letter to my dad on his 80th birthday

Dear Dad,                            


I wonder what it is like to be turning 80 years old. I know what it’s like to be a bit more than half that age, and to be filled, still, with wonder. Embedded in who I am in the world is a series of questions you have been asking me my whole adult life. Questions I now ask myself every day and questions I now ask my daughter, too. The questions are: When you wake up in the morning what are you most looking forward to in the day that lies stretched out in front of you? When you look out your window, what do you want to see? What do you want to spend your time doing? If money were no object, where would you be living and what would you be doing? And there have been a lot of other questions too. Sitting with our toes in the sand on the west coast of Florida, riding the chairlift up the Continental Divide in Colorado, sitting across from each other at a little table in a street cafe in Alexandria Bay, riding a ferry across Lake Champlain on a cold January night, or during commercial breaks while watching the Stanley Cup. Always the questions. What are you doing? What do you want to be doing? What’s important to you? What’s stopping you from doing what’s important to you? And then the really big questions: Why are we here? Where exactly is here? What are we in the universe, what is the universe, why is the universe, how did it start, and if it has a beginning, what was it before?

The thing is, it’s not like we sit and talk and figure out the answers. It’s the sitting and talking and asking the questions that has created this way of being in the world for me. The asking has centered me so that each day I figure out how to do the things that are important to me. And in case this sounds overly egocentric, the other thing I think about regularly is the table blessing we grew up hearing during those occasions when we all sat down for dinner together. Especially the last part: keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. So it’s not all about us and what we want. But isn’t it cool that the more we follow our passions and remember to think about the needs of others, the happier it makes us? And the less egocentric we become as we shape our lives into these creative enterprises that are driven by what makes us happy.

I imagine that at 80 years of age you might be asking yourself what your life has meant. Even if you weren’t someone who has been asking it every day for the 46 years I’ve known you. You’ll be glad to know that the confluence of forever asking these centering questions and the glass is half full outlook on the world that I’m convinced I learned from you has flowed into a very full and happy life for me. My hands in the dirt, or holding a book, or working a paintbrush. My mind wrestling with questions. My legs propelling me over mossy rocks and leaf strewn trails. My gardens full of beautiful green things to eat and colorful flowers. Fresh eggs every day. Hiking and skiing right out the door. Enough time in my day to notice that there have been more hummingbirds this year. Enough busy-ness to keep me honest and to pay the bills. Enough intention and awareness in my life to notice that I am much more about putting down roots and making every inch of the land around me special, productive, healthy, beautiful. Time to spend with my daughter and to build a positive and fulfilling relationship with her. And a sense of humor that keeps it all in check.

These are the things that are important. And I want you to know that I know this because you taught me. Because you were relentless in your efforts to teach me. Because instead of letting me sleep, you bothered to wake me up in the middle of the night to walk down to the beach and watch the moon set over the ocean. Because you bothered to drive all that way and take me to Alexandria Bay for the day. Because you bothered to penetrate the silence and ask me things when we sat next to each other on the chairlift, knowing the conversation could only go as far as the chairlift ride. But I remember it, don’t I? And it has shaped me, and my life is happy, and you are a part of that. So thank you. And I love you.