Last year for Father’s Day I wrote a tribute to my father and fathers everywhere that was heavily influenced by the psychological research I was in deep study of at the time. This year I will find myself on the Appalachian Trail on Father’s Day, doing even more online writing than last, so in the weeks leading up to the day I decided I should write another one.
The question became, of what would I write about? My article last year was essentially about how I was raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind to if I worked hard enough, and that this early confidence-building had been far more valuable than any inherent skills I possess.
When I wrote about this last year, a long-distance hike was on a very long bucket list, but I had absolutely no plan and not the faintest idea that it would occur this year. Now, 850 miles up the Appalachian Trail, I feel my entire hike has been a demonstration of my assertions. I still have a long way to go, but today, and from day one, I have never doubted that I would make it all the way, and do so before Katahdin shuts its doors due to hazardous weather. Given how few succeed in a pure thru-hike, what could possibly possess me to hold such a belief other than the aforementioned self-confidence instilled in me at a young age?
Knowing this, is there anything more to add this Father’s Day? Absolutely. The trail affords — forces really — one to confront their thoughts and reflect on experiences past. The mind will wander greatly left to its own devices, and such has been the case with my journey.
My father is the oldest of six, with a great age difference between his youngest brother. It’s strange the memories that come back to you as you hike, whether instigated by a smell, a song, a view, or simply the wandering mind. One of these faint memories for me involved a funny coincidence in the relation in age between me, my youngest uncle, and my father when I was 8 years old. As I remember it, I was 8, my uncle 16, and my father 32, and I was highly amused by the fact that my uncle was twice my age and my father twice his.
In those days we made frequent trips to my grandparent’s house about 45 minutes away from us in Connecticut. These were often learning experiences; for example, I remember one car ride where my father went through the entirety of the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” explaining the historical or cultural significance of every single line. This is why to this day I know the story of Bernie Goetz or who Walter Winchell was. As to my fascination with this congruency of our three ages, to the best of my recollection my father said something like: I’ll never be twice his age again, and he’ll never be twice your age again, but neither of you will ever catch up.
I suppose this illustration was my first lesson of the Achilles and the Hare paradox, and has deeper meaning still, because I truly never will catch up.
Allow me to explain my meaning:
There seems to be an unwritten rule that in young adulthood, one has a responsibility to do the exact opposite of their parents. In all seriousness, however, as I grew older, while I, Achilles, would never reach the Hare, I would reach where the Hare had been. And so, at 26, for example, I think I began to understand my 26-year-old father, at 30, my 30-year-old father, and so on. Life would probably be smoother if such lessons could be accepted at face value instead of waiting to “catch up,” but each generation must find its own way for better or worse.
My father was absolutely correct, however: I will never catch up. To better understand my father of today, I must patiently wait and live those experiences myself. Even then I think this understanding that comes to me over time is possible not only by advancing in years, but by how similar we are in certain ways, each of these similarities something I take pride in.
All that being said, there is a lesson I seemed to be capable of learning through osmosis regardless of age, even if the lesson has been learned slowly, with some bumps in the road. I reached adulthood in an area where great importance was placed by many on fancy cars, designer clothing, and extravagant homes. My father, not through words but through example, showed me the value of living not only within one’s means, but even below them so as to ensure security against the unforeseen future. This lesson has been on my mind a great deal as I make my way north while writing a book on the complications of modern life.
During the times in my life where my income was the highest I have felt the most overburdened and overextended, while the times where my income has been far smaller I have felt more comfortable and carefree. Show me a man (or woman) netting 150k and spending 151k, and I will show you the waves of their treading water. Show me someone who nets 30k and spends 25k, and I will show you what it feels like to feel like a prince.
Despite all this knowledge, I still struggle to live up to what I have learned. I thought I had this lesson licked years ago, and then upon starting a small business found that complication can throw a wrench into the most finely tuned of machines. Perhaps these wrenches solidified my growing desire to spend literally years learning enough to write such a book.
Still, I am blessed to have been taught where the path is, so I may become aware when I fall off trail, for some are never fortunate enough to be shown a trail exists. In schools, mathematics is taught over personal finance, specialization is encouraged as early as elementary school, overconsumption is forced upon us through our televisions, our radios, and even our cellular phones and temptation abounds everywhere.
I may not have become an expert yet, but I feel I’m doing my best in the amateurs. This past fall when my truck broke down, I found myself with nothing but high-interest loan offers on cars that cost far more than I wanted or needed to spend. I ignored the shock of my peers when I decided to refuse these offers, get my credit a bit higher, and wait for the right offer. Living in a rural area without a car is not easy, but for once I succeeded in focusing on my means rather than my perceived needs, and after about six weeks my credit had jumped and I found the offer I was looking for.
Who knows? Maybe spending parts of November and December in chilly upstate NY doing all that walking was just the preparation I needed to get through those first 30 miles of the AT instead of catching a shuttle home at the first road crossing.
In any case, as sure as I am that I shall succeed, I am even more certain that I couldn’t have done it without my father. Having my mother visit me on the trail in Tennessee put a new bounce in my step, and I’m sure my father’s upcoming visit to the Shenandoah’s will help me push through Pennsylvania.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Have a log around the fire with your name on it. 🙂