I remember trying to step where he stepped, but his strides were too big. He could go a lot farther than me, too. I’d be exhausted and he’d just be starting. I still loved those outings.
I remember my first hunting trip. I got so excited seeing that buck that I nearly wet myself, figuratively. I realized that I hadn’t paid clear attention in my hunting lessons: I didn’t know how to take the buck (30 points if it had 2), and I was forced to let it go. In my breathless excitement I remember telling him all about it, and I look back with a chuckle on his quietly amused response.
I remember laughing as he pretended his swollen leg was a prosthetic. I remember curiously poking at the black and brown spots that were indicative of the congealed blood inside his leg. I remember curiously wondering why he grimaced when he walked sometimes. I remember playing with his crooked cane like a shepherds crook, especially around Christmas.
But it’s only been in recent years that I’ve understood, at least to some extent, what he was dealing with, both personally, and in setting a positive example.
My dad was born handicapped. I guess I’ve never been really clear on what that looked like, if I understand it correctly, neither do the doctors. There was some sort of mutated gene that made one leg significantly longer than the other, and added a few extra arteries in there, causing it to have way too much blood and swell to twice the size of the ‘normal’ leg. It hurts him, too, though he stubbornly hid that from everyone.
My dad set some powerful life lessons for me, like “work hard,” a lesson he may have taken a bit too far. He taught me to enjoy the outdoors, and even now when I haven’t hunted in years, I keep my rifle clean and my powder dry (literally and figuratively). I long for the forests. I am desperate to teach that lesson to my boys, as it is one of the fondest lessons I’ve ever learned. He taught me that disability doesn’t have to define you. Most people don’t know that he is handicapped, after all. He never taught this directly, of course, as none of his children had any disabilities at the time.
It’s this lesson that I’ve taken the hardest. As my disability has taken over my life, I’ve been desperate to not be my disability. It’s an ongoing challenge to teach my sons hard work when my disability has stripped me of my mobility. I haven’t spent any time in the forests of my youth lately, but my sons have enjoyed being towed in their trailer behind my tricycle. As I learn new things about myself, I hope that I am teaching my boys to not be defined by their physical characteristics.
Overall, the things that I strive to be as a father are reflective of the father that I have. Thanks for the example, dad.