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boundary waters canoeQuite early this beautiful morning Gabe and I flew into the sunrise toward DIA, racing the clock to catch the plane. My youngest at fifteen has never flown alone until today. After two planes, one long delay, one two hour bus ride and one another, he is now officially off the grid. Tonight my younger son sleeps under the stars on an Outward Bound Heroic Journey with twenty-five other grieving teens in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area outside of Ely, Minnesota. I don’t even remember a time when he’s been out of ear shot, or text range. When I got the email, “Well, they’re off, and we usually don’t hear from them during the week, so… just relax and we’ll see you on Sunday”, my immediate response was a sense of relief he’d arrived safely. Hours later, there’s been no “what’s for dinner?” bounding up the stairs, no eye roll when I answer and, knowing that it will be that way for a week, it suddenly feels so different than when he’s at a friend’s.

Absence rings through the night air as I sink into the idea that he is officially off the grid. How strange in this modern day to have your child out there in the big wide world without an electronic tether. I wonder if he’s homesick, if he’s scared, and I don’t know if that’s out of my deep concern or a deeper sense of wanting to be missed. I worry and hope he’s warm, dry and has a belly full. I smile because he’ll learn to read a compass, and I’ll learn to navigate my way by the heavens. I take a moment to feel the space between us, the silence, and I know this is something I’ll have to get used to.launch

I’m practicing, feeling the fullness in the emptiness. Last week the cat came home after three days, very sick, and he went off again to spend three days at the vet. The house was not the same without him. This week is Gabriel’s turn for a solo adventure (god I hope it’s better than the cat’s) and the house is not the same without him, either. Spring has been a time of adjustment as we lean into the first year of life without their father, Dane. But change comes bearing unseen gifts, and broken hearts can be open hearts. Softer.
This is the stepping off place, the launch pad where he blasts into the world and I am earthbound on my own wilderness adventure, canoeing through the unfamiliar waters and portaging over time. Somewhere out there in this great big world lays my baby boy, drifting to sleep to the lullaby of mosquitoes buzzing. We’ll both make adjustments this week, and learn more than we can remember. But my, won’t we have good stories?

Sunday morning and the boys are still in bed. That’s good. Eventually they’ll raise their sleepy heads and realize it is Father’s Day with their dad no where in sight. I never wanted to be a father; being a mother is challenging (and rewarding) enough, thank you. I hold the roll in high regard and though I am a very capable woman, that job is completely beyond my ken. Today we honor the men who made our existence possible, trace their footsteps and the imprint they’ve made on our lives, I’m drawn to reflect on my father and on the father of my children.
My dad was a child of the Depression, my ex, a depressive. Dad stayed. Whether it was influenced by his own father’s absence during World War I or because doing what you said you were going to do is one of the defining characteristics of “The Greatest Generation”, I don’t know. But like getting up early on Saturday to mow the lawn, sweep the pool and wash the car, raising your children was just what you did; non-negotiable. Although they did eventually divorce, my parents waited until I, the youngest, was out of school and ready to fly. Well, ready to test my wings at least. My relationship with my father has provided some deep and lasting benefits and I’ve learned from his wisdom and his foibles alike. He worked in the movie business; animation, optical illusions & special effects at one point in his career. He’d tell me how a TV Jeannie got into the bottle or how Mr. Limpet stayed out of the drain, and the knowing took a little magic out of the movie, but it also taught me things aren’t always what they seemed. He drummed a few choice phrases into my head: “Life is always going to have it’s problems, Trace. Become a master at solving them.” and his perpetual query, “How’s your attitude?”. At one time I found this annoying, now I find myself beating the same drum into my sixteen-year-old’s cerebral cortex. Bob taught me to show up and stay in the game.

I logged into Facebook this morning and scrolled through the tomes to fathers, living and dead, I saw generous shout outs to mothers who played both roles and I wanted to post “Happy Fathers Day, especially to those who stayed in the game” choosing otherwise, for fear the lack of context might tip the post to the realm of the critical & bitter. I am neither and work very hard not to be. The vagaries of life being what they are, I’m not sure I ever truly believed that marriage lasts forever, but I do think parenthood ought to.
It is difficult to conceive of fathering by phone. How does that work? I know far too many single mothers with the same story of inconsistent or non-existent fathers, and I’m sure there are stories that work the other way from the male perspective. Life is hard, yes, but barring a situation where safety is involved, families work things out and remain families long after marriages end, or end and begin again. That was my belief, that schedules, finances and responsibilities are negotiated so that children don’t become the detritus of a once happy union. I can’t imagine, (though at times I do admit I fantasize) choosing a life without my sons; moving to Paris, trekking in Nepal or slugging it out on the streets of Manhattan as if what came before had never happened. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all muddle along doing the best we can, but do we really? Can’t we always do better? I think we can. Even under duress, I know I can. Because that is what my father taught me… Happy Father’s Day.