On September 13, 2016 Dad sent Nick and I text that we both remember so well. It said, “Well guys I’m down to one state yet to set foot in. Alaska. We’re in Nevada tonight and then onto Oregon tomorrow.” After that text he’d mentioned heading up to Alaska more than a couple of times. As happens in life, Dad had less time than he thought to reach his 50th state, his dream was not quite complete.
Early this summer Nick and I were on the phone and the topic of Dad’s incomplete dream came up. Talking big and without putting too much thought into it we thought about how happy Dad would have been to see us head up here to complete his quest with him along for the ride in our hearts. We could both see the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eyes as he would have given us a hard time for being “dough heads” or something long those lines. The more we talked about how much of a kick he would have gotten out of it we set our minds to it and talked our incredibly understanding spouses into letting us embark on this somewhat ridiculous quest.
Net thing we knew we’d gotten flights for the six of us (Becky, the boys, and I as well as my brother Nick and our niece Sela) and rented a perfect home from AirBNB (which not only felt like something that Dad would have loved, it even smelled like his workshop!). Our plans were set, we would head to Alaska for essentially a long weekend to bring the spirit of Dad up to his last state.
On this trip we’ve experienced so many natural wonders. The landscapes have been so beautiful and picturesque. We split into smaller groups a couple of times to experience different things (Nick and Sela heading out for a helicopter ride and then riding on a dogsled, my family heading out for a long hike to see the ice field up close). Other times we did things as a big group like the day cruise yesterday and every supper. While it was easy to get lost in the scenery, wildlife, and conversation there were so many times that I paused and thought of Dad, just like I’m sure everyone else did.
In some cases I would talk with him in my head and ask how he felt about the views. Once in a while I would hear his voice in the back of my head and could almost feel his presence with us. While on the hike during a particularly serene moment the air went from still to having a slight breeze that blew a small handful of yellowed cottonwood leaves across our path… and I could almost swear he was right there with us. So many times as I look in the distance and see the silhouette of the mountains in the distance across the ocean bay I think of him and the smile he would have had on his face if he were here… the smile I know he has on his face as he is here with us.
I am also very sure that something else Dad is enjoying is the time we are spending as a family on this trip. What an amazing opportunity to enjoy each others company than on a vacation like this? The amount of laughing, smiling, healing, and bonding we’ve done as a family has been incredible. Sure, there’ve been tears too like when Gavin made a comment about how much he misses Grandpa Pete and we had a good cry as a father and son with him sitting on my lap as I hugged him as hard as I could while telling him how much I miss Dad too. So many moments of joking and smiling, so many moments of learning more about each other, so many moments of enjoying spending time with each other, and so many shared memories of Dad. The grin on Dad’s face is huge and he sees us spending this time together, it’s almost as if he were here. In many ways, this would have been like heaven to him.
As we head out on our flights later this evening a part of Dad will remain here in his 50th state, his dream complete. It wasn’t in the way he’d hoped to explore Alaska, but he was still able to experience it through our eyes and with his family. We’ve all talked many times about how much he would have enjoyed this or that up here, and there’s a pretty good chance that this state would have been his favorite. While we fly home it’s safe to imagine that part of his spirit will remain here to explore and enjoy this magnificent state in even more detail. I’ll also be dreaming of returning to this bay one day in the distant future to be with him once again and to explore this paradise with him. We’ll walk side by side through the trails and share so many stories, see so many wondrous sites, and enjoy the time together.
Dad, I miss you more than I thought I possibly could. I’m doing my best to stay focused on being thankful for the time we had together and for the having the best father I could have dreamt of having. Thank you for inspiring Nick and I to bring our families to this awesome place together to enjoy it as a family. Thank you for sharing your presence with us this weekend, you were always on the top of our minds and hearts. I am so thankful that you were able to experience this last state through our eyes and our hearts, this would have felt like home to you for so many reasons. I love you dearly, think of you often, and am so thankful for you. See you in Resurrection Bay one day, I will be anxious to see what you’ve found while exploring here. Love you Dude!