My dad gifted me a bolt-action Winchester .243 upon completing hunter education when I was 12 years old. Like many rural kids, I already knew my way around a rifle before legal hunting age, and I headed into that first autumn with a strong grasp of safety and ostensibly a steady shot. But, also like many outdoorsy children, I discovered that hands quickly turn unsteady when that first buck is in your sights.
I would grow to be a decent shot, not particularly excellent, but more than the hunt’s climactic moment, it was the excuse to venture into the woods with my father that compelled me to wake up well before dawn on frigid late-fall days in Livingston. By high school, friends would occasionally replace my father as hunting companions, but he remained my foremost conduit and guide to the ancient pursuit.
Years later, after I long ago stopped hunting, it’s that father-son dynamic that I remember most fondly. Since venturing off to college, and throughout adulthood, fishing displaced hunting as my wildlife-driven passion. I’ve taken a rifle for a walk a few times over the last decade, typically in search of birds, and always alongside my father on trips back to Livingston. But the desire to hunt in earnest once again has not been rekindled. Rather, I long for a feeling, rooted in memory, that can’t be fully realized.
In short, I miss that connection with my father, not the act of harvesting animals, even if I eagerly accept his annual gifts of elk, deer, antelope and other game. These days, however, the tie that increasingly binds us together is our shared love of my two sons. And I don’t even have to venture into pre-dawn cold to find it.
“Grandpa Parks,” as both boys call him, recently “ate” a large dragonfly we found at Foys Lake, a feat that so impressed Fisher, my 5-year-old, that he continues asking if he can start eating dragonflies. We steer him away from the rotting dragonfly carcass he found in our yard, but we don’t tell him that my dad was only pretending. Imagination is magic. My father, an artist, taught me that, and he’s teaching my boys the same.
On the biological calendar, my parents are in the autumn of their lives, yet their health and vigor tell me winter remains on the distant horizon. I foresee countless adventures, likely even more bug-eating escapades, in both our immediate and far-off futures. But I know they’re growing older. My father still obsessively hunts, but he wears an ankle brace and battles soreness. You can’t hunt forever, but you can love your grandchildren eternally.
We can’t recapture moments from our childhood, and it can be unhealthy to forcibly replicate them, turning nostalgia into a bludgeon. Instead, we should embrace the forging of new moments, new stories, new connections. I retired the rifle. Then I brought two lives into the world. Therein lies the opportunity to be closer to my father than ever. I intend to take advantage of it.
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