LOOK, DAD, I LIVE IN THE WOODS!

(Originally published in ROVA Magazine, Adventure 7, March 2018)

My father is my hero. So clichéd, right? But it's true! Let me paint you a picture of my dad: an avid outdoorsman of all seasons, a world traveler, a professional photographer, a phototography professor at a college and, on top of all of that, a pilot. Imagine the covers of those 1950's men's journals where the perfect specimen of the Y chromosome would be illustrated hanging out of a plane, fighting off a rabid bald eagle with one hand while snapping pictures with the other. That's my dad. Clichéd or not, my father is my hero.

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When my mother birthed a boy, Dad was elated. He imagined this golden child riding alongside him on his remote canoe tripes in to the Canadian wild, learning about the wilderness and photography along the way. Unfortunately, Dad got stuck with me. Although I wouldn't describe my young self as agoraphobic, I can accurately say that I completely and utterly feared going outside as a youth. Bees were the number one culprit, which was odd as I had never even been stung at that point (I was pricked in my adult years, and it wasn't even all that bad. Spoiler alert: this is a metephor for my whole life).

After 18 years on the planet, not much changed in terms of my outdoor prowess. I much prefered to libe in the flickering 16-bit squares and the repetitve tines of my video games than be outside. My dad had known for years not to ask to join in his funm, but it was at this poiint that I noticed he had totally given up his woodsy passions. Those snowshoes in the grages hadn't moved in years.

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I felt a little bit of guilt at the time, but it paled in comparison to having no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At the beginning of my final high school year, I was given some projects that required my dad's video camera, and that was it: I decided that I wanted to go into filmmaking. I could see a light spark up in my dad's eye when I told him. His patience had finally paid off! For weeks, my dad busted at the seams with joy while he say me down and talked all things aperture, shutter speed and f-stops. There as a problem, though: I didn't have a hope in Hades of getting into post secondary school. I was a terrible student - I was way more interested in being the class clown than learning, well... anything. With nothing but a hope and a prayer, I applied to study at all of the film schools in my province.

Christmas that year brought heartbreak when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was give only a few months to live. Time crawled by as I watched my dad deteriorate into a thin shell of a human, bearing little resembelance to his former physical self. One specific moment still sticks with my as a passing of the torch:  I helped carry him up the stairs and put him to bed, just like he had done with me what felt like only a few years before. I knew I had to step up. I had to grow up.

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April arrived, and so did my post-secondary responses. After an adult-sized serving of rejection, there was one letter than stood out as a little bigger and bulkier than the rest. But... come on, it was from arguably the best film school in the country. Surely not?

I bolted to the hospital, where my dad lay bedridden, and one of my favorite memories of my existence unfolded. I was able to show my father that by some  miracle I was off to college. Although his physical being was all but gone, I saw him shine brighter in that moment than he had during my entire life. He squeezed my hand and said one thing: "Do me proud." He was gone the next day.

At the funeral, one of my teachers let slip that my sly dad had written a letter to my future college, and that as a former professor there he was able to pull some strings (some major strings) to get me a spot. On his physical exit from my life, my dad gave me one hell of a push, sending me on a journey I could never have seen coming.

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Fast-forward through 14 years of figuring it out, and I've become someone who that timid version of myself wouldn't even recognize; I'm actually similar to that risk-taker on the cover of the 1950s pulp fiction! I'm nomadic, traveling across North America in a tiny travel trailer with walls so thin that I basically live outside. I fill my time taking pictures and making films about the places I go and the amazing people I meet. My life is a full-time adventure. Just today, I took my drone out for a flight around a mountain range in Colorado, and my dad immediately appeared front of mind; it's as close as I'll ever be to becoming a pilot like him. Good gosh, he would have loved to have played with one of those things!

I look back on my existence as a whole and shake my head at how much I resisted life early on - I fought what was in front of me the whole time, and all I had to do was take my dad's hand. Now, when I see a child with their father, I want to tell them my story to make sure they don't miss out on all of the precious time and exiciting oppertunities that their dad has to share with them. But we must all find our way in our own time. It's taken me 33 years at this point, and believe me, in many ways I'm still figuring it out. But the toad is long, and I'm pounding the pavement kilometer by kilometer, living a dream I didn't know I had, but that I think my dad knew about all along.

Thanks for the push, Dad. I hope I'm doing you proud. Love you.

By Reggie Grey, Edited By Gemma Peckham


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