No More Doubt
By Calvin Gabriel
While canoeing with his son at the BSA's Northern Tier National High Adventure Base, a father finds answers to the crucial questions that every parent ponders.
Being a parent is not easy. Most of the time you can’t tell if you’re doing a good job or a bad job.
Should I be working less and spending more time with my son? Am I striking the right balance between firmness and generosity? Am I passing on the lessons and values I received from my parents? Does he care about the things I care about? Does he know how much I love him?
When my son became a Boy Scout, I was busy and reluctant to take on a registered adult position. That lasted until the first troop committee meeting, when I learned that an assistant Scoutmaster for canoeing was needed.
Remembering how I loved canoeing in my own Scouting days with my dad, I immediately signed up.
Then, when our troop went to the BSA Northern Tier National High Adventure Base in Minnesota, I accompanied my 13-year-old son and several other Scouts and leaders into Canadian canoe country.
Our days on the water sometimes began at dawn. We paddled quietly through mist and watched sunrise from the lake.
We finished one long day -- 17 miles and 12 portages -- on our watery trail by paddling down a long lake in the windless, cloudless dark, the black sky full of stars and the even blacker water full of reflected stars.
I had taught my son how to paddle, and now as he guided us expertly from the stern, he looked up and named constellation after constellation.
Then, as midnight approached and he grew so sleepy he couldn’t keep his eyes open, I let him slump on the bottom of the canoe. From the bow I turned the canoe around, sat up on the deck plate, and soloed the last mile of darkness.
The shore was a dark silhouette of trees and hills against the moonless night sky, and all I could hear was the dip of the paddle, a little splash of water from the canoes ahead ... and the wild calls of the loons.
They were singing and laughing all around us. Echoes bounced off coves and enveloped us. The sounds were so intense that I can still hear them now and shiver if I just close my eyes.
In the song-filled blackness of the night we felt very small -- unseen guests humbly entering a holy sanctuary for wildlife. It was as if my son and I were floating in the warm air and somehow frozen in time -- frozen and suspended together in this timeless, ageless wilderness.
I wished it would never end. As I paddled with the loons, soaking in the adventure I was sharing with my son, I felt -- and I knew for the first time -- that at least for one shining moment in the darkness of Louisa Lake, I was a good dad.
Maybe that’s why even now I find myself closing my eyes and summoning undiminished loon calls in the darkness. Once again I am suspended between water and stars in that awe-inspiring wilderness with my son.
No one can take that memory from me.
In one moment the night had answered all my questions.
Calvin Gabriel is assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 476, chartered to the Holy Name Society of St. Joseph of Cupertino (Calif.) Catholic Church.
Editor’s note: Canoeing at night may be appropriate at the Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases under certain conditions -- if, for example, the trip is a point-to-point route, led by an experienced guide on a flat-water surface with no portages. Canoeing after dark is never appropriate on moving river water, with or without an experienced guide.