“Alpinism is the art of climbing mountains by confronting the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence.” René Daumal (March 16, 1908–May 21, 1944)
Inevitably, on Father’ Day my thoughts turn to my late husband who died in a climbing accident when our son was 21 months old. I feel sorrow and grief for both Brett and Sam. Brett for he has missed all the great joys of Sam the person. And Sam for never knowing his father. When Sam was little I used to feel such pain when I saw fathers in the park, holding their children high on their shoulders, cherishing them, or kicking a ball with them or coaching their team, or teaching them how to ride a bike, fix a car, make something out of something in the shed. I often felt Sam got the crumbs from other kind fathers, that he would never be the one to be saved first. I always imagined that Brett could run up a mountain, rescue Sam from the sea, protect him like some superhero, from the vagaries of the world. He would have taught Sam how to survive in the bush, bowled him a million cricket balls, instilled great confidence in him. That Sam would always be his number one. And he would have been too.
Then after the accident, there was just me; clingy, fearful, panicky at each stage of Sam’s life- being kidnapped, or bullied, learning to drive a car, drinking and teenaged behaviour, then going to night clubs, working alone in the hills. All the usual suspects. I know the poem below is hyperbolic but it’s the way I felt (and still feel, I guess) at the time.
Gentle hands with fine-boned fingers
Holding a flute, a bat, a book.
Inching a knight across a chequer board
Or arms bras bas, a demi plié,
The leotard outlining your lean shape,
My graceful gazelle.
I would kill for you
Wistful brown eyes, see things through,
See through things,
Dreams turn to whimper and murmur,
A word, a sigh the storms and fires
Rumple your nights,
My leggy colt.
I would kill for you
Pushing wet tendrils back from your face,
I kiss your downy cheek and know that I would
Dash out the skull, take the bullet, hide you
Fiercely in the folds of my skirt. Wield a sword, a knife,
A gun. Starve, steal, willingly, viciously,
To keep you from harm.
I would kill for you.
A late bus, a man cruising in a car, a careless playground moment,
The wrong place at the wrong time, a truck, a bike
And I would embrace death as a lover.
I would kill for you.
I have never stopped doing the worry, in case when I do, something terrible happens. People often say they “knew” something had happened, but when Brett was killed, Bev and Sam and I were happily out at a café, eating muffins and admiring the beautiful blue-skied Dunedin day. All the while Brett was lying severely injured and taking his last breaths.
Logically, I know this is a silly waste of time and I try to free Sam from the stickiness of my anxiety, but I hardly ever succeed. Then I worry that I have instilled a sense of fearfulness in him so that he can’t lead a full and adventurous life. And so I worry about worrying.
Keep your eyes fixed on the way to the top, but don’t forget to look at your feet. The last step depends on the first. Don’t think you have arrived just because you see the peak. Watch your feet, be certain of your next step, but don’t let this distract you from the highest goal. The first step depends on the last.
René Daumal (March 16, 1908–May 21, 1944)
I know I should watch my own step and let Sam watch his own!! The photo below of Brett and Sam was at Arthurs Pass. We had gone for a walk on the swing bridge and up into the bush. I returned there when Sam was a little older and Brett had died. When I put Sam in his car seat to return home, he looked at me very seriously and said, “I love this.” Hardly surprising he became an ecologist but so glad he didn’t become a climber….
I wrote the poem below from the accompanying photograph when Sam was around 10 and it encapsulates my clinginess and Sam’s need to escape. Not much has changed, call me a helicopter mother!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed Father’s Day everyone who has a good man in their lives and for those who don’t, I hope you did something kind for yourself.
Some have suggested we rename Mother and Father days just to Parent Day. Fortunately these days we have all sorts of families so Parent Day seems sensible to me. FG