Long Hikes and Talks with a Daughter
Amelia and I undertook our first real serious Maine hike together over Thanksgiving weekend. We went to Sears Island, walked along the shoreline, and talked about the deep things that Amelia likes to let out on long hikes.
This is an amazing honor roll student. This is a kid that is already formulating her plans for the Girl Scout Silver Award. This is a kid who is getting ready for her bat mitzvah. This is a kid who volunteers once a week at the local library. This is an artist, and a gifted writer.
And for all of this, she still has all the familiar anxieties I did as a kid.
“Dad, when did you know what you wanted to do for a living?”
I was on track to pursue music as a career, or write. But on a lark, I enlisted in the Army because I wasn’t sure how I’d pay for school, I was tired of being a weak little nerd, or because I wanted to impress my high school girlfriend. To quote the Joker, if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice. In reality, I ended up as a programmer because I had done it from almost as soon as I could type on our old Kaypro through to the day I stumbled into a formal programming job after a year in network admin/engineering.
It paid the bills, and it turns out, I had a passion for it. My dreams as a kid were being the next Pinchas Zuckerman or Stern, maybe writing the Great American Novel. And I did finally start writing novels, but it’s not my primary focus. Today, writing software is so genuinely and improbably satisfying to me. If I were able to go back in time and tell myself, “hey, kid, first you’ll be a paratrooper. By the way, your dreams of poon throwing itself at you? Forget it. Think you’ll still be playing in a band 20 years from now? Hah. You’re going to chase a toddler around your living room, and you’re going to think every moment is magical. And for 8-10 hours a day, you will write code. And you will like it.”
18-year-old me would have taken another drag off a Camel straight and said, “old guy, you’re harshing my mellow.”
I thought about sketching a Venn diagram in the sand for her.
“This gigantic circle consists all my shitty choices (and the one or two good ones), and this circle is every random event, and this teeny tiny convergence between the two is my career, having my delightful array of children, and marrying Leah.”
I didn’t realize just how satisfying my own life would become until we packed up and moved to Maine. We look out the window, we see the woods. Today, after a few days of precipitation, the brook on our property is loud. The wild turkeys keep strolling through, right past my office window. And we’re less than 30 minutes from a hike on the Maine Coast, but we’re also less than 30 minutes from our synagogue. It doesn’t feel quite as “ends of the Earth” as living in Alaska did, but it’s close enough. In trying to answer Amelia, it’s the sum total of my life that falls into the right groove. Career, plus family, plus faith, plus Army, plus hobbies.
As we walked along the beach and talked, her fears are a lot more specific than my abstract fears were back when I was her age.
“No, Dad,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s not that I’m worried about getting into college or becoming a marine biologist. My concern is that I’ll get stuck in ‘pay your dues,’ lab work forever, as opposed to being able to do field research. And then that I’ll discover that I don’t really like it, but I’ve pinned it all on marine biology and there’s nowhere else to go. And you know what Bernie said about student debt and how now that Trump is elected, we’re all going to be stuck going to bogus real estate colleges.”
“Hey, look at those snail shells, Amelia! Those are incredible.”
Thanks, Beauty of Maine, for giving me an out on having to wax Ward Cleaver, as if I really have a clue. Sears Island in late fall totally saved Amelia from her dad quoting Yoda in response to her dilemma. The important thing, at least, is even if all I can do is offer monosyllabic, supportive grunts in response to her life’s complexities; we’ll always have these hikes.