I arrive in Ontario on a Monday at 1 a.m. It’s late on a work night and the airport is an hour’s drive from home, but my father is here to pick me up, having made it clear when I booked the flight it was no problem for him. It’s the cheapest option that gets me back in time for something I’ve been dreaming of since I left a year and a half ago: a father-daughter canoe trip.
The last summer I was home my family tried our first canoe trip. Long-time campers and paddlers, this was our maiden attempt to combine the two. We spent several exhausted days carrying way too much gear over portages and canoeing routes that were a lot longer than they looked.
Soon after I drove away to the Yukon, and in my absence the canoe trip became a family tradition. The summers since have been filled with multiple outings, the gear has been pared down to the necessary, the number of days on the water has doubled. And at the beginning and end of the season, my father and sister have started their own tradition: silent canoe trips, the idea being to mimic solitude while enjoying the safety of another’s presence. My Facebook filled with photos from these father-daughter adventures. I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted to do more than be home for one of these.
And not just because the idea of practicing conscious silence with other people in the wilderness is totally cool, but because I really want to do things with my dad.
Anyone who has talked to me long enough has surely heard mention of the mythical figure looming large in my imagination: My Father. He’s a jack-of-all trades and a philosopher, his love for the people around him pours from a deep well within, he carries every conversation to its depths and he can fix anything you put in front of him. He’s funny and sincere, a mystic and manly man, he’s a carpenter and an artist, and he raised his daughters to feel like they could do anything.
My father has always been my standard of measurement. And the men I’ve dated have surely known this.
In the Yukon his legend grew larger. Without regular interaction with my father, the version of manliness he embodied expanded to impossible proportions. For the first time in my relationships I began to make direct comparisons between the man I was with, and the man I hoped every man would be. It was hard to measure up to my dad.
After I’m home a few weeks and the excitement of my return settles into the routine of daily life, I begin to notice some things I had forgotten about. Like how often my father is on his cell phone. How busy he is, almost always occupied with something. The little ways he and my mother fight.
Soon, we begin having small but less-than-harmonious interactions of our own. He might make a remark about me doing the dishes, or I might get frustrated and take it out on him, things that signify we are both acting like our regular less-than-perfect selves around each other. Our time together starts to mirror the other relationships I value – we meet in the way two loving, respectful humans meet, with mutual interest and all our other emotional baggage.
The fog long-obscuring my Mountain of Man is lifting. My father is probably still the coolest human I know, but I am getting to see how definitely human he is. Just like everyone else.