gowest-thBeyond Rye: Go West,  Old Man

In the rush of building a life together, we fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, never seem to find the time to just be with each other.


By Peter Jovanovich



In the rush of building a life together, we fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, never seem to find the time to just be with each other. When our sons and daughters are married, it appears those times for bonding are gone forever, as they too engage in life’s joys and struggles.

Blessedly, now that our two sons are settled and I’m retired, we find it easier to do simple things. Gone are the ever-present worries, mostly “Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and the worries you hide from your children, e.g. “Am I going to be able to hold onto my job long enough to be able to comfortably retire?” We now enjoy the good stuff.

This August, my younger son Will and I spent a week hiking in the Pacific Northwest: a perfect setting for Father-Son bonding. What could go wrong?

Let’s start with age: one of us is getting older. “No,” you might interject, “you mean you both are getting older.” Wrong. My mid-30s sons seem to get fitter and stronger every year as they lift weights, perform cardio programs, and swim laps; while I accumulate ailments and diseases that never quite go away.

Day One of our excursion involved climbing straight up for four hours, eventually reaching glaciers where the wind gusted over 40 miles an hour. Solicitously, my son repeatedly offered to help: “Are you all right Dad? Should we stop and rest? Here, let me take your pack” — but that just made it worse. Father-Son bonding should mean I’m still the Father, not some pitiable old guy on the trail.

It only got worse. For example, because of the drought over the last four years, the trails were dusty and at times treacherous, so on Day Two I bought a pair of hiking poles. Naturally, my son declined, remarking insouciantly, “No thanks, I don’t need them.”

Another chasm opened up between us. The Pacific Northwest is unrelentingly hip – not my favorite state of being – but one my son can indulge in at his whim. Exhausted and etiolated after the Mt. Hood climb, I insisted we stop for a strong cup of coffee. Driving into the town of Hood River, the weekend spot for cool Portlanders, I ordered: “Pull over, I smell Java.”

My eyesight being somewhat challenged, I couldn’t read the sign over the door, but it seemed like a coffee shop; I strode in – my hiking gear and me covered with dust and grime – to order a cup of coffee. For some reason, that simple request caused a level of consternation among the egregiously tattooed staff. After a while, a freshly brewed cup was made and delivered.

“Where’s the half and half?” I inquired. More consternation ensued among the staff, who, for some reason, were all adorned with bandanas.

“Almond milk, okay?”

“Sure.” What was I going to say? Will snickered.

“And where can I find some sugar?”

“We have agave.” Not sure what that was, I assented, while Will’s snickering had risen to outright laughter.

We left the shop, and I took one taste of the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life and exclaimed, “What the hell is this?”  

“Dad, can’t you read? You walked into a vegan juice bar. That’s not coffee, it’s roasted kale.”

What’s happened to Americans, my children included, that they would entertain these ersatz substitutes for nature’s gifts of coffee, sugar, and cream? Earth to Vegans, God didn’t spend seven days creating gluten-free.

In truth, every day was a joy with Will. We talked or didn’t, were enthralled with nature, and didn’t complain about anything, except for one thing.

“I can’t get cell reception, can you?” Climbing mountain after mountain, Will at some point pulled out his phone to check. When the market crashed one morning, my son, who’s a stockbroker, couldn’t talk to his clients as we were radio silent climbing up the deep valleys of Olympic National Forest. Reaching the peak, those damned bars appeared on his phone, and he could talk his clients off the cliff (metaphorically speaking).
Cell phones are the curse of his generation. When I was working in the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s, there was this concept called “out of touch.” Can’t anyon

e get out of touch anymore? And how do fathers and sons bond when everyone else – clients, colleagues at work, and the rest of the planet – tries to horn in on the moment?

But, in truth, I lie. Technology is — at times – marvelous. On reaching a plateau that afforded a spectacular 360 degree view of the Olympic Mountains, with not a cloud in the sky, just the blue of the heavens, the white of the glaciers, and the green of the forests, I reached for my phone and pressed video, narrating the scene for Will’s 18-month-old son. Here’s what I recorded:

“Hello, Cowboy Small.” (One of my grandson’s favorite characters.) “You can see the mountains that Dada and I climbed. The white spots are the glaciers, and you can see that ridge we climbed up today. Tell Momma and Grandma we miss them. I miss you Cowboy Small.”

And with that, my son and I headed back to the range.