"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Father's Day

I had an odd relationship with my Dad. He had an even odder one with his, who I never met. My father, not interested in sports, went to exactly two of the 500 races I've run, but he was at 2 of the 5 or 6 best.

The second one, I beat a world record-holder (Barney Klecker), an olympian (Ron Daws), a 2:08 marathoner (Dick Beardsley) and a half dozen collegiate all-Americans. I didn't win; I think I was about 30th. I wanted to quit, then I heard my father's booming baritone and I sped up instead. Actually, I ran perfectly even splits, but it seemed like I was accelerating. I would never have admitted that I wanted to impress my dad, but that's what got me to the finish where I thought for the first time I might have a future in running.

It's the first race he saw that sticks with me, though.

It was my high school cross-country conference championship. I'd been a consistent fifth man on a team that had two very good runners (9th and 23rd in State). Toward the end of the race, I saw my friend and teammate, Keith, make a wrong turn ahead of me and I knew then that that probably cost the team any chance it had of qualifying for the state championship.

The finish had a long out-and-back, so spectators could see runners for about a half mile before the finish. I saw my parents near the finish line and... I was shocked. This must really be important! My father hadn't taken a day off work since I was born.

I took off like I was fired out of a cannon. I caught up to my teammate, Chuck, who was incensed that I had caught him and he sped up as well. We passed a dozen runners. Then another dozen. We were flying down the home stretch, arms flailing, lungs searing. We lunged at the finish line. I was 14th, Chuck 15th. The top 14 made all-conference.

Chuck was one of those "brood quietly" types. That day, he was screaming mad that he missed all-conference by 0.1 seconds. I was ecstatic, as it was better than anything I'd ever expected. We had won the championship and were all headed for the state championship as a team, all because I had pushed so hard at the end. I had to run over to my parents to tell them the good news.

Before I could tell them the good news, my father said, "Your grandfather died."

I was so angry! He couldn't let me be happy for one minute! He couldn't have waited until later to tell me (Grandpa would still be dead, after all), but he had to ruin what was then the best day of my life. He couldn't let me have my moment in the sun. He wanted me miserable all the time.

It took more than a decade for me to understand. The best way he could think of to comfort my mother (it was her father who died) was to take her to see one of the kids and I was the only one available. He felt it was necessary to tell me why they couldn't be happy for me before I started telling them all about the trivial accomplishment of the day. He'd hoped that I would share the burden of trying to help my mother cope.

And I walked away.

He was a much better man than I gave him credit for and I was a much worse one. Fortunately, we straightened things out before it was too late. I tend to think I learned nothing from him except a love of nature and of learning, but people tell me we're a lot alike. I could do worse.


Londell said...

great post... I can relate ... Thanks for sharing.


Julie B said...

A love of learning and a love of nature are wonderful things to have learned from your father. It's funny how time allows us to see more clearly.