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September 10th, 2012
09:10 PM ET

Letters to the President #1330: 'A good run'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every single day. And yes, I realize how peculiar that is.

Dear Mr. President,

You must be pleased with your rise in the polls following your convention. I didn’t see it coming. I figured people were so set in their views, and so jaded about you politicos that nothing you said would make much difference, but clearly I missed that train.

On to other matters…

This past weekend marked the fourth anniversary of my father’s death, and I took part in a race I run every year around this time. Ever since I returned from his funeral, and ran the Parks Half Marathon the next morning, it has been a sort of private memorial service for me. I join a couple thousand of my fellow runners at dawn in one of the suburbs northwest of D.C., and we spend the better part of two hours winding through a series of woodland trails. While most of the competitors are probably thinking about their pace and the next water station, I spend the time remembering my dad; the way he cared for our family, tended to his job, took care of the house, and still found time to enjoy a good laugh, play a game of basketball, or strap on ice skates with us kids.

He was never crazy about running, but he loved the outdoors and he would have enjoyed the morning in the woods that we had Sunday. It was, as you may have noticed, the first one yet that truly felt like fall. The air was cool, the buzz of insects muted, and the light had a tiny bit of that crisp look it gets every autumn.

Once, when we lived in Illinois, he had a truck break down out in the woods. He worked for the State Department of Conservation as the head park ranger in his region, and whenever equipment went on the fritz he felt a strong sense of responsibility about getting it up and running again. So my mom drove him and me out into the chilly night, down an overgrown, dirt road where the truck sat with a cracked distributor cap. We hopped out, she drove home, and we went to work. I held the flashlight and handed him tools for a while. He explained how the engine worked (or didn’t) and what he was trying to accomplish. After a bit, he told me I could wander around while he finished up. I walked down the road a short distance listening to the sound of crickets, the coos and shrieks of night birds, and the soft clink of my dad’s tools.

The moon was so bright that my shadow was an inky puddle, and I stood there moving my hands, casting patterns on the sandy road. It never occurred to me to wonder what would happen if he couldn’t get the truck started. This was long before cell phones, so we would have been in for a long, lonely hike to someone’s house. As it was, the truck soon roared to life and we climbed inside. He’d been unable to fix everything, so every ten or fifteen seconds the engine would backfire with a tremendous blast. At first it was worrisome. Then it became funny. By the time we passed through the sleepy little town where we lived, the truck sounded like a marauding herd of shotgun wielding lunatics, and my father and I were laughing so hard he could hardly drive.

That memory settled into my head as one of the happiest, most wonderful moments of my life. I can’t say precisely why. It had something to do with the feeling that I was all alone in a dark forest, deep in the night, and yet I was watched over and safe. Although I thought then that my father was fearless, I know now that he was not. He was simply ready to face down any fear before he would let it reach his children.

So while I miss him every day, I am not afraid of life without him. I run through the woods day and night, and I know he is near.

That’s what is on my mind this Monday. Hope all is well with you. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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