He was sitting on the kitchen floor crying.
After weeks of looking forward to the trip, his trip, our trip, he said he didn’t want to go.
And I felt for him.
Now that we’re on the verge of leaving for a week, he and I, he feels frightened by the reality. No Mom. No brothers.
It is the physical/emotional manifestation of what we know: Santana is bookended by companionship. Middle child. Always embracing his family.
But this was his first chance at a significant stretch of time where all he had to be was Son. That’s it. No Big Brother, no Little Brother. Just my son. He’d not had that opportunity, nor had I. Not with him.
So after a bit of talk and encouragement, some joking, the worm turned and Santana was ready to go. It was Sunday night and we were off. We hit the road and he was ready, showing me how organized his backpack was and getting his seat surrounded with just the right books and notebooks. My man was on board!
But I was sad now, feeling like I was taking him away from his unit. Maybe we aren’t meant to be apart…maybe this was a dumb idea manufactured because I happened to take a trip with Seb three years ago. Maybe there was a reason I felt, driving away, that this was wrong.
But drive away we did. Down the highway, thru Las Vegas, then toward Utah. Zion National Park. About an hour into the drive I got a text from Mick. Said she was so sad. Couldn’t stop crying.
What the hell? What is going on here? I’m sad. She’s sad. Santana by this point is asleep in the backseat. I’m wondering again if I should just turn around. Is this all worth it? Let’s be together.
It is as if Santana and I are moving away.
“Should I just come home?” I ask Mick.
“No. He deserves a chance to be with you. And for you to get to know him.”
And she was right. It’s a weird thing to say, I mean, I spend a lot of time with my boys. I’m very lucky. Rare is the occasion that I miss out on an experience with them. I know them and they know me.
There was, however, a difference in my relationship with Santana than with Seb, for instance. I know Seb like I know myself. In part, that’s because he is so similar to me in many ways. His reactions to things are familiar to me, and that can be challenging in its own right. But there is a knowledge there.
With Santana, he’s been more of a mystery to me. He doesn’t seem to have inherited my behavioral characteristics, and his approach is different from Seb’s. I wanted time alone to deepen my knowledge and my relationship. To have that unspoken connection. The trip was right. It’s a good tradition.
With Seb’s trip I blogged along the way and I wouldn’t change that. This time, however, I wanted to just be in the moment, not commenting upon the moment.
Many mountain goats in the area, and I took to calling Santana the “Mountain Goat” to encourage him to keep pushing on a hike. He’ll sometimes say “I can’t do it” before attempting, and if you push in the wrong way he will shut down. It’s a challenge, because as a dad you want to say “Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that!” But I have to find non-confrontational ways to express that and also show him what he really can do. “You are Santana Handegard!” I say this with no irony and no self editor in my head telling me how stupid it sounds. The ability to do that is new, and learned from my boys. “You are a Handegard” would, for most of my life, have been an indictment. A reason you couldn’t do it. A reason to be ashamed. To keep secret the dysfunction. To try to blend and lose identity. It’s hard to write that, it was never what I wanted, but when you live with the ever present indignity and stress of alcoholism in the house you learn shame along the way.
Not my boys though. You are a Handegard! And they believe it. No…they know it. What an amzing turn around from one generation to the next. It is my version of leaving the world a better place. More worthwhile than anything I’ve done.
And there is also the mixing of present experience with the good of the past.
Taking my son fishing for the first time cannot be done without thinking of the many fishing trips taken with my father. The patience and kindess he showed. The joy. I am 10 times the father he was – it is the truth and it is my goal – but there were good lessons and times of deep joy passed on and I can’t help but think of them when sharing a similar experience with my son.
And what a little fisherman he turned out to be. We spent several days fishing very cool locations, from rivers in Zion to mountain lakes in the peaks close to Zion. Beautiful scenery, so peaceful. Santana caught right on and was fishing on his own for hours, despite catching no fish. Santana remained unperturbed, the Zen Fisherman. “Dad this is fun, even if we don’t catch fish”. I agreed. It wasn’t just fun, it was good.
After several days of getting skunked though, I really wanted him to catch a fish. I wanted him to feel that excitement. Finally, on our last day, at Lake Mohave (our last stop, just south of the Hoover Dam), I hooked a trout and handed my rod to Santana. “You reel him in!” I said. I don’t know if he was more excited or if it was me. Probably me. When, about 20 yards away, that trout got the line tangled in a way that we couldn’t get untangled from where we were, I felt there was only one course of action. Stripping to my underwear I went in after that fish. Santana was going to land him if I had anything to do with it. Plus the fish wasn’t going to untangle or unhook itself. So, in I go and damn that’s cold! Gotta get that fish, gotta get that fish. “Look what my Dad’s doing!” He’s laughing. Awesome. Not the way I envisioned his first catch, but it was his. Ours.
When we talked about this the next day, he confessed he didn’t want to take my rod and land the fish. “Why not? Were you scared?”
“No” he said. “It was your rod, I wanted you to catch him”. That’s Santana. That’s generous Santana. Throughout the week he showed that side. “Dad do you want the last piece?” “Dad try mine.” So naturally thoughtful and giving, catching me off guard some times, pleasantly so. That’s his lesson to me. And it’s a good one.
The week started as us “doing a trip just like Seb’s”. It was Seb’s Trip Part II, starring Santana. I had a feeling that would change, and it did. Days of hiking, exploring, and fishing morning to night, mixed with throwing the baseball around the campsite during rare downtime quickly gave this trip it’s own identity. A week after returning home I still feel an unspoken connection between us, like a friend who shared an unforgettable trip. And, to top it off, we ended it with excitement to see the rest of the family again – we’d missed them more than we had realized. It was the best of both worlds.
Here are some highlights from the trip with my little man (and he is most definitely cooler than me).