I Was My Dad


Walking where my father walked, fishing where he fished, I felt he was a part of me, and I a part of him.

In my early teens, life seemed to fly by. I was testing the wings of young manhood and feeling a lot of turbulence along the way. Every turn brought new discoveries.

In the midst of this period I discovered something that I grew to cherish. It was something I never expected.

In those days our family would often spend our weekends in a small community nestled in the peaks of the Oregon mountains. As soon as my dad came home from work we would grab the fishing poles and mosquito repellent, throw them into the back of the camper, and drive off.

Full of anticipation, my sisters and I, and on occasion, our friends, would all lie on the top level of the bunk bed in the camper, leaning our faces up against the window screen to get relief from the summer heat. There we would plot out our upcoming adventures. During our planning sessions, I would never forget to tell the newcomers of the great summer attraction.

The great summer attraction was a large wooden pipe which carried water, under pressure, from a dam several miles to its powerhouse. The pipe was made of planks bound by steel bands. Over the years, time and moss had taken their toll, eating little holes in the pipe. This made the pipe resemble a gigantic lawn sprinkler, the kind that you stretch across the lawn but can never get both ends to lie right side up at the same time, resulting in water shooting for yards in every direction. This constant spraying was not only a refreshing retreat from the summer heat, but it kept the forest deep green. In winter it transformed the forest into a heavenly white, with every stream of water making its own unique ice sculpture.

On one of those summer outings, I sat in the cab of the truck and listened with the intense fascination of a boyish heart to Dad tell of his boyhood. He had grown up in this community. He told of spending the summers as a sheepherder in the alpine meadows, when the mountains would awaken and put on their summer green. In the winter, when the layers of white would again start to cover the high country, he would return to the small town below.

I had been to this community many times before and had visited his grandmother’s grave and the old house where he used to live. I had even wandered around his old high school. But never had my dad’s life seemed so real to me as it did that day. I spent the day as he had, at his old hangouts. He pointed to one of the meadows where he had herded sheep. We went to one of his favorite fishing holes, where a dam had stood. We continued to the lower dam. This was the place of the wooden pipe.

As I walked along the pipe that day, I felt different than I ever had before. I realized that there were just as many fish elsewhere. It wasn’t the fishing, or even the pipe, that was so special. It was my dad’s life. This place is my father’s link with the past, I thought. He had made a niche, a sanctuary, a home here. And his stories had become a part of me. Retracing the footsteps of my father’s childhood that day, I felt as if I was my dad. I knew that he had traveled this pipe often in his younger days, and I marveled at our newfound similarities. We were different; yet we were much the same. He wasn’t perfect, as I was not, but he, like the ice sculptures, was unique, a masterpiece of God’s creation.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mitchell W. Heinze