father's day

A Lesson From My Dad for Father’s Day


Father’s Day

This Sunday is Father’s Day. We lost my dad about three years ago. So, as a way of remembering him, and paying tribute to him, I thought I’d write about him – and in particular, about one particular trip that taught me a lot about life.

Mount Kinsman

Mount Kinsman By Ken Gallager at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Premeditated Chaos using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, Link

The year was 1990. I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout. There were no cell phones. Nobody had the internet. Johnny Carson was still on the air.

Troop 25 of Putnam, Conn. did a 50-miler every two years in the summer through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was going to be the training hike in early May. They let some of the younger scouts come along to let them get a feel for what it was like when they’d go on the 50 when they were 14.

I’d done Mount Monadnock a few years before. I’d done a few hikes with the troop in town before, going the 2.5 miles from the church to James Campsite on Hurry Hill, and we did another hike in Wolf Den State Park. But these were nothing like Mount Kinsman. Kinsman was (and is) a 4,000 foot mountain in central New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail.

My Dad

father's day

Barney Cooney, My dad, circa 1990

My father, Barney was going to come along on the trek. I’d talked him into going. He had bad knees from playing high school football (among other health problems I wasn’t really aware of at the time) – so obviously the perfect activity for him was mountain climbing.

The evening before the hike (and before my dad got home), I freaked out. I was terrified that something bad would happen on the hike. That I wouldn’t be able to do it. So, I made a scene. Screaming. Tears.  I did this before my dad got home from work, and my mom was a pretty good audience for this. This went on for a while. (I feel bad about this now, but I was 12, and I think the statue of limitations has run out.)

Dad got home from work about an hour later. He quickly talked me into going. I believe his exact words were, “you’re going,” followed by an explanation of why my previous rant on my poor mother was unacceptable. (Again, I realize and fully admit my error now.)

I had signed up for the campout, told my dad I was going, and like it or not, I was going.

I went to bed with a sore throat, still dreading the next day.

No Good Deed…

In the morning, we loaded our gear in dad’s dark red Oldsmobile and made our way to Mr. B’s house, where we’d carpool the three hours north to the trail-head. Mr. B’s van had one cassette in it, so if you didn’t have a walkman (kids, they played things called “cassettes), you got to listen to Charlie Daniel’s “A Decade of Hits” for three hours. (On the bright side, my rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” later became a karaoke winner.)

This being my first real mountain with a full backpack, I was struggling along through the early part of the hike. My father, with his knees likely aching, probably didn’t feel great either.  He didn’t do that sort of thing often, so this was kind of a big deal. It doesn’t occur to you in any real sense when your 12 that your parents feel pain. Your awareness of it is purely academic.

About an hour after lunch, my dad decided to take pity on me. We stopped along the side of the trail, and took a bunch of items out of my pack, and put them into his. My pack was now suddenly much lighter. I did what any grateful son would do now that he had a lighter backpack…

Obviously, I took off down the trail! I left my dad and the other father and son we were hiking with far behind.

If you’ve decided to stop reading, and think I’m an awful son, I completely understand.

My Father’s Revenge.

But don’t feel too bad for my dad. If nothing else, the man had a sense of humor.

That night, while I was playing with my friends in camp, my dad surreptitiously took all of the stuff I had given him from my pack, and put it back in my pack. For good measure he also took items from his pack and put them in mine. He of course, said nothing of this when I came back from playing – nor did he mention it in the morning. When I mentioned that my pack felt a little heavier on the trail in the morning. He told me that’s how a pack always felt on day two of a hike. If nothing else, the man could keep a straight face. He didn’t tell me until we got back to the car.

The Lesson

So, what’s the Father’s Day moral of the story?

That fears are best faced, and that real growth only comes from trying new things and taking chances, even when you’re afraid of them.

I had a blast on that campout. I had fun with my friends. We climbed a real mountain. I did it! I got to see an older scout skip a rock all the way across a huge point. We got to watch the greatest sunset I’ve ever seen as it dipped behind the mountain. I went on to do two 50-milers with the troop in the following years, and they were two of the best trips of my life. I believe that without those experiences, I would have dropped out of college, and not taken advantage of a lot of the great opportunities that followed.

And I would have missed out on all of it had my dad not made me go on that campout. This Father’s Day, when I’m relaxing on the hammock my kids got me, I’ll be thinking of my dad, and the lesson. In life, you usually wind up regretting the trips you don’t go on a lot more than the ones you do.

I also learned that sometimes as a parent you have to push your kids to work through their fears – to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.

Thanks dad. Someday I hope your grandchildren will thank you too.




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