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Monday, July 16, 2012

Dad Is a Game of Chinese Checkers

          Ten years ago I was in a career that had me travel one to two weeks a month. I checked in with my family daily over the phone, but I missed a lot of family doings. My life has changed since then and I have had the pleasure of being able to come home to my family each night. With five kids still at home there is still plenty of family excitement to enjoy each day.  Recently I accepted a work at home job, but am required to spend seven weeks in a training program. The training is far enough away that I am staying with a family member who lives closer and only coming home on weekends.  I came home for my first weekend on Friday and there were some joyful “Dad!” and “Daddy!” greetings called out from my younger children. Even when you are tired there is a beauty to those words, especially when they are directed at you.

                These children immediately wanted to do something with Dad like go for a bike ride.  I was suffering from the classic “I’ve just come home and am tired so let me rest” malady.  My youngest child, Story, had the answer to this. He pulled out the Chinese Checker board. Chinese Checkers was a way to do almost nothing while doing something with the kids.  They pulled over an ottoman and set up the board for four players for me and three of my children.
                The danger of Chinese checkers lies not in the difficult of the game, or in the possibility of lost tempers, but in the accidental “bump.” Do you know what I mean? The colored marbles rest in shallow holes on the board. It takes only a small bump to cause a majority of the marbles to unseat from their places and roll about in chaos before finding a new spot on the board. This usually puts an end to the game as no one can remember where all the marbles were before the bump.
                The ottoman we were using was sturdy, but there were three kids  kneeling around it resting their elbows on it as they studied the board. Time after time I saw the marbles quiver ominously. With all my adult foresight I said, “It will be a miracle if we get to the end of this game before it gets bumped.” My ignored my prophetic statement as if I were just a senile old man used to blurting out things like, “Back in my day kids knew how to behave!”
                Story is just seven-years-old. He has lots of energy that, when confined to one place like when playing a board game, is expended in wiggles. He is smart and perceptive, but there is a high percentage chance that when he pours milk into a cup he is going to overpour and leave a milky mess on the table. He was the child leaning nearest the Chinese Checker board. After another ominous wave of jiggling ran through the marbles on the board I took control.
                “Take your elbows off the ottoman,” I commanded. He didn’t respond very quickly so I had to say it again giving him the evil eye. He obeyed this time and sat back on his knees frowning. He had gone from intense, smiling interest to frown in .25 seconds. I could see why; there was no way for him to see the board or be very close to it without leaning on the ottoman. In one fell sentence I had taken a fun and exciting time with Dad and ruined it like rain on a parade. Yes, I felt bad. I didn’t have to think too deeply to understand that I was caring more about the game than I was about the kids playing it. The adult in me justified with, “It won’t be a fun game if it gets bumped.” Some other part of me said, “It won’t be fun playing the game if it isn’t fun playing the game.” That may or may not make sense to you, but at that moment I understood.
                When Story, out of necessity put his elbows back on the ottoman so he could study the board and make his move I didn’t say anything and was happy to see he had already forgotten my  sharp words and left his elbows there.  We soon were into the middle game when most of the marbles are out in the middle of the board. All of us were studying the board hard to find any multi-hole moves when it happened—someone knocked on the front door and Story bumped the Ottoman as he turned to see who it was. Marbles rolled everywhere.
                “I said this would happen,” I said to my oldest daughter as she walked through the front room. It was important that someone recognize my prophetic powers as "Dadman" because the little kids were laughing as if ending the game this was the funniest thing that had happened all day. She just nodded patronizingly. When I looked at Story as he scooped up marbles to put them away I saw his bright smile. The game had ended prematurely, but he had had fun. It was then I realized I had had fun too. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Imp of the Perverse

          Edgar Allen Poe called it the Imp of the Perverse.  My take on this phrase is that some of us have an impulse to do that which we most fear.  Perhaps raging water terrifies you. If, then, when you are standing on the bank of a raging, roaring river, you feel the impulse to jump in you have just experienced the imp of the perverse. Those who suffer from the imp of the perverse are generally able to control it in most potentially fatal situations. I often find myself giving in to the imp of the perverse in situations that do not threaten my life, but do threaten my physical and mental comfort. For instance, I left a master’s program that did not require oral exams or a written thesis for a master’s program that did. This may not seem strange except that the idea of oral exams terrified me. In spite of my fear I passed them. I grew up terrified of physical or verbal confrontations.  Driven by the “imp” I signed up for a martial arts program where I was yelled at, punched, and kicked (hard). I was scared every time I entered the dojang, but in the end I had a great experience. High altitude hikes among rocky crags scare me, and yet thrice I have hiked the local 12,000 ft peak after swearing the first time that I would never do it again. Most recently  the imp struck again when I looked at Levan Peak (about 8500 ft). I can see the antennas up there by day and a single light shining by night. I am at least fifty pounds overweight and very much out of shape. The climb could be classified as easy other than the fact that you climb 3000 feet in about two miles. For someone in my shape that climb is going to be very uncomfortable. Unable to control the imp I promised my eleven-year-old son we would arise early and climb it.

My 11-year-old, Jory

  After doing a little research I learned from a couple of sources how steep the climb is. There is a very well-maintained gravel road that goes all the way to the top, but it takes a four-wheel-drive to gain the necessary traction to negotiate the grade. Jory and I got an early start to avoid the 90 degree heat that would hit by noon. We followed the winding road up a narrow canyon until the road takes a sudden left and begins to climb very steeply.  I wasn’t sure I was at the correct left until my truck started spinning and bucking as we lost traction. I pulled over, applied the parking break, and we got out to face the mountain.

The valley below with shadows of clouds.
Equipped with a knapsack containing water and a couple of granola bars we started hiking. From my research I thought we could make it to the top in two hours.  With that goal motivating us we pushed up the  road.  At 50 years old I am well into my middle-aged years. That, combined with the extra fifty pounds of weight I am carrying, made me wonder if I could make it to the top at all. My son is only eleven-years-old and leads a fairly active life. I was worried I would embarrass myself in front of him or have to quit before we reached the summit.  It wasn’t long, however, before he was stopping to catch his breath before I asked him too.  We would pick a landmark up the road a little ways and try to walk to it before we stopped to rest. Often we didn’t make it.  What psyched us out was that we were on a nice gravel road. We weren’t hiking freestyle up the side of a mountain and still we had to stop and catch our breath every thirty to forty yards. The road was very steep.

The road is very steep.
We came around a bend and topped one rise when our goal came into view. We both uttered something like, “Holy Cow!” The antenna towers and peak were still far away and far above us. We didn’t say it but I’m pretty sure both of us thought at that moment that there was no way we were going to make it. I checked my watch and noticed that we had only been hiking for an hour. This gave me a little hope. We had committed to two hours.  I asked Jory and he agreed that we would hike for another hour and see where that put us. Just maybe we could make it.

Our goal is up there in the sunlight.Seemed like days away.

The road became less steep for one-hundred yards and then shot up at an extreme grade for another hundred yards to a lower set of antennas. Viewing that steep grade was disheartening to both of us, but up we went, thirty steps at a time.

The road is already steep, then seems to shoot straight up.
When we reached the lower tower at the top of that grade we were breathing hard and sweating. The peak still seemed to be so high above us after another four long switchbacks. I think Jory would have been satisfied to stop at this lower tower, but I saw on my watch we still had fifteen minutes before we had been hiking two hours. It wasn’t too hard to talk him into continuing. The grade of these last four switch backs was much easier than the hike to the first tower and we made good time. We came to a break in the Douglas Fir trees and there it was, the summit with all its antennas. I checked my watch and we were just five minutes past two hours. Jory and I high-fived and on we went to the summit where we enjoyed a spectacular view of Juab county. 

The Peak.

Our town, Levan, is the green just above the mountain line.

Jory and I in the towers at the peak.
 It was strange how, all the way up, we looked forward to coming back down because it would be so much easier. Yet when we got underway we found it every bit as difficult as going up. Oh, it’s true our hearts weren’t pounding and we weren’t out of breath, but our calves and our knees burned and grew weak as we held ourselves back.  Every-once-in-a-while we would look over our shoulders at the steepness of the road behind us and I would say, “Did we climb that for fun? What were we thinking?” But even today, as I deal with legs that hurt and don’t want to work properly, I think of the solitude we enjoyed, the sound of the wind in the fir trees, the company of a cheerful son, and I the imp of the perverse is tempting me to hike it again next week.