Setting a tradition

. August 13, 2012.

“Hello, daddy.” It was the small, high-pitched voice of my daughter coming through my cell phone as I was driving.

“Hi, Elizabeth. How are you this morning?” I had left the house before she woke up. Hearing her voice raised all kinds of thoughts and emotions. Particularly, the need for a good explanation of why I’d left for a trip to begin with.

“Good. How are you?” 

“I am doing fine. I’m driving right now,” I explained. “I am so happy to hear from you. Are you ready for school?”

“Yes. I miss you.” Ouch. Those three words are a vacationing dad’s kryptonite. I missed her too.

I was headed out on an annual trip to the Appalachian Trail. My friend Brian and I have been hiking since we were in college and, with some interludes, have made a tradition out of our hobby with an annual trek. This year would be a seven-day adventure in southern Virginia. I was looking forward to the trip because I would get away from the office, and it was a small fulfillment of a dream to complete the entire Appalachian Trail. But at the same time I was dreading it, because it meant so much time away from my family.

As I was driving and remembering my daughter’s voice I asked myself: how is my enjoying a hiking trip a benefit to my children? My dilemma is obviously not as difficult as what other fathers have to go through. Fathers have to leave for military service, travel for jobs, and are separated because of divorce. My separation was voluntary, but created a dissonance. 

I needed a reason beyond my own happiness — I wanted to know my time away would benefit my family in some indirect way. I found what I was seeking through the brief passersby and locales on the trail — two sisters, a father and son, and a community long abandoned. 

The two sisters, traveling the trail together, were completing a dream that had begun over forty years before. They had started hiking with their parents, and continued when they were adults, attempting to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. But that attempt ended in central Virginia. Husbands, children and life got in the way of going back again. Now in their early sixties, they were still hiking, again trying to conquer the more than 2,000 miles of trail.  

The father and son were continuing a tradition started when the son was just a boy. Now he was married and still hiking with his dad. This sport was the bond between the two and kept their relationship alive. Anyone who knows the ebbs and flows of fathers and sons can understand that this is an accomplishment.

The long-abandoned community was a settlement of freed slaves who lived along a creek near the base of a mountain. Though nature had now reclaimed most of the property, the community was still alive in the stories and remembrances of those who once lived there.

So how do these three interconnect? The sisters taught me that a lifetime dream is something to be pursued, and although family can cause roadblocks to that dream, they can also help facilitate it. The father and son taught me that things important to us are worth sharing with our children, and that giving them dreams to pursue is not the same as making them live out our dreams. The abandoned community taught me that traditions and family heritage are something we create every day through what we do, much more than what we say.   

So I did find some value in my trip for my children. They know that hiking is important to me; they know that I have a dream and am pursuing it; and they may want to involve themselves in that dream when they are able. I think they will also know that the reciprocal is true: I will help them pursue their dreams. In the end that is what family is all about — helping and supporting each other as we travel along the path of life.  Sometimes that path may involve carrying a backpack, both literally and figuratively.