I get a lot from my dad. An uncanny ability to remember seemingly useless personal details. ("Forty years ago this weekend I hiked with some buddies through a spring squall carrying a bottle of tequila each.") An affinity for the historical non sequitur. ("What do you know about the life of William Randolph Hearst?") A frequently incapacitating internal clock that runs on Sage Time, which itself ticks along at least twenty minutes behind the rest of the world. (Many a missed flight, pushed deadline, and incensed spouse has arisen from the vagaries of Sage Time.)
Yet our whimsical ways are not without their benefits, and they've resulted in a mutual appreciation for that very American phenomenon: The road trip. Dad has driven me as a toddler through the high Sierra switchbacks of Virginia City, as a college graduate across the endless eye-grit stretches of Kansas, as a now-grown woman up Highway 1 to Big Sur. We've traveled according to his rules of windows down and music up, the miles on the map like markers on our memories. Over the years, his rules of the road have become mine as well.
Our most recent California journey—to Big Sur—found us booked at a cliff-side lodge overlooking a panorama of the Pacific. The sun sank behind the horizon. My dad ferreted in his luggage for the gear that would enable another of his amateur pursuits. Item located, he raised it above his head and announced with boyish enthusiasm, "C'mon. I brought my high-powered bi-nocs. Let's go look at the stars." Cold, tired, and crabby, I did not want to leave the comfort of the cottage with its gas fire and crocheted lap blanket. Heaven knows I've told my father and his bi-nocs to piss off plenty of times before. Something about this night felt different. Important. I grabbed a sweater, heaved a sigh, and plunged into the darkness.
As we crunched through gravel up a hill for the best vantage point, I tipped my head to the sky. A million bright pinpricks swam before me. The universe swirled in a dizzy arc. Vertigo pushed my eyes back to the ground. Dad stopped, let me catch up, put the binoculars in my hand. "Here," he said. "First find Jupiter. It's the brightest one." For several moments I saw nothing through the twin lenses. But my father coached me with a patience uncharacteristic to both of us. He taught me to steady the instrument on my celestial prey using Jupter and its moons, then we moved to Orion and his Great Nebula. "What is it?" I asked of the latter when I sighted the cloud of light radiating towards me. "It's where stars are born," said Dad. "Where stars are born," I repeated slowly. "Where stars are born."
Chilled through now, I lowered the bi-nocs and handed them back. Dad stayed to find more constellations and I made my way back to the cottage where the warm fire waited. I watched my feet on the path, the sky a blurry patchwork above me, thinking of my father who remained at the top of the hill to gaze where stars are born.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, especially mine. Thanks for teaching me the road.