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Other Voices: One of the many people whom I call father

Off the Cape of Good Hope, the Flying Dutchman cuts through the ocean swells. The ship’s captain, shaking his fist to the heavens, vows to round the cape if it takes eternity.

The gods accept his vow, and legend has it that captain and crew are there to this day, scrambling with an unresponsive helm, surfing the crests, laughing in despair.

How many fathers are like that captain: sea-tossed and weary, yet resolute and uncompromising? And how many sons spend a lifetime searching for those fathers, hoping compass and chart can be put aside and all hearts can rest safely in port?



I found my own father for the first time when I was 30, then lost him to cancer one year later. But in my search for the one father all those 30 years, I sometimes missed the many. For there were good fathers in my life – coaches, priests, teachers, drill instructors, bosses – men to love and respect.

“I am that father whom your boyhood lacked and suffered pain for lack of,” says Odysseus to Telemachus. For many of us, a mentor replaces the missing father – someone like Bill Haney.




I met Bill on a snowy winter day when I was eight years old. Suddenly, a strong, self-confident man of 30 was in my life; a man who had joined the Big Brothers organization to welcome two boys, my brother Tom and me, into the ancient male world of hunting and fishing.

Our first outing with Bill is etched in my heart. The snowy mountain meadow. The thrill of firing a .22 for the first time. The revelation from Bill that we needed to squeeze the trigger, just as we would squeeze a nipple. The delightful scratch of a man’s beard as he leaned in to me sight the weapon.

It was a timeless moment, a rite of passage. And there were many other fine moments during our six years together.

Bill and Tom and I traveled the length and breadth of Utah, the three of us in the front seat of an old Dodge Power Wagon. Nipper, Bill’s German Shorthair, rode the back seat, ready to retrieve fallen mallards or to flush out pheasants or to lick the peach fuzz off a couple of smiling boys.

I recall the pool of German Browns we stumbled upon that time in the Uintah Wilderness. And the buck that Bill shot in East Canyon , the one we dragged up the hill to the car. Or the time we bagged our limit in our favorite duck blind at Farmington Bay, and Nipper retrieved a bonus honker, a token of respect tossed from the heavens to the king and his two princes.

Of all Bill’s gifts, his best was his ability to share his world with us as a friend. We would drive along and Bill would pour another cup of coffee from his thermos, waxing eloquent on politics, sports, religion, women, nature.

He would tell us dirty jokes, then swear us to secrecy. He would tease us about what we didn’t know, then encourage us to ask questions. He would look at us with bemused and patient expressions. He told us to live for the moment, and when we were with Bill, the moments rocked.

Years ago, he flew out from Maine to visit me in Rough and Ready. I showed him the Mendocino Coast and the Sierra Buttes.

Bill was only 65, but he was short-winded and heavy. In camp, we stayed close and fished – no hikes as in earlier times. But the vitality of the younger man came out around the campfire, as we talked about our lives and savored the moment.

We camped at Gold Lake, where we watched the morning sun grow round, just as it must have for my father’s father and his- as it must have at the birth of the first light. We were no longer boy and man- we were just two close souls.

Bill Haney died in his sleep months after his visit to me. I told his wife, Moxie, that Bill was a gentle and kind man who took two boys into his heart and changed them forever.

I could also have quoted Wallace Stevens and said that Bill was one of the race of fathers – one whose spirit is in the earth and sea and air. One whose spirit lives on in the souls of his sons.

ooo

Timothy May lives in Rough and Ready.


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