Keep Ithaca always in your mind, wrote C.P. Cavafy in his epic poem about Odysseus’ journey. He wasn’t talking about Ithaca, New York, but he was talking about adventure and wandering and that, my friends, fits here.
In June, we packed up the camper and headed east. This wasn’t the first time we made our way to Ithaca; we spent a chilly fall break in 2012 tent camping there and have been dreaming about going back ever since.
If you’ve ever heard me explain why I deserved a camper after years of tent camping, I’m sure our first Ithaca trip has come up. New York in the fall is amazing. I don’t care what part you go visit–NYC or outside the city–it’s going to be amazing. But it can get chilly or, if you will, cold.
Our fall break trip in 2012 involved below-freezing temperatures with a one year old and a three year old in a tent with only a few blankets. I had, at the last minute, packed the space heater I used to use in my classroom, so we were able to point the small heater at the girls as they slept.
It wasn’t big enough to heat the whole tent or anyone not directly in front of it. I don’t want to be a martyr here, but I really took one for the team with that move. My kids slept peacefully, warm and snug in their little sleeping bags while I was too cold to move.
I plan on telling this story to them every single time they’re mean to me for the rest of their lives.
Even with the freezing temperatures, we were longing to go back. Above our bed is a picture of the girls holding hands in front of a huge waterfall as orange and yellow trees begin their descent into winter nakedness.
So we met Chris’ brother, his wife, and their daughter Savannah for a long weekend in Ithaca. This is our second annual summer camp out; they live in Maryland so we meet somewhere middle-ish for a visit. Last year it was West Virginia, this year it was New York.
We spent Father’s Day weekend grilling out, hiding from the rain, hiking, roasting marshmallows, exploring state parks, laughing, riding bikes, and telling stories.
The Graham boys carry a heavy legacy, one with a lot of pain and mess. They have parents who often made choices that were not in their best interest, were not with their safety or health in mind. Raising their own children reminds them of what they lost and how it should have been.
They could get stuck in the memories, but they don’t. It’s part coping mechanism, part survival tactic. They acknowledge how things weren’t what they would have picked and now they’re picking better for their daughters.
Father’s Day is bittersweet for kids whose fathers were not much to celebrate, not much to look up to.
Author Sammy Rhodes writes, Addicts aren’t gone, but they’re missing. Their addiction has banished them to wander as a ghost who haunts the land of the living with the presence of their absence…The wound of fatherlessness isn’t lightly healed. Time certainly is no help. If anything it reveals just how big the wound really is, just how much damage the foundation has actually suffered.
Chris and Mike’s father is not missing. He is not dead. But he is gone. Gone to Florida where it is easier to hide. Gone to drinking where things don’t feel so painful. Gone. Gone. Gone.
Like Ithaca, there is a part of Chris’ father that is always in his mind.
When Chris stopped drinking, everything he was running from caught up with him, his father’s legacy included. Picking through what he left and how it’s still being carried is laborious.
This summer has us revisiting places we’ve been before: Clifty Falls State Park, New York, Michigan. It would seem counter-intuitive in our quest to visit all fifty states to go back to some when there is still so much to do.
But before we go forward, we have to go back.
Before we start again, we have to see where we’ve been and what we still drag with us.
Before we get to healthy, we have to go through healing, and it is often facing the direction behind us.