I've been super stressed lately, not just about work, church and my broken xBox, I been largely consumed by the fear that I won't be a good father.
I mean, I've failed every fish I've had to take care or and kids need a lot more than flakes of food (although maybe fish do too and that was my problem all along).
Then suddenly, in a moment of clarity that brought the deep joy only an ice cream man can bring, I realized that I'll do just fine.
I'm ready to be a dad, have been for years.
I can see deer while I drive.
That may not sound like much to some of you but if you think about it, I'm spotting brown animals in a brown field that are only alive because they're good at hiding from a vehicle doing 65. I think that makes me pretty freakin' awesome.
Growing up, I was in awe of my father and his ability to see deer while he was driving. He could be working his way through bad traffic, on a rainy day, with four kids in the back seat fighting over the rules of punch bug (and for the record there are no punch backs, ever) and he could still see and point out every deer along the way as well as get a count of the points on the antlers.
Or at least, that's how it seemed to us in the back. I was pretty busy back where I was sitting. I had sisters to bother, books to read, barf to hold in. I didn't have time to be looking out every time my dad said he saw something. If I did that, believe me, no one would have gotten punched.
So rather than look up from my work, I would humor my old man and give him a sincere, “Oh yeah, I can see them too.”
Of course, this could only last for so long. Even at the age of seven, I felt the need to compete with my father, so I would start looking for deer myself, hoping to point them out to him, before he had the chance to do so. The problem I couldn't see the deer when my dad was pointing at them. I didn't have a chance on my own.
Not to be discourage, I tried a new tactic: lying. I would say that I saw deer when really all I saw was a long and boring stretch of road separating me from the cable at my grandma's house. I figured the worst that could happen would be my dad would tell me that those weren't deer, but rather rocks. Instead however, he'd nod and say, “Oh yeah, I see them too.”
Once I realized I could say there were deer where there weren't I started “seeing” more and more exotic animals. Elk, bears, zebras and giant sloths became common sights between our house and the grocery store.
This went on for years, me blatantly lying through my teeth and my dad dutifully saying “Oh yeah, I see it too.”
It was a good system. I liked it I still remember the day all this changed.
We were driving to grandma's and as we were cresting a hill halfway between home and the Idaho border. It was just about sunset, as we were just cresting a hill and heading down into a small gulley, when my dad pointed off into the sunset and said “there's a herd of seven deer over by those rocks.”
I don't know what possessed me to look when by these time I had been just faking it for years. But for some reason, I looked where my father had motioned and what I saw rocked my world forever.
Holy crap, I thought to myself. There really are deer. Dad hasn't been lying all these years. He really can see animals from the car. He's like some kind shaman or deer-related Jedi.
It was officially on now. I had a teenage ego to maintain. I couldn't be worse than my dad at something. He was old. I dedicated every car ride through the wild expanses between Idaho town to scouring the country side for deer.
Still despite having the advantages of younger eyes, not being distracted by driving and being hyped up on Slurpee syrup, I never saw anything until my dad pointed it out. Everyone once in a while we'd see something at the same time, but those were always stupid things like rail road crossing, so it didn't really count.
Even after I started driving myself, I kept my eyes peeled for deer. It wasn't until years of living on my own and driving for hours to visit family that I got to the point where seeing deer became a common place occurrence.
I hardly ever ride in the same car as my father anymore. I've never really had the chance to show him that I have followed in his strange, slightly OCD footsteps. I don't know, but I like to tell myself that he knows anyway, and that he's proud of me.
I'm looking forward to the time, only a few years away now, when I'll be riding with my son somewhere, and off in the distance I'll notice a deer drinking from a shallow stream.
I'll point, and with wisdom passed down from generations in my voice, I'll say “There's a deer.”
And he'll respond. “Oh yeah, I see it.”
Steve Shinney is a full fledged deer related Jedi. Deer related comments can be left below.