Way back in the summer of 1993, an 18-year-old me and my 16-year-old sister loaded up my dad’s Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight to drive 1125 miles from Houston to Lake City, Colorado, to waitress for the summer.
We didn’t have a cell phone back then, but our 17-year-old friend, Jennifer, had walkie talkies for the two cars so that we could communicate the need for restroom, gas, or food breaks. I remember that, before we left, my dad sat with a paper map spread on the kitchen table, explaining the route he had driven almost every summer since 1978.
“You’ll want to make sure you have a full tank of gas at Roswell, New Mexico, because there won’t be many places to stop after that.”
“Make sure you don’t ride the brakes on the mountains coming out of Santa Fe, or you’ll burn them out. Shift to a lower gear.”
“There is a honey store in Monte Vista that’s very good. You might want to get some for the summer. And Alamosa will be the last big grocery store before you head into Lake City.”
Looking back (and now that I have teenagers of my own), I can’t believe my parents let us make that trip. So many things could’ve gone wrong with three naive, sheltered teen girls on a drive from Texas to Colorado. In fact, we did miss a turn at one point, and my memory is that we went an hour out of the way before we found our location on the paper map and figured out how to get back on the correct route.
I distinctly remember laughing when we rounded a corner in New Mexico to see the road blocked by a herd of cattle. We had to pull over and wait for the cows to cross. I remember listening to C.W. McCall’s 1975 song, “Convoy,” as we rode along. All the while -- though I didn’t think of it at the time -- I know my dad was sitting in Houston calculating where we would be on our trip, waiting for the call that we had arrived safely.
When you’re 18 years old, you don’t know what you don’t know. We just ventured out in an Oldsmobile with a full tank of gas and a fresh oil change in pursuit of a summer adventure.
I inherited many traits from my dad, one of which is a quirky habit of following those I love when they’re on a trip. Flight Tracker is my dad’s dream app, second only to the weather app where he can calculate to the fraction of an inch how much rain his yard has received compared to other areas of Houston.
Anytime a member of our family is on a trip, my dad tracks the trip from the time we take off to the time we are safe and sound at the other end. We get texts that say “looks like you should be boarded,” and “looks like you’re somewhere over Georgia,” and “hope the storms weren’t too bad in Louisiana.” Wherever I am, I can count on my dad tracking my path. Not in a creepy way. Just in a way that says “I love you and I want you to be safe.”
Now that I am grown and middle-aged, sending my own children off to their adventures, I realize how much security it gave me to be tracked by my dad. These days, I get text messages that check in and let me know he is tracking me.
But back in 1993, there were no texts or cell phones, at least not in my world. To be honest, I did not appreciate the parental tracking back then. Yet, still l knew, even as I was bucking and kicking to get away from my parents, that he and my mom were there, and would always be there, and would move heaven and Earth to make sure I was safe.
Knowing my dad was tracking me gave me the confidence to live my life. And knowing he’s still tracking me gives me the same confidence today. He still gives us space to make our mistakes and find our own solutions. That’s what dads do, and that’s what uncles, grandfathers, coaches, teachers, mentors, mothers, and father figures do, too.
Every child needs to know someone cares enough to track them.
Just like on that teenage road trip so many years ago, because my dad is my anchor, I can pursue my dreams with the reassurance that someone is always on my team, watching to make sure I get where I’m going.
In his own quiet way, with the steadiness of a mountain, the stubbornness of a mule, and a narrow range of emotion that belies the deep thoughts beneath the surface, he has trusted us to find our own way. And that has helped make me who I am today.
Prayers of comfort for those who have lost their fathers this year. And happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and to all the father figures, too. Thanks for being our trackers.