In the spirit of family, holidays, and Thanksgiving I am reminded about my family and about my father. He is 81 now and doing great. I am so grateful he is my Dad. He has been, and continues to be, a great influence in my life.
Here is a poem that he wrote about me when I was about 16 years old. I do not know if I became this person or he saw me for who I really am. It rings true for me today, and it moves me every time I read it. The setting is a frozen lake in the upper midwest.
Stark lean silhouette against a darkening sky
Measures effortlessly the ice in ten meter strides.
An imaginary track precisely surveyed in his mind
Guides his turn and glide strokes in mock slow motion.
Each movement carefully calculated to maximize the thrust
With arms reaching out, pulling back, swinging high behind.
Each foot under body center starts
Gigantic leg strokes too long for the horizontal torso.
Seventeen inch blades cut the ice subtly
So sharp they could easily shave the peach fuzz from his chin.
Breathing as measured as the pace stroke and heart rhythmically beating to match. Muscles flexible in spite of the cold,
Straining to balance the relentless press of spirit.
Why does he stretch so? Who is he racing?
The other skaters are already laughing and drinking hot chocolate
Does he race Olympic ghosts McDermott and Blatchford?
Or is he chased by his own image?
And what does he hope to win? A fleeting flush of triumph?
A medal or trophy? A record someone will break tomorrow?
Or does he try to catch the goal of self respect
The lake ice is never smooth
With unforgiving cracks to keep his mind alert.
A chilling gust keeps balance honest.
Powdery shavings and grooves show other skaters have gone this way Were all so highly motivated? Or so stubborn?
Did they feel the pleasant numbness-Not of cold but of tendons too stretched?
He counts six more full-effort laps.
Is this enough to beat the best?
Unsure, he fast-paces eight more.
A swirl of light snow blends with him at the far turn.
High flying geese seek a cornfield – not these icy shores.
Honk from a patient parent’s car calls him.
He slows, straightens, and circles to let the real world return.
H. W. Conner
One of my favorite parts is the passage about self-esteem, self-respect and self-image.
I have come to believe that this is part of my struggle. I want to please my father but the core precept is of my own self respect. So I must earn my own respect, somehow. Sports and specifically speed skating has provided the perfect method for me to do just that. Working on my own self esteem through doing esteemable things was the ticket. It has taken me a long time to understand this. Then acting on it without fear was even more risky. But I had learned that taking that risk has huge rewards. Breaking down those old barriers was the key to the door. Then I had to walk through the door and execute my plan. The result is that I am able to build my own self esteem. This is the only kind that really counts. This permanent foundation building is essential to my happy, peaceful, serene life today. It helps me figure out who I am, and be comfortable in my own skin. It helps me set the priorities in my life. Having my priorities is essential in making the big as well as the small daily decisions.