Written by: Erin Bloom Davenport
“You better take a photo of us because I am not wearing this ever again,” I say with a slightly bratty tone that is tinted with endearment. My dad and I have Iowa-style button-up coveralls on to protect us from the winter cold. And my sister is snapping a quick picture of us to commemorate the rare occasion. I am not the farm coverall “type,” but my dad is adamant about showing me his deer tracking camera he has set up on the other side of the property.
Being a vegetarian, I am not excited about the idea of tracking deer, but I am trying to be supportive of my dad’s new hobby. It’s been a few years since he has had any joy in his life. He’s never been the same since he hurt his knee at work. He’s only 52 years old. It’s hard to watch this marathon runner of the past walking with a hobble, a cane, and struggling with his health. Hopefully, me tagging along can add some excitement to his Christmas day. He has the biggest smile, and I am hoping to catch a glimpse of it during our father-daughter bonding time.
Walking into the mudroom, I pull on a pair of my dad’s over-sized rubber boots, and I poke each of my fingers into my gloves. I announce, “I think I have everything!” My dad walks from the kitchen to join me and opens the creaky screen door.
Outside, the sun is warm and inviting, the ground is covered with at least five inches of snow, and we ready for our mini adventure. My dad leads the way from the porch onto the snow-blanketed ground. As he walks, he leaves behind his size 13 footprints in the snow. I am thinking, Thank you, Dad. You just made my life easier. I start putting my oversized boots into the footprints he leaves behind. Since I am wearing a pair of his boots, they fit perfectly with each step. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I make my way through the snow after my dad.
My mind drifts as I think about how magical it is to literally be following in my dad’s footsteps. As I am having this whimsical thought, I hear a clear and calm voice enter my mind. “You don’t want to follow in your father’s footsteps.” I stop dead in my tracks. As I hesitate, I wonder where that voice came from. It’s the strangest thought because here I am enjoying my dad’s company, he’s smiling for the first time in months, and I have a thought that goes against everything I am experiencing in this moment. Yet I can’t shake it free.
Pushing away the unexpected message, I catch up to my dad, and we start chatting about my year at college. My dad shares, “I am proud of you. It sounds like school is going good for you, and it’s neat how you are taking so many opportunities to travel.” My heart swells. My dad’s loving words mean the world to me.
Slightly out of breath, we arrive at the property fence that is lined with trees, and I can see the deer camera strapped to a post. “Next to the post here, you see this gap in the fence? These are the deer tracks from when they travel this route. And hopefully this camera is going to show me how often they are coming through and how many there are,” my dad says as he unstraps the camera and puts it under his arm to carry home.
“By the way, the only type of deer shooting I will be doing is with my Nikon,” I say playfully. My dad laughs, and we continue back home enjoying our special time together.
Six days later on New Year’s Eve, I am at the convention center in Baltimore representing my college as a recruiter. Three of us young ladies are excitedly engaging with each passerby. I am enjoying every minute of it!
The recruiting director edges her way through the crowd to our booth. “Hey everyone! Let’s take a break for today. There is a historical shipyard nearby that will be splendid for great photos,” she says as she turns towards me. I light up! Everyone knows how much I love photography. We gather our purses as our director puts a “Be back!” sign on the table.
At the shipyard, there is so much to see amongst the beautifully manicured landscape and treasures of the past. My friends pose for photos next to the canons, and we have a great time being silly. After what feels like a few hours, we start walking back to the car while I am enjoying my photo previews on my camera. There are so many great shots.
Everyone piles into the car, and then silence. The recruiting director turns herself towards me from the driver’s seat and puts her hand on my knee. I start to see sadness wash away the joy on everyone’s faces. “Your dad passed away this morning,” the director shares.
I feel a flood of panic. “My dad or my step-dad? Which one passed away?” I frantically ask. I feel like I can’t breathe.
“Your dad. Your brother found him this morning. He tried to revive him. They think he died from heart complications. I am so, so, so sorry. We brought you here because we wanted to give you good memories from the trip before we broke the news. We are here for you.” I burst out sobbing. A river of tears flows down my face.
Resting my head on my friend’s shoulder in the backseat, I continue to cry with an aching that goes so deep within me that it feels like it never ends. My mind is racing. And then I remember that unexpected voice from six days ago saying, “You don’t want to follow in your father’s footsteps.” I cry even harder.
It has felt like my life has been marred by struggles, obstacles, and getting stuck over and over again.
And when I look at my dad’s life, I see the same story. It is heart-wrenching to think about how talented my dad was and how he would never have a chance to live the life of his dreams. His time is over. I know he died as a person suffering while getting by day to day and not knowing how to do any better. Maybe this is my wake-up call. I start to think about my unhealthy habits, my compulsions, my anxiety, and my relationship choices. Talk about a mess. I have been settling in so many ways by living in default, much like my dad, despite our best intentions.
During the car ride, I decide that I am going to cherish those final moments I had with my dad on that special day. And I am also going to take to heart the message that was gifted to me. A message that inspires me to carve my own path with intention. My dad’s life may not have been as fulfilled as he had hoped. But I can use this experience to fuel my passion for creating a life I love. The type of life where I look forward to jumping out of bed. The type of life I can be proud of. For me. And in honor of my dad.
I’d love to know what you thought of this passage, what inspires you, and how you get that inspiration in your day. Reply to this email to share your thoughts with me. Let me know whether I can share them with our group, anonymously or not, so we can grow our inspiration ideas together.
To your inspiration,