I worry sometimes about losing sight of you.
Today it’s scenic Borderland State Park, a wooded expanse of trails, trees, ponds, and greenery so lush it should be it’s own Crayola color. The seat belt can barely contain you as we look for a parking space, as your energy has you bouncing in your seat, waiting for the millisecond I put the car in park so you can tear open the door and breathe in the scent of the outdoors. I used to demand you carry your own fishing rod, which you did without complaint. But your running combined with the sheer jubilation of being 6 in a state park is too much to prevent the tip of your rod from hitting the ground. And trees. And other people.
So I am relegated to a status familiar to dads — pack mule. And that’s OK because your smile alleviates every burden.
You’re at the trail map now, sounding out the words and tracing a path to the pond. You don’t enter the woods so much as you explode into them like you are being shot out of a cannon. The cement walkway of the visitor center gives way to a dirt and rock path as the trees and forest envelop us. Soon the crunch of our footsteps on rocks and hard dirt turns to soft thuds, as fallen pine needles pad our steps. You know the rule is stay with dad, so you reluctantly obey. But I see your eyes silently pleading for the sweet release of running on up ahead.
“Go ahead,” I blurt out, smiling and feigning an inconvenience both of us know to be false.
I’m not worried about you getting lost, because you have a good sense of direction and your heart and head will guide you. I’m not worried about you falling down, because you’re resilient and you’ll always pick yourself up no problem. I’m not worried about the ancient tree roots crisscrossing the path, because (even though you don’t yet realize it) there are no obstacles you can’t overcome. I’m not worried about the mud puddles because I can’t stop you from stepping in it from time to time — nor would I want to — and sometimes our missteps turn into our greatest blessings. I don’t want to stop you from going down your chosen path, and I have no ambition to clear it for you or walk in front of you to make it easier.
Before I had kids, my dad thanked me once for making it a point to include him in things and for inviting him to hang out occasionally. I didn’t really give it much thought at the time, but now I see exactly what he meant.
I just hope you’ll actually look back and slow down every once in a while, to let me watch you on your journey. Because as your dad, I genuinely believe it’s going to be a sight to behold. And even though it’s inevitable you’ll disappear around bends and be out of sight for a while, I hope with all my heart you’ll let me catch up and keep you company from time to time.
I worry sometimes about losing sight of you. Because I love being around you so much and (minus your teenage years) I never want that to change. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path, pal. But please don’t forget to look back every now and then.
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