Losing a loved one offers an opportunity for profound reflection. My dad died from brain cancer a year ago today. As you may know, grief is a wild ride of emotions, acute physical sensations (read: heartache), and deep personal contemplation.
Losing a parent brings up questions around how childhood impacts adulthood. How did I get to be who I am? With my father’s death, I’ve been contemplating what he passed along to me. Blue eyes, the knack for list making, and values embedded in adages such as “stop and smell the roses.”
The love of nature and the outdoors is NOT on that list. Yet, my desire to spend time outdoors, especially with my children, is clearly linked to him.
A Child of the 70s
We weren’t an “outdoor family.” We didn’t camp. We didn’t ski. We didn’t hike. I vaguely recall two outdoor family memories: once going to Pelican Lake together and pulling leeches out from between my toes and once going to Itasca State Park and picking dozens of wood ticks off our dog.
Not positive memories.
I did, however, spend my childhood outdoors. I grew up a few miles outside of Fargo, ND surrounded by acres of sugar beet and wheat fields. Our house, along with a handful of others, was nestled along a wooded area of the Red River.
Like most kids of the 70s, my parents kicked us out of the house on summer days. We were free to explore. There were no rules expect to stay away from the river with its dangerous current and come home when the garage light was turned on at bedtime.
We were free to roam. And roam we did. We played kick-the-can at dark across the entire neighborhood, stomped in the mucky stream at the “clay mine”, biked to the “settling ponds” where Fargo’s sewer water stood, and built snow forts with elaborate tunnel systems in the winter.
No doubt this time impacted who I am today and what I love to do. But it alone did not make me a lover of outdoor exploration.
The Role of My Not-So-Outdoorsy Dad
The few clear memories I have of my dad outside are of him mowing our 3-acres lawn on a riding lawn mower and him playing catch with me every night after dinner in the front yard. I can still hear myself calling, “Throw me a pop fly, Dad.”
But my dad was a traveler. He loved to learn, see new places, meet new people, and try different foods. He loved the whole experience of traveling, whether domestic or international. He visited all 50 states and nearly 70 countries.
Before I was born, he was a helicopter pilot for the Air Force, flying all over the world for his missions (my brother eloquently summarizes my dad’s life in his obituary). Then came family road trips across the country and several father-daughter trips to New Orleans, Niagara Falls and his hometown of Ayer, Massachusetts.
Once grandkids arrived, he embarked on “Grampy Trips” to places like Greece, Ireland, Japan, Texas (chosen by Daley at 5 years old), and the Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park at Mall of America (for Finley who was just a toddler). His vision to take grandchildren on a trip of their choice was written about in the Fargo Forum .
Even in his dying days, we’d make a “jail break” from the hospital to go for a car ride around town. He was happiest when he was out and about exploring.
The Gift of Exploration
Thus, openness to exploration and new experiences are what my dad passed on to me. He supported every one of my desires to travel overseas, starting with a month-long student exchange to France in high school.
He cheered when I spent a semester abroad in the south of France during college, backpacked throughout Europe for six weeks, worked as an au pair for a French family with four children for a summer, lived and worked in Germany and traveled to 20+ countries with Tim after college for 4 years, performed graduate research in Sweden for four months, and spent two weeks in China on a faculty exchange, among other experiences. Over the years, he signed nearly every letter he wrote to me —and he wrote every day or so for decades— with the mantra, “Travel. Travel. Travel.”
Today, the values of exploration, openness, and adventure manifest in my love of being outdoors as a family. In fact, these values underpin this blog, Outside In Duluth. For me, exploring a new area of Duluth is exciting. You never know what you are going to see, whom you are going to meet, and what you might experience. My dad modeled this openness my entire life.
Passing It On
I still think to reach for the phone to call my dad and share a funny story about my children and our Outside In Duluth adventures. He reveled in the details, asking the perfect follow-up questions and chuckling at just the right moments. I miss him something terrible. Yet, it brings solace to my heart to know his legacy lives in my children when I see their natural generosity, contagious smiles, and zest for exploration and adventure.
What did your parents pass on to you that influences how you raise your children? Share your experiences in the comment box below. Thanks!