With Mothers Day safely distant and Lance’s uplifting “Mothers and Wives” well digested, I can now tell this story.
It’s a week old, but my smile and the twinkle on my heart lingers. It’s a short story with a long ending, a Legacy Dad’s future ending. The players are Matt (dad), Taylor (son), and Steve (friend, burly professional outdoor instructor). This time Legacy Grand Dad (Gary) is but the remote scribe...but he was “there”.
Taylor is now 12years + 4 weeks. Yes, that week thing is important. Remember, he’s in his Year of Passage, his “manhood year.” Behind him already are his birthday hunting rifle (Dad’s money), a scope (his and Grand Dad’s money), an overnight, a couple of now regular Tuesday morning father-son breakfasts, a long mountain bike trek and a couple of seven mile runs (after which Dad passes out, Taylor does chores).
Utah’s a great place to raise kids, boys especially. Guess that’s why there’s so many of ‘em in Utah. The wonderland of Moab and Arches National Park is only a couple hours away. So, off they went, the three of them, bolting first out the church doors (usually the last of the chit-chatters), Mom and four siblings behind to make their way home with a fresh inch of snow on the roads.
Back story: Taylor is a spectacle-wearing brainiac (I claim the DNA source). Though he’s homeschooled, he’d be called “scrawny” by school bullies…until they see him wrestle. Great kid, excellent student, mostly good oldest brother, a real birth order oldest. He herds cattle, rides mountain bikes, hikes with family, that sorta stuff; hey, it’s Utah.
Late afternoon with majestic formations ready to take on their unforgettable sunset glow, the two men and the boy-becoming-man make camp hastily and pull out the climbing gear. This was not Taylor’s first equipped climb (the first one was ice climbing; in itself memorable). But , it was his first serious and guided climb; super-challenging . Hey, his mentors were pro wilderness and recreational therapists for a residential ranch.
Then comes Dad’s surprise. Two big guys and one little one were off, heading to a popular climbers’ prize face, a huge multi-faceted, multi-colored bluff (they called it, “Steep Stuff Bluff”). Up, up, and away; two supermen and a boy. This is where Dad’s telling of it takes on the rich overtones of one of those forever family stories. He climbed well and, strangely, the only one whose breath was not echoing off canyon walls. Tail-end Charley, Taylor was left to pull the pitons and anchors, safely rigged in the line. The big boys got themselves in a dead end crevice. Dang. As they re-routed (“backed down” doesn’t sound right, they were pros), Taylor headed off sideways to a new route. Dad and Steve froze. Not in fear, but in wonder. Taylor was making his way, precariously but safely, along the thin slice of sandstone protrusion using a technical move that actually had a name. Taylor didn’t know the name, but he had the move instinctively. It required high levels of “clever,” focus, determination, experience, limberness, and strength. Hand over hand, foot to knob, Taylor guided the guides to the top of “Steep Stuff”.
Dad and Steve knew boys; they’re pros. This one amazed them. “Scrawny” had become a little giant of a man. Racing the Sun’s fading glow down had less instruction than affirmation for the pair and their charge. Camp fire and a climber’s snack couldn’t come soon enough.
Next morning’s burritos in town was more like three men hanging out. The day ahead had a ten-mile mountain bike trek on tap. This is not ride around Central Park. It’s man-stuff; gullies, foothills, slot canyons, river beds, way up, way down. Half way, with five miles back to camp Taylor, calling a halt while he pulled cactus needles from his legs (breaking new trails always has risks), wondered if it was possible to make it back to camp and do a little more climbing.
Sometimes it will be the smallest comment midst a big adventure that brands a marker in our memories. I wasn’t there. Dad recited the conversation as if he were painting a mural. Bikes back in the truck, equipment out and re-rigged, the three found their way to the base of yet another challenging rock face. Taylor stepped back to let one of the big guys start up. “Hey there, big guy, you’ve earned your spot. You lead the way and I’ll follow my instructor.” That was burly Steve.
The story winds down as the men pack the truck for the return, but Dad describes the scene with his surprise and his pride still fresh. “Hey, Dad, this sleeping bag goes here, and I think the back pack will fit under the cooler.” The young man, now fully part of the team, has stepped up without permission to take charge of one small part of the world.
There’s a Legacy Dad idea we can all take away and ponder. Like they do us, we too oft take our children for granted. We have real lives as we work and socialize outside their view. The venture with Taylor outside the customary home setting (you know, chores, school work, family meals, outings), gave Matt a chance to see a son forming as man, a future Legacy Dad, in setting unconfined by routine. A wild man after God’s own creative heart was being honed in a way that won’t materialize behind the lawn mower. The imprint of the Passage was already deep…and it was not just on the son.