I’ve graduated from university now. Dad has led me to the summits of Rainier and Hood by this time. I’ve seen deep blue crevasses and the castle-like suncups that form on glaciers; smelled the sulphur of volcanoes, and the ozone of high altitudes. Today, though, Dad and I are on a simple hike up to the top of Salushkin Falls.
We find a place to settle together in the heather meadows and pull out our sandwiches. We sit for a while in companionable silence. Then Dad asks me if there’s any song that inspires me. I think about this for a moment. The first Star Wars movie has just come out, and I tell Dad that the Star Wars theme song inspires me. I ask Dad what song inspires him, and he says, without hesitation, “The Lone Prairie.”
I am surprised by this. I was expecting him to name some song of the mountains maybe – Dad is a well-known mountaineer, after all, and at the moment we’re sitting on the slopes of Rainier.
Intrigued, I ask Dad to sing “The Lone Prairie” for me, and he does – in the same way a young boy might sing to his mother – without artifice or showmanship. It is a sweet moment.
“Oh carry me back to the lone prairie Where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free And when I die you can bury me Neath the western skies on the lone prairie… “
(Here’s a photo of Dad on me on Sauk Mountain. Circa 2000.)
It is Father’s Day – and it is also my dad’s 102nd birthday – a double whammy. When Dad was 99 and lying in a hospital bed with a UTI, angry that he wasn’t being allowed to leave, he announced to my husband and me that he was “going to live to be 102!”
He almost made it, too. He died January 19th of this year – just five months short of his goal.
A lot has happened in those five months. If my dad were suddenly to reappear here today and look around at what’s happened to our world in the last five months I’m not sure what he’d make of it all. I know he’d be celebrating some of it – I know he’d support the Black Lives Matter movement and be glad to see the progress that is being made towards equality for all people. He’d probably be baffled to see everyone walking around in face masks – but I think he’d like the smiley face on mine. 🙂 He might be frustrated by the way elderly folks are being isolated from the community and he probably wouldn’t like not being able to have a lot of visitors. But – as he always managed to do – he’d make the best of the circumstances – he’d rejoice in the good, patiently wait for the bad stuff to pass, and remain hopeful about the future. He was born at the end of WWI and the beginning of the Spanish Flu pandemic; survived the Great Depression and service in WWII; and survived 10 days in a small tent in a blizzard at 25,000′ on K2 – he wouldn’t be daunted by 2020. Pffft.
My dad, Dee Molenaar, had a full and wonderful 101 years and seven months. He saw his share of tragedies, but he also saw his share of triumphs.
I miss him. As I look at the photo of him, standing next to my mother on their wedding day, I feel him with me. I feel them both with me. Giving me courage. Telling me it’s all going to be alright. We’ll make it through this.
I’m sitting here on Father’s Day Eve, filled with gratitude for the fathers in my life. I’m grateful for my own father – who encouraged me to learn and create and travel and be brave and push my body to climb mountains – and set an example with his own life. I’m grateful to my sons’ father – my husband – my partner in parenting – the sons’ coach, teacher, mentor, protector.
My first memory features Dad. I was two years-old. I took one step too many in the local swimming hole and went in over my head. I remember trying to walk back up to the shore, but my feet wouldn’t move me forward. I opened my mouth to scream, but I was under water and no sound came out. A minute more and I might not be here. But Dad had seen me go under, and came out to get me. He yanked me out of the water by my pony tails and brought me back safely to terra firma.
My husband performed a similar act of heroism with our eldest son. We were visiting a friend who had a swimming pool that she’d turned into a koi pond. One minute our three year-old was standing at the edge of the pool, the next minute we heard a splash and he was gone. The pool was murky and deep, but my husband was quick thinking, and reached straight down into the pond, found our son, and yanked him out of there. He is my hero.
A happy Father’s Day to all the heroes out there who protect, and provide for, and cultivate the good in, their children. You rock!
Photo of husband and sons. Lincoln City, OR. Circa 1995.
Tomorrow will not only be Father’s Day, it will be my dad’s 97th birthday. My dad, Dee Molenaar, has lived a most amazing 97 years. He was born at the end of World War I, was alive when women got the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, saw men walk on the moon, and teared-up with pride for his country the night the first African-American was elected President. He has traveled on six of the seven continents (the only continent he somehow missed was Africa), climbed on the highest mountains in the world (and, with his climbing team, almost made the first summit of the second tallest one), painted paintings, written books, created maps, had his photos published in National Geographic, and hobnobbed with presidential candidates.
He and Mom are currently in the process of moving out of their home of 48 years. This has involved some down-sizing. Last weekend when I was at their place to help them pack up, Dad gave me the little backpack he’d bought in 1973 for his journey to Europe to climb in the Alps. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to be able to bring that familiar little pack home with me. I always knew I was safe when I was climbing with the man who wore this pack. This is the pack Dad wore to the summit of Rainier when we’d climbed it together in 1977, and the same pack I’d followed up to the top of Mount Baker ten years later. This is the pack Dad wore when he’d taken hikes with my young sons and myself. There are a lot of fond memories attached to that pack.
For now, it is hanging from a hook in our family room. I know it doesn’t have any special magical powers or anything, but somehow just looking at it makes me feel safe.