This summer it will be 13 years since I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s disease. He would have turned 87 next month, and I have no doubt that his body would still be going strong if the Alzheimer’s hadn’t taken over. Sadly, it’s difficult to fully appreciate a parent’s influence until they’re gone. We’re certainly aware of the love, wisdom, advice, discipline, tears, and laughs while we’re in the midst of growing up, but it takes being a parent to fully appreciate our parents’ influence on the adults we become.
Dad was a United Methodist minister who literally practiced what he preached. In 1965, when Martin Luther King issued a plea to clergy to join him, Dad borrowed money and flew across the country to march with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama (he was on national TV getting arrested). His was an inclusive theology that respected all religions: I can remember Dad preaching at the local synagogue on a Saturday, and reciprocating in our Sunday service by opening his pulpit to the rabbi. And I’ve lost track of the number of homeless people, including families with young children, we housed while they tried to get back on their feet.
More than the values he instilled, so many of the things that define me today are directly attributable to my dad’s influence. My love of sports and sense of humor for sure. And when asked how I became a photographer, I have to cite Dad. My standard answer has always been that Dad was a serious amateur photographer whose 80-hour work week offered too little time to pursue his passion, so he made up for lost time on our summer family vacations—I grew up believing that a camera was just a standard outdoor accessory. But I think his influence goes deeper than that. More than simply modeling camera use, Dad instilled his appreciation of nature’s beauty, and his longing for its soothing qualities.
Our vacations were, without exception, camping trips—always tent-camping, though in the later years we splurged on a used, very basic tent trailer (no kitchen, bathroom, or any of the other luxuries available in today’s tent trailers). A few times we (Dad, Mom, my two brothers, and I) hit the road for a longer camping trip, one summer taking a month to camp all the way across the country, another summer venturing into the Canadian Rockies. But usually we took advantage of the mountain scenery (always the mountains) closer to our California home.
Of these locations, Yosemite was the clear favorite. Marveling at the Firefall from Camp Curry and Glacier Point, waiting in lawn chairs at the Yosemite dump for the bears to arrive for their evening meal (really), rising in the dark for a fishing expedition to Tuolumne Meadows, family hikes up the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, are just a few of the memories that I only realize in hindsight formed my Yosemite connection.
My favorite Dad photography story happened when I was about ten. It involves an electrical storm atop Sentinel Dome, and his desire to get the shot that was so great that it trumped common sense. As his ignorant assistant, I stretched to hold an umbrella high above Dad’s head to keep his camera dry. (In his defense, as Californians, lightning was a true novelty that trumped full appreciation of its dangers.) We didn’t get the lightning, and more importantly, it didn’t get us. But what I remember more than anything about that day was Dad’s excitement when later that afternoon he was able to photograph a rainbow arcing across the face of Half Dome.
This story has achieved family legend status, and we’ve felt a special connection to Sentinel Dome as a result. When it came time to scatter Dad’s ashes, Sentinel Dome was the obvious choice.
One more thing
I have the reputation for being very lucky where photography conditions are concerned: The clouds that part just as the moon rises, the snowstorm that blankets Yosemite Valley just as the workshop begins, the rainbow arcing across the Grand Canyon. In our family we like to believe that Dad is somehow up there pulling some strings. It’s just the kind of thing he’d do.
I love you, Dad.
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