Friday, September 17, 2010

Birthday Reflections

Yes, it is today, 17 September, on which I celebrate my own life and that of my father. I was born on his 38th birthday and I like to say that I am the present that kept on taking. However "receiving" may be a better word than "taking". I have been contemplating my life in comparison to my father's since I turned 38 - er - 29 for the 9th time. Today he is celebrating his 56th 29th birthday - though I swear he isn't a day over 25.

I cannot do justice to my father's influence on my life in this space. (Keep in mind that this is my personal reflection and does not necessarily constitute objective reality or truth.)
It has been said that every boy's journey to becoming a man must be guided by a man. While I have a few excellent male role models, the most prominent is my father.

First let me be a myth buster... (Sorry Dad) as much as it pains me to say it, I don't have a perfect father. I am sure there are many stories to this end, but that isn't the point now, is it? Rather let me explore the positive.

"Do what you love and do your best doing it."
"Believe something and live it."
"Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do."
These are the three most common principles I have taken - sorry -received - from my father. He has been my moral compass.

November 1983, on Mt Jefferson in New Hampshire
He made every effort to provide us a loving home environment where his children knew they were loved. He gave us hugs until we no longer wanted them and received them willingly when we were ready to give them.

Though he didn't see combat, WWII loomed in front of him while at Luke AFB in 1944. He was 20 years old when he married my 18 year-old future mother. He stopped smoking - cold turkey as I understand it - at around age 34 or 35 when my eldest brother started playing with his cigarettes. He went camping for the first time at the age of 40 in part to connect us to nature. At the age of 46 or 47 he went to Ecuador for business. He worked to instill in us the value of money, saving, and investing. I remember being given an allowance for trips with the freedom to spend it on anything at any time, but I would receive no more money for the trip. Ingenious really. What a way to shut the kids up from begging for more while getting us to experience choices and the consequences of those choices.

Paul K Guillow Inc.
As I recall I was an expressive child and rather abstract. I could (and still do) entertain myself while apparently doing nothing. Dreams do not need any sense of reality - all things are possible. So when his namesake and darling youngest child stated his plan to have a flying sled business my father didn't say "What are you nuts?! Sleds don't fly" or in any other way suggest or imply that I was stupid, naive, or crazy. No. Instead he simply asked me to come up with how much I wanted to pay my employees and how much I would charge my clients.

His purchases nearly always reflected practical values. I grew up with station wagons and a van. When he became the President of PK Guillow's the story goes that he received many calls - one from a car salesman who, in trying to get him to purchase an expensive car, but meeting a wall, inquired, "What was the last car you purchased?" To which my father replied (with great joy I believe), "A Chevy Chevette." That was the car in which I learned to drive.

The homestead and our modes of travel
I purchased my first car and my father and I drove it across the country to Oregon. Regardless of which of us drove we made good time (and I KNOW I drove well over the speed limit). I do recall it was on that trip that I woke to him tailgating a semi truck at 70 something mph. "ACK! What are you doing?" I shrieked. "Getting great gas mileage." I don't think I ever exceeded the mileage of that tankful. It was also the last time I easily slept in a moving vehicle.

Canoeing and Camping adventures
In many camping trips, hikes, canoe trips, dreams explored and left behind, adventures in the city and country he has been a willing participant. Perhaps more than that, he engaged willingly in my explorations of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. We have spent many an hour discussing politics, religion, values, culture, Americana, and so on. Agreeing on the details wasn't the point - it was the process itself and the conclusion of maybe only slightly better understanding the other that was more important.

Camping, mud, & hot drinks
I have been ugly and unpleasent. I have hurt others because I left the principles by the wayside. I have not always lived by the principles instilled by my father. But his imprint is firm and strong. The three principles stand as guardians of my thoughts and actions. I have no excuse when I ignore them. The lessons of childhood are ever close. I am renewed in my spirit with wilderness encounters. Dad, from the bottom of my heart I thank you.

In my travels around the globe I have come to realize I have - thus far - lived a relatively charmed life. I have explored many countries, hiked hundreds of miles of trails, backpacked and canoed through incredible country. I have shared my life with incredibly wonderful people - all shapes, sizes, beliefs, conceptions, and abilities. The appreciation I have of the richness of the human tapestry was fostered by your welcoming others even when you didn't understand them or their choices.
Dad, happy birthday to you. I appreciate and thank you for expressing your love in action. Indeed what I am trying to say is I love you too.

Married Oct 1945