“Ok, Google. Does a running headlamp go on top of your hat or underneath the brim?”
Bet they never heard that one before.
Neither one of us had run a trail race. But it sounded fun. A new adventure, and a memorable way to welcome the national holiday.
So we registered. And discussed our strategy. Then on the night before Independence Day, my daughter and I filled our water bottles, bathed in insect repellent, donned our headlamps (on top), and headed to the nearby county park in time for the 8:00pm start.
Nerves and starting lines are cousins, so small talk and dad jokes helped a little (I think), and then after a brief welcome from the race director, it was “on your mark, get set, go!”
We were off – across several parking lots, along a dirt path, and then, about a mile into the event, an entrance into a wooded trail – our home for the remaining 95% of the run.
We had never climbed up mountains. Until that night.
We had never climbed down mountains. Check.
And as the sun finally called it a day, everything changed. Lamps on, heads down.
Trees. We ducked ’em, jumped ’em, and felt ’em.
Ankles. Gently rolled.
Stumbles. “Dad, you OK?”
Slips. “You all right, babe?”
With four minutes to spare we made it to the one water stop halfway through, then faced a decision. The final three miles, or a one-mile shortcut?
She said three. I smiled.
Immediately another impossibly-tall ascent. By this time we were mainly walking. Sometimes next to each other, often single-file. Whatever the path permitted.
And then it happened. Something I’ll never forget.
A voice from behind me.
“Daddy? Can I hold your hand?”
Instantly, I was standing over a warming table in a hospital room looking down at a little girl I had met just a few minutes before, watching as she held my finger.
Then, reality interrupted.
It was 9:00. In the woods. In the dark.
That girl was a nervous teenager. And a little scared.
It was all so different. So new. So strange.
So she did what we all tend to do – reached for the familiar in the midst of uncertainty.
What she couldn’t have realized is that the guy in front of her felt the same way. Nervous. Unsure. A little scared.
But, we were together.
And so we walked on, estimating how much we had left, repeatedly adjusting those estimations, looking for glow sticks we were told would help us navigate, and living in the unclear moment for which we had no precedent.
And we made it. Out of the woods. Back on the pavement. Down the hill we had gone up ninety minutes before.
All the way to the finish line. Still holding hands.
Dads and Moms, let’s be honest.
We don’t have everything figured out, and probably more times than we’d like to admit, aren’t sure we’re doing things exactly right. But be encouraged. The ones we’re leading aren’t needing perfection, just consistency.
They need us. Let’s carry that responsibility with great care.
They want us to lead, so let’s lead. Even when things are a bit unclear. Showing the way. Alongside them.
Let’s speak hope, even if it’s by faith sometimes.
And let’s hold their hand as long as they’ll let us.
At times it’s going to be difficult, and dark, and scary.
But, we’re going to make it. And our children are, too.
Let’s run on.