The opportunity to take you on your first climb, at age 61, was a dream come true for both of us on so many levels. After all the things you taught me to do; to walk, to talk, to read and write, to be confident, to blow my nose, and to think for myself, teaching you to climb was the most valuable thing I had hoped to repay you with. You taught me what not to do as well, rarely by force, more often by example. I’ve learned so much from you, far more than you ever thought to teach me.
Last month I had the opportunity that every child hopes to do on some level or another, which is to teach their parents what they have learned…to trade the role of the student for that of the master, even if for a relative instant. But those brief hours, hiking through the foothills of Boulder and climbing to the top of the 1st Flatiron, were enough to realize a goal I have had had since the day I started climbing. More than just getting you on a rope, perhaps to a summit, I wanted you to experience what has become a driving force in my life; the pursuit of self-awareness through climbing. And that’s what I saw you grasp on that climb. 30 feet off the ground you whined that it was too hard, that you couldn’t surmount the next step. And I told you that you didn’t have a choice. Thats when you got a sweet glimpse of one facet of climbing that has helped make me the person I am; the control of your fears. You surmounted that step, and that moment was just as triumphant to me as any summit I have ever realized.
Sometimes I wonder if you’re going a bit loony. Perhaps thats a constant suspicion all children have of their parents. Your rants are often outlandish. But I got over the typical embarrassment children often experience when their parents let loose their goofy side. Beyond that, I’ve come to heed your words and recognize the mosaics you paint with, what might seem at times, brushes of madness.
While we hiked up the trails, you talked about some invention you had read about or glimpsed on the inter-webs; artificial wings that flap and let the wearer fly like a bird. You swore to me that was the future of climbing, and I laughed at your naivety. Perhaps I was even a bit insulted by the fact that your suggestion was an attack on the very nature of climbing, reducing its advancements to the pursuit of pure ends with no regard for the real benefit, which we derive from the means of the trade. But I knew that 2 pitches of climbing would reveal to you what its all about.
I found myself thinking about your wings a lot after our climb. Not about the actual idea of using flapping wings to get to the top of a mountain, but a more metaphorical wing. The wings I speak of are not feathered means of flight to be flapped up and down, but rather ideas. Like your wings, mine are tools to help a person go higher and farther. They cannot be bought or sold. They are the tools we use to improve our lives…the skill sets we learn and practice. For me those wings are my mountain skills, and all the ways I have applied those to my life in and out of the hills. But wings have to be earned. And I finally realized that we earn our wings when we pass on our experiences to others. Father to son, friend to friend, and sometimes even child to parent.
You made it to the top of the Flatiron and got a feel for the essence of my lifestyle. You got a bird’s eye view of the place I’ve chosen to call home. You got a little taste of what drives me to live out of my van for half the year. Perhaps even more important than having that experience to bond with your son, you tasted that high that I seek in the mountains. Hopefully you came away from that climb with the realization that no matter how old you may perceive yourself to be, accomplishing new things is always a possibility.
Maybe next year we’ll climb El Capitan, maybe we wont. But now you have the experience to really listen to my stories, and now I have the experience of teaching my father to do the thing I love the most. Now I know the joy you must have felt over and over again when you saw your children benefit from the lessons you taught us. We both have our wings dad, and I can’t wait to go flying with you again.