A Short Father’s Day Story.
They woke us at daybreak from what little warmth our lightweight nylon tent provided, promising what was about to occur would be worth the wake.
It was to be the thrill of a lifetime for little boys like us. In a few minutes, we would experience the climax event of our fifty mile summer backpacking trip through the high sierras at the hands of fathers who always made life fun if not memorable. What could possibly be so exciting at daybreak above the timber line, halfway into two weeks where we’d seen no one but each other on the trail the entire time?
But they promised. And all three dads were looking to the sky, grinning in anticipation.
We were their young men. They thought we were unaware of the flasks stowed in their backpacks for times like this and the fact they were already drinking at 6am underscored its importance. We had spent the last eight days in blistered boots and full packs across grueling snowy switchbacks on summer vacation to arrive here. Along the way, they’d taught us how to fall in creeks, fall in love with mountains and mornings, though we’d fallen asleep early the night before exhausted after a dinner of freeze dried somethings.
But now we were awake and it better be worth it. Out in the cold at 8,500 feet, Thousand Island Lake’s shimmering surface stretched out before us reflecting the morning sun and the majesty of Banner Peak glowed rising like a blazing orange God on the horizon. Even for 12 year olds, it was a breathtaking view. Behind us were the many miles during which time we’d been becoming men, having traveled together to this glorious elevation together seeing no other soul for miles or days.
Irritated at the surprise awakening, too young for coffee and too cold for Tang this early, still, we stood there with frosted breath in the morning air, gazing up as men, awed and beholden by the beauty.
And then…far behind us beyond the horizon and what seemed miles away on fast approach, we heard it. Three grinning dads glanced our way, sipped their scotch and coffee and returned gazes upward as if anticipating the second coming of Christ right there in our midst. We were increasingly awake, a huddled group of little boys, alarmed at what we were hearing but strangely comforted by the smiles of our dads. A loud rumble at first, it gained deafening high frequency and intensified our way. I feared a bomb or a meteor shot from space and we were all to be sacrificed at ground zero in the woods.
From behind, the lake surface shook violently, we vibrated, and with hardly enough time to turn to look, the F-15 fighter jet raced in front of our team across the surface of the lake and trajected perpendicular up the face of Banner Peak right before our eyes. And as quickly as the deafening noise broke the silence, it disappeared and faded into the rays of the blue sky. In unison, our breath gasped.
We weren’t quite sure what we’d just experienced but something had flown into our lake valley and disappeared as quickly over the mountain ahead. It was an incredible sense of awe as if God himself had paid us a very loud and spectacular morning welcome.
Our three dads had made prior arrangement with a family friend on a fighter pilot cruise for a surprise fly by that very morning in this most unlikely of places.
A rite of passage, that morning, we became men.
If we’re not careful, the frenzy of young life can steal from us the most lasting of all gifts. Memories of our childhood, recollections of times past when we were young, innocent and impressionable. Times when big things happened that made us marvel at the hands of fathers who wanted nothing more than to see our surprised faces and smiles.
For older men, nostalgia is a wonderful gift. It entertains, it brings stories of joy and takes us to simpler times and nearly forgotten experiences with people who now only exist in our ability to remember them as they once were.
We have all lost our dads since, but will never lose the memories they made for me as little boys. They are wonderful gifts that give forever and make me smile like a twelve year old even now.
Though it was like a Christmas morning in July. I’ve carried this memory all year long every year since.