My mother and I stood arm-in-arm at Fort Point in San Francisco oblivious to the wind. Even though I lived in San Francisco, I was in awe of this perspective of the Golden Gate bridge juxtaposed against nature’s opening to San Francisco Bay. The view dwarfed the impact of the fort itself—a Gold Rush structure built in the 1850s to protect its citizens against attack.
The realization that my father had stood here and marveled at this sight filled me with undeniably fluctuating emotions that I re-experienced every year as we traveled to the location of his annual holiday clue. First, I was happy to stand where he had stood; then very sad that I grew up without him. Then I was buoyed with gratitude that he had the foresight to share himself annually with his Christmas clues so that I could know him even after his death.
I opened his message and my father’s handwriting unsettled me when I comprehended that the man I never knew had been alive when he had written these words. As was our custom, I started to read it aloud so my mother could share it with me.
“I never cease to be amazed at the engineering associated with the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. I hope that you’ve had the opportunity to see it in the fog and on a beautiful clear day. It is unlikely it would be so outstanding without the opening that nature provides to connect the city to the Pacific Ocean. How did they ever figure out how to build it! I guess the harder the problem, the more outstanding the solution.
“Also, isn’t the fort itself a testament to man’s skills. Built just before the Civil War it is touted as one of the most perfect models of masonry in America. It is noteworthy that the engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge altered its design so that they could save this remarkable historical building.
“The ‘point’ is that when we work with nature and respect our history, the result is monumental. I hope that you live your life realizing the value of this convergence.”
When I looked up from reading my father’s message, I was pleased to see that my ex-husband, Chad, had joined us. He had been part of our annual treks since we had become engaged more than 10 years ago. We remained friends despite our divorce. He had been listening closely to my reading. Now he just peered at the view – the fort, the bridge, the opening to the Pacific. “I would have liked your father very much.”
I nodded. I know I would have. Every year I learned more about my father. He seemed to match each experience with my age. The sites for my younger years were about having fun and laughing. As I grew older, the sites became more reflective and he highlighted values like giving to those in need (Shriners East West football game served to remind us).
I wondered what he would think of Chad’s hats. My ex-husband likes to attend events in a variety of hats from bowler, to fedora, to Indiana Jones. He looked at me and winked, somehow sensing my thoughts and the suitable timing to lighten our mood. He pulled out his own version of a Santa hat. I laughed out loud as he put it on, pulling my mother out of her reverie to join in. The Santa hat was indeed red with white trim – but it had a wide brim, a flat top much like a top hat, and a six foot long tail with a white pom-pom at the end. I knew better than to ask where he had found it. Chad had quite a collection, and his sources were vast.
The three of us stood quietly — bound together by a remarkable man who had died more than 35 years ago. I am neither religious nor spiritual, but my father was with me now. “Merry Christmas, Dad.”
To all my fans — Happy Holidays! May you find humor and fun in the New Year as we encourage each other to find solutions to so many difficult problems by applying our incredible human capabilities.