The Legacies of Our Fathers

Funny, really, how for so long I saw myself as a unique guy, benefiting from the lessons of my father, The Old Man, but (Heaven Forbid!) not like him at all. And then one day I did something – or thought something – that took me by surprise. Bit by bit, moment by moment, it dawned on me that The Old Man was alive and well in my mind and heart and habits.

At a recent celebration of Law and Justice Department students, colleague Roger Schaefer and I were discussing work ethic and a determination to earn a place on the planet. We noted that our fathers had handed those to us. …And how we had accepted them without even realizing we had done so.

That conversation brought me back to my adaptation of Upper County Jodi Larsen’s homily to the future – we must remember that children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see, and send with them those things we wish to have carried forward.

Somehow, of course, our mothers and fathers (and us too as we become parents along that life-cycle continuum) intuitively know this. Still, it catches us by surprise, I think. At this time each year, we take a moment to consider the roles of our fathers – and where they are in us.

From time to time, I lapse into thinking about various struggles – mostly over priorities – I had with my father and various father figures. Over time, I came to understand why our priorities seemed so different and at odds. Eventually, those seemingly-insurmountable differences in priorities didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

One of my all-time favorite men was Edward Bossert, a former father-in-law and namesake for youngest son Edward, the last of the Hucklings. How that man loved the outdoors.

Edward generally liked my stories, but he took exception to one of the early ones in my Colorado newspaper column – one about priorities. In that particular column, I was encouraging people to put time outdoors building memories near the top of their priority lists, with work somewhere near the bottom.

His problem was that, as the superintendent of a school district, he was the one who ended up dealing with getting the job done when some guy took off hunting or fishing instead of working.  It had to be a source of conflict for Edward – he talked about how he envied them at times – but he had work agreements to keep.

I loved hearing Edward talk about his own father and how he grew up loving to be outside. Like all real outdoor folks, he was a pretty good philosopher. After he passed on, I started thinking about how I came to the decisions I had made about my own father.

The Old Man lost his father when he was eleven years old. He finished fifth grade and took on responsibility for helping his mother and kid sister stay fed and housed during the Great Depression. I guess he learned early on about the value of having and honoring a job and a home. Somewhere in there, he forgot how to have fun. That made it almost impossible for me to get him to come play.

He seemed to take life pretty seriously. I decided at an early age that The Old Man didn’t really like to hunt and fish. I even concluded at one point (I was about seven I guess) that I’d never learn to hunt with him as a father. He had just taken away my Daisy BB gun, and blistered my butt for shooting a sparrow. As I recall, I’d made a long stalk and a successful shot on that little bird, and I was very proud of remembering my Indian training. On the other hand, as the Old Man pointed out between swats, I’d forgotten Rule No. 1: “We don’t kill anything that we don’t intend to eat.”

Eventually, I figured out that he deeply loved the time he spent afield, he just let the importance of work push hunting and fishing down his list. While I had occasional glimpses of how deeply it affected him to have to choose work and chores over hunting or fishing, he always chose work.

Years later, we would start planning family outdoor trips a year or more in advance. Whether it was a salmon fishing trip to Ilwaco, a deer hunt in Colorado or antelope in Wyoming, he let nothing get in the way. He’d finally found a balance – a way to play and still honor his job.

I have rarely let work or other responsibilities get in the way of outdoor time. Yet I find it nearly impossible to head out without first being certain that responsibilities to work and other agreements have been managed. It seems rare these days to make a decision or do a job without a pretty clear sense of how my father might have handled it. At those moments, I have to smile; I’m sure The Old Man is looking down and laughing. Somehow, it seems just the way it should be.

Take a moment this weekend to tell your father what he means to you and all the ways you find him in your mind, heart and habits. If he can’t be reached on this Earth plane, send a prayer.

Happy Father’s Day, wherever you are on that continuum.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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