My son is a rafter; not the Huck Finn-Tom Sawyer, romantic, tie a couple of logs together and pole across the muddy Mississippi type, either. He’s serious and does it throughout the season whenever he can in an inflatable, self-bailing, aluminum framed, crammed-full of everything (including the kitchen sink set-up) for a week’s worth of down-the-river journeying, 14-foot “boat.” He loves it. He’ll proudly tell you that “everything about rafting is designed to give you a sore back.” He’s in his mid-50s and is still learning, so I cut him some slack.
He recently invited me to go on a Salmon River (Idaho) raft trip with him and his “River Chickens.” Hmm, if he’s in his 50s and I’m pushin’ 80 (sand through the hourglass), “sure,” I said, “sign me up. I can bring my uke and you can bring your guitar and we can (finally) play a couple of songs together. Sounds fun. Thanks, I’m excited already.”
He sent me a spreadsheet of the things I’d need to bring, which still sits in the Dell Incubator Abacus. He also sent a spreadsheet with a list of songs to work on; I think it’s in the Abacus.
Principally due to the fact that his old man is something of a slouch, my son and I have had an interesting relationship. Combine that with the fact that we are both Tauruses — bull-headed and opinionated — into an already mildly toxic relationship, and you can imagine what kind of fears I really had about this little “excellent adventure.” (I told myself that I could survive the river’s rapids, but was not too sure about the shoals of my personal guilt.)
I jokingly mentioned this fear on the night before our departure from Boise. There was, after all, a book of Dad Jokes on his kitchen counter, and that’s where I took my cue. I said something clumsy about something I did to him about 50 years ago and that the raft trip might be his way of getting back. You know, really douse me or toss me out of the boat. Hahahahaha.
In so many words, he told me that he didn’t think it was funny then, and it is still not funny. (I spent the next 20 minutes sobbing in the bedroom, building up the courage to apologize, or trading in a unique opportunity for the coward’s return drive to South Beach. Happily, I apologized.)
In a slight twist of irony, one of the tunes on the River Songs list was “Teach Your Children Well.” It has long been a favorite of mine, and I find its words crucial to parenting, or, more precisely, to being a good and present parent.
Of all the things I learned and experienced on this trip, the most important one is that it’s generally OK to tell your children jokes, but it is never acceptable to tell your — or any — child a lie. It’s OK to ask silly Dad questions about “Why don’t bears wear shoes?” (What’s the point: they still have bear feet! Hahahaha). What is not acceptable is to tell them that the Earth is flat, or that this rather pinky fruit is a sweet, delicious and refreshing orange when by any stretch of the imagination it’s a sour, old, tired grapefruit.
A confluence: The Salmon River lies entirely within the state of Idaho. It is about 425 miles long, drops about 7,000 feet (which is about one foot per mile from its headwaters near Galena Summit and drains about 14,000 square miles. Referred to as “the river of no return,” it terminates at the confluence with the Snake River.
Another confluence: a 79-year old “Dad” rafting this river and attempting a “return” on the trip of his lifetime with his always 8-year old, adult son.
Dads: Teach your children well. Dads: Treat your children well.
Note: My son “shared” a Dropbox folder of photos of our adventure; haven’t quite got it all into the Abacus, yet. I’ll share with him the pics I took with my shoe-phone if I can just get them out of my socks. (He’s holding off on the press release about my entry into the 21st century.)
Cris Torp is a resident of South Beach.