By Michael Hodgson, President of SNEWS®
How do you say goodbye forever? For 48 years, I've been sharing casual goodbyes with my father, knowing right around the corner would be another hello by phone or a visit or an unexpected letter or email. On Thursday morning, August 9, at 8:58 a.m. EST, that changed. I received a call while heading onto the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show floor that my father, Peter John Hodgson, had passed away.
Death is a part of life. We all face it and understand its inevitability as part of an ongoing cycle and, yet, no matter how well we prepare ourselves, there is never any easy way to say goodbye for the last time. No more phone calls. No more walks in the woods talking about life. No more letters, emails, or birthday card notes.
In some strange way, though, I find comfort in my father's timing. I believe my father chose to move on during a time he knew I would be surrounded by my extended family – the outdoor industry. He had been in declining health for a month, and although we had said our goodbyes to each other a week prior while looking into each others eyes, his final breath did not come until the hour when I would be surrounded by the thousands I feel closest to outside my own immediate family circle.
While my mother gets credit for introducing me as a tot to the outdoors and laying the seeds that grew into a life full of adventure and numerous outdoor industry jobs, it was my British father who nurtured and watered the garden as I grew into a teen.
Beginning when I was six, and for one Sunday every month over a three-year span, right after the last note faded away from the church organ my father played, we would head off together into the mountains above Boulder, Colo. My father still in his suit, pockets stuffed with several sandwiches, a few candy bars, a soda for me and a bitter lemon drink for him, would park at a trailhead, point up a narrow track snaking up a ridge or across a field and say, "Lead on."
From that moment until Dad would determine it was time to head home, he would follow wherever my adventurous spirit took us. I treasured this time with him. And our mutual romps up and over rocks, across streams, and even the occasional snow bank, opened my eyes and mind to a world of possibility, filled with excitement and opportunity.
My father, a gifted musician, writer and teacher, would patiently wait until my breathless scampering and youthful clamoring for dad to "look at this" or "come over here" slowed sufficiently that he could point out the symphony being played all around me. I learned to hear music in the sound of a burbling creek, the dancing of aspen leaves, and the buzz of a fly over a sun-warmed rock. I gradually learned to walk and listen, observe and think. In time, I learned that the sound of my own voice drowned out the quiet teachings of the world around me.
We moved from the mountains of Boulder to the corn fields of Muncie, Ind., when I was nine, but Dad still found the time and places for us to wander together – nearby state parks, open fields of farm land, or wooded areas near our home. Our walks became less frequent, but no less important.
As I grew into a teen and then a young man, our walks became the starting points of deeper conversations, often begun after hours of walking in silence, listening, thinking. No topic was taboo. No question discouraged. No answer judged or criticized. No dream quashed.
Looking back over the years I was blessed with my father's time, I can see clearly that my successes and chosen path in life are inextricably linked to those walks with Dad.
A few years ago, while on another walk, a much shorter one owing to my sense of feeling overwhelmed with a busy schedule and seemingly packed life, my father said simply, with no sense of judgment or criticism for my choices:
"No matter how much you do or how busy you currently think you are, there will always be someone clamoring at you to do more if you allow it. Be sure to carve out some quiet time each day for yourself. You will be better for it."
Those words echoed in my head as I wandered around the trade show halls, feeling grateful for all the love I was being shown by so many I have come to call dear friends.
Although my father is gone, I suspect his spirit will still be with me and I will always be able to hear him in the world around me when I am most quiet and listening. He wouldn't have it any other way.