I think it's pretty safe to say I have great parents. Sometimes they make questionable decisions, like when they let me get my license in Baker City, the DMV equivalent of a cracker jack box, and still let me drive, or the time--actually that's pretty much it. They're doing alright. I'm going to be honest, I don't know that much about raising children, but I'm going to offer my opinion on what makes a truly exceptional parent anyway. I'm without a doubt biased towards my own parents, but it's justified. Think about it. They made me. Actually no, think about them creating my older sister--she's a morning person, that has to count for something.
Once a friend told me that good parents go to bat for their kids every time, right or wrong. I know that much, at least, is true when it comes to mine. I know without a doubt that they will always love me, right, wrong, weak or strong. That's a good parent.
In addition to the deep (and probably irrational on their part) sense of unconditional love that emanates from my mom and dad, I think they've done a remarkably good job of cloning themselves. From my mother we cultivated a distinct sense of grace and good taste, of compassion for the less fortunate, a love for small, cute things and ice cube trays with lemon slots built in. My sister (you might know her by her new alias, Martha) embodies her particular brand of elegance in motion perfectly. I didn't come to these particular qualities naturally, but rather with much painstaking effort on my mom's part--it's true, I'm now a card-carrying, cardigan wearing, proper soup spoon holding sorority woman, but it didn't come easy. And I'll be honest right now my toenails aren't painted and yesterday I didn't brush my hair. So what. It's a work in progress.
I think we can all tell at this point that I inherited more of my father's tendencies, and not just because he doesn't paint his toenails either. It's true; we have the same wicked sense of humor, we're stubborn to a fault. We dislike most people and find dark, small spaces wildly appealing. Once he called me his most challenging child. I took it as a compliment. More than anything though, I think his crowning achievement in terms of raising children has been instilling within us a deep appreciation and love for nature.
How hard can it be, you might say. You take your kids on a couple hikes a year and tell them what stinging nettle looks like, big deal. To you I respond, haters to the left. Also, it's not the sort of appreciation that means you're comfortable on a well-maintained trail in the Gorge, although I do love it there and go often. Not to belittle the casual naturalist, but it's a pull towards undiscovered land, of feeling your spirits rise with the elevation. Of feeling tied to the mountains around you, as if when you are there, time becomes irrelevant--of feeling like you and the land will go on forever, and even if you don't, it will--come hell or high water or nuclear fallouts. Away from the noise of people and their problems, of cars and strangers and money, there is peace to be found. Knowing that when you're able to hear every footstep crunch through the sagebrush, or swish through bunch grass, you're walking closer and closer to a state of mind that you can't find when you're adrift in a sea of people. Feeling full and happy sitting on a hillside, watching the sun set over the valley--watching the pastures turn velvety green and gold in the twilight. Of feeling that strength and a sense of self is best-developed when you are alone in a vast wilderness, when you know you are insignificant to the ways of the natural world. That time and life goes on, whether fires burn and trees die, or cougars run rampant and kill everything. Deer populations and chlorophyll will bounce back from devastation, just like we can. These are the things that can only be taught through example and a lot of time in the woods. Trust me.
So this is my father's legacy. It's bigger and probably better than a shared inability to listen to reason. I know that myself and my siblings will spend the rest of our lives periodically heading out of town and towards the quiet hustle of a world that exists beyond our understanding, that works independently of war, crime and Martha Stewart. And though I hope he lives to see a ripe old age, I know that even after he goes, my sisters and my brother and I will go sit in Sam's meadow up past the adobe road and remember the time we saw the cougar chase the deer over the ridge, or when Sam called us fools and then almost stepped on two snakes, or the year the grasshopper population exploded and Dad spent hours catching thousands of grasshoppers and throwing them into the fish pond. And we'll know that he and mom are still all around us, protecting and loving us, unconditionally and probably still irrationally. This, I think, is his greatest gift.