A Funeral Pyre for Your Innocence

My older son just turned 12. To celebrate we spent the weekend at the Graves Mountain Farm and Lodges with our family friends and their two boys. Their older son is also turning 12 and his birthday is within a few days of my sons. As the place is a relatively short 2 hour drive from our home in Northern Virginia, we were able to leave our home after work on Friday and arrive that evening. After a big breakfast at the Graves mountain lodge Saturday morning, all eight of us headed up the mountain to hike the rather steep and challenging Dragons Back hike. Since my Parky symptoms were initially behaving I got off to a fast start to take advantage of the good “on” time, putting me out in front of the group. The 4 boys, led by the 2 older boys organized into messengers, evenly spread between myself and the other 3 adults lagging behind so they could carry messages between the adults. It was fun to see the older boys organize and manage the message chain, and it was a reminder of how grown up they are becoming.

I have mixed feelings about my son turning 12. Excited. Happy. Also a bit scared. As a man with Parkinson’s disease, I’m reminded every single day of my life how little control we have. Of how we can do everything right, but terrible things still happen. The universe doesn’t give one shit about “fair”. Please understand that I’m not complaining. In fact, I feel extraordinarily privileged and am very happy with my life. I’m just keenly aware that nothing in life is guaranteed. Of course, I want both of my sons to grow up happy and successful. Though there are many things I can do to help them along their way, ultimately they are subject to the whims of the cosmic lottery, same as everyone else. And that’s an unsettling thought for me as their father.

After a few miles, as I knew would happen, my medication wore off a bit and my Parky symptoms started to act up, slowing me down and allowing everyone to catch up. Fortunately, that was about the time the trail turned really steep. Parkinson’s is weird. I have more trouble walking on flat ground than I do rock scrambling up a rocky trail. So the fact that the trail turned rocky and steep meant that I had no difficulty in keeping up with the group, despite sub-optimal symptom control.

I learn a lot about my kids when I go hiking with them. Maybe it’s the pure mountain air, or the relaxing effects of being surrounded by serene natural beauty. Whatever the reason, they seem to open up to me on hikes. I have fond memories of hiking with my own father as a kid. I remember having great conversations on some of backpacking trips that we did together. It’s neat that I can now experience that with my own kids. We discussed nature, girls, you-tubers, school, and friends, among other topics. It’s clear that my oldest boy is growing up fast and his growing awareness of the more complex and unpleasant aspects of life indicate the impending loss of his childhood innocence.

After a grueling series of loose, steep ascents we made it to the top of the mountain. Pausing there for a rest and some photographs we then started the long decent back to the lodge. My Parky symptoms were relatively well controlled for most of the return hike until we reached the last mile or so, which was relatively flat. Ironically, this should have been easy hiking. But for me it was difficult, not because I was tired, but because Parkinson’s can make it difficult to walk on flat terrain. So I did my best to imagine “targets” on the ground which gives me something to aim for as a walk. This did make it easier, but I was still relatively slow. Once I got back to the lodge I sat outside with my friend and enjoyed a well deserved cold beer.

Later that evening we built the much anticipated camp fire. I jokingly quipped that we were building a funeral pyre for the birthday boy’s innocence. I meant it initially as a joke, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how more or less true it was. My boy is still that: a boy. But as he begins his journey to manhood I hope I can serve as an example of tenacity. That things are not always going to go your way. But even when things seem hopeless, never give up, find a way to fight. As I will continue to fight to be there for my sons with everything I have.

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