. (I touched it).
  5. Kodiak bears and big boulders look surprisingly similar in the fog. Step carefully or bring enough salmon to share.
  6. Peeing outside in the middle of the woods is acceptable. Peeing outside in the downtown area of one of California's largest cities is not.
  7. Some stuff about navigation. (My Dad is a navigation expert. I take after my Mom in this department, but my Dad did try.)

My Dad also helped me develop a sense of humor, and taught me not to take myself too seriously. If you can learn to laugh at yourself, you'll always be laughing, he told me. I'd like to say that he was making generalizations about humanity with that statement, but I think he was specifically referencing me. 

My Dad demonstrated to me daily the qualities and actions that comprise a good man and in doing so, he created a strong woman. Who..cries at Disney movies. Ok, bad example. Maybe I'm not strong in the sense that I cry when the Beast dies and Belle says she loves him, and that I get scared when I have to cycle up or down Alpe d'Huez, and that I sometimes make whimpering sounds when I'm trying to scrape down the mountain on skis after British guy.

Alright, fine. So I'm not a textbook case of a strong woman.

But my Dad's life and his actions have demonstrated to me the importance of putting yourself out there. I'm not anything spectacular, and I'm certainly not especially brave. Running up Toubkal, camel treks through Jordanfacing down rabid coyotes in the Negev, learning to ski as an adult, cycling down Alpe d'Huez, and all those other insane adventures I've had the pleasure to experience have not resulted from any special characteristic I was born with. Certainly not from bravery or athletic prowess. They resulted from my Dad taking the time to share his adventures with me whether by letting me tag along or sharing his stories with me after the fact. 

His adventures demonstrated to me that if you never risk being afraid, messing up, or making an idiot of yourself , you'll risk not living. And, in the words of Thoreau (whose works my Dad read to me at an early age), you might face your death with the realization that you have not lived.

My Dad encouraged me to take "the road less traveled and that has made all the difference." Sure it's cliché, but it's true. 

Thanks, Dad. I love you. And Happy Birthday.


Starlight said...

Ohhh, what a nice blog. Your Dad sounds like the best Dad in the world, you're lucky to have him.
And happy birthday to your Dad :)

canoelover said...

He is one of the best. You're a blessed young woman.

Michael said...

To every daughter and son around the world...THIS is the best kind of present you can ever give your Dad or Mum. Nikki...thank you for all you have taught me. Things like, fathers are never prepared to take their daughters shopping for their first bra...thank God for the matronly clerk who saved you and said to me, "why don't you sit down over here dear and I'll help your daughter." And complete truth...I am always smiling because having a daughter like you gives me so much happiness...well, that and the the knowledge that you're likely to do something every day that will have me rolling around on the floor laughing. I heard this truism once...tragedy + time = comedy. You are the shining example of living life to its fullest every day. And along the path your adventurous spirit leads, you are finding kernels of wisdom and laughter in all you experience to share with the world. I could not be prouder. Love, Dad

Shopgirl said...

Wonderful writing, I too have a dad who encouraged me to write all my life - wish I had listened long ago. I was thinking (with economy and all, and dad never liked me to spend money), to do something similar for Christmas last night, and here I come across your blog this morning. Fate, love it.

weather said...

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Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post, Nikki!

Optional Mini Bus Charter said...

This post is a fitting tribute from a loving daughter for her Dad on his birthday.

Anonymous said...

Way to go N. You absolutely showed the incredible soul of your father. I miss him. I also miss him talking about you ALL the time. Congrats and good luck on all your adventures.


bagni said...

lovely post...... ::))

Lisa said...

Your dad sounds fantastic. This must have been a wonderful gift for him.

Nikki Hodgson said...

Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments! :) They all made me smile. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. My Dad is amazing and I'm lucky to have him in my life.

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