Around The Rim Country

Seeing Dad in a whole new light


While I won't see him on Father's Day, my Dad was just here for a visit that helped me put him in a new perspective.

Dad, who is 83, came out from Michigan for my son's college graduation, a trip that had been planned before he suffered a mild stroke a few months ago. I have been going through personal difficulties myself, so the circumstances for the visit weren't optimal.

Graduations tend to be bittersweet occasions anyway, and if you stir another issue or two into a family visit, they can become times when everybody takes a fresh look at one another. I don't know about Dad, but that was sure true for me.

Dad seems to like the Rim country a lot, and with me working while he was in town, he just took off and experienced the best of Payson, its people and environs, by himself.

He went down to Green Valley Park and talked to some old guy who was fishing. He went up to Pine to visit a guy he used to work with back in Michigan. He dropped by a local store to see a longtime friend of mine.

Fortunately, we finally did have some time to spend together including several days in Tucson, where the graduation took place. But the highlight for me came before that, when we spent an afternoon at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

I had to interview new park ranger Susannah Cernojivich for a story, and Dad came along because it was one of few places in the world he hadn't visited. It was just a few hours together doing the kind of thing we had done many times before. But somehow this time it was different.

It was a hot, sluggish afternoon at the bridge, with nary a visitor in sight. Even the herd of javelina that hangs out on the lawn had taken the afternoon off.

I wanted to catch Cernojivich, who specializes in the historical aspects of the place, in action giving her spiel to a genuine tourist. With nobody else to turn to, Dad was the man.

He was, after all, a tourist, and had never heard the story of Scottish adventurer David Gowan, who once hid under the bridge to escape a horde of angry Apaches.

As my tape recorder rolled and I snapped pictures, the two of them stood at one of the park viewpoints as Cernojivich told him the story of the discovery of the bridge, and how the adventurous Gowan gave it away to some relatives from Scotland so he could resume his wanderings.

Dad, inquisitive and talkative as always, added his thoughts and observations and told a story or two of his own.

They were stories I'd heard several times before, but because he was telling them to a total stranger, they had a freshness and relevance I had long forgotten if I ever noticed in the first place. It's funny how putting something or somebody in a different environment can add a new perspective.

I took a lot more pictures than I needed that afternoon because I enjoyed seeing Dad through a camera lens in a much more detached, impersonal way than I had come to know him. Framed in the small world of my camera with the beautiful scenery of the Rim country behind him, he became a character in another world.

I'm not sure I'd call it a defining moment in my life, or anything all that profound. But it was surely a special moment.

We grow up with our fathers, and we come to know them so well, to count on them so often, to tune them out or in at will, that we can lose sight of who they are and what they mean to us.

There in the camera lens was a man I was seeing, perhaps for the first time, not as my father but as a human being who had been through a lot in life, who had recently lost his companion of over half a century, but who would never lose his desire to experience all that life has to offer. His restless wanderings around the Rim country, waiting for me to free up some time for him, typified a lifetime spent in pursuit of knowledge and adventure perhaps because there is in him a little of what stirred inside David Gowan.

A few days later in Tucson, my graduating son pulled me aside to actually tell me I'd done a good job raising him, that I'd been there when he needed me, and that I'd spent about the right amount of time with him.

The graduation happened, Dad went home, and then all this stuff started to sink in. They say you should not wait too long to tell your parents how you feel about them that one day you'll wake up and it will be too late.

And they say today's younger generation doesn't place the same emphasis on family values that we do. But it seems this is one lesson my son learned before I did. Either that, or he knows something I don't about how long I'll be around to hear what he has to say.

So Dad, happy Father's Day. I didn't get you a card, but I hope what I've written about how much you mean to me will be an adequate substitute.

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