I went to visit my headwaters yesterday. I woke up this morning with a word block, but an emotional geyser, and I have to write it out before I can move on to book-like words.
On our summer calendar for yesterday, I had hand-written the plan to visit my dad. It is interesting to me that I didn’t type him into our schedule but rather wrote him in as if he were an after-thought. The thought to visit him has not been flippant, but rather a consuming backdrop to everything. For months I have battled, internally, with how quickly I should get to his bedside. I’ve rushed there before, on a number of occasions, and each time he has slowly recovered, left the health facility, found himself holed up in a seedy hotel or short-term apartment and then started the whole thing over again. I don’t live near him, so the hospital visits and jail stints have happened in my absence. I’ve needed to see him, and yesterday was the day.
For so much of my relationship with my dad, I have moved to that awful place of indifference. I love him though, I really do, and the ways I miss him sneak up on me when I watch fathers and daughters laugh and dance. I felt twinges of sadness yesterday as I caught him up on my life.
“These are your granddaughters,” I offered as we walked in to his dorm-like room.
“Oh sure, I know you,” he lied.
“This is Middle Sprout and this is Little Sprout,” I helped to remind him. “How are you feeling dad?”
“Good. I’ll be up and around again in a few weeks,” he matter-of-factly explained.
“Here is a picture we have for you of Big Sprout’s visit last week,” I said handing it to him.
My son, by chance, had made it to see my dad before I did. It helped to prepare me for how he was going to be. Then it was my turn with the girls.
The conversation was easy, easier than it should have been. I shouldn’t enjoy him sober. I shouldn’t want to see him more and to hug him better. That hurts. It’s easier to keep my distance and to pretend that he is already gone. The truth is, he will never be gone for me. He is my headwaters. He is like the start of the Mississippi River. The Old Man that trickles at its start but then becomes the greatest waterway in North America.
We all have that emotional place that mirrors the way this great river begins.
For some people, the headwaters are traumatic, for others just an experience in time. The headwaters event takes us due North immediately, a seemingly contrary direction, but over the course of time, if we choose, we take on the contributing rivers, change the direction to head South and with increasing flow, make a beeline for the ocean…
It is definitely about how the waters start, but it is also about what the waters become. I look at the picture my mom took of us yesterday, and on the left is my dad: a place of heartache, pain, sadness and… love. I have never ever considered that my dad didn’t love me. I know he does, I just know that he has been too sick to show it properly. On the right side of the picture are my girls. They represent part of my life now. The full, growing and exciting adventure that happens on the waters much further down the river.
I could spend my life blaming the headwaters for taking me in a direction I would never have chosen, but then I would be denying myself the opportunity to celebrate what happens at every other part of the trip…because of him.
Mark Twain could not have said it better:
“It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages–everything one could desire to amuse the children. Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.”
– interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886
Found in marktwainquotations