Monday, August 15, 2011

Dad and I: A Cat's Cradle Lesson

Disclaimer on being late with this post. I wrote it several months ago but just got around to posting. I'm slacking!

Every October when I was a kid, dad and I used to take his 1969 van, affectionately named "Old Blue" on a weekend road trip to Martinsville, Va to go to the car races. After an interesting evening scare when we thought Old Blue had rolled onto the train tracks that ran along the race track - just imagine a light the size of the sun and rumble louder than thunder waking you - we decided to find a more peaceful place to camp.

At that time of year, Cherrystone Park closed their facilities but allowed people to camp there overnight. Dad, I, and couple of his buddies had the park to ourselves. Imagine being in a place where the leaves had just turned to fiery oranges, reds, and yellows; chill mornings transitioned to comfortable days, and wildlife of all kinds roamed freely around the site. This was the same time that I discovered photography and couldn't have found a better place to practice. In my mind, I was Ansel Adams and dreamed of capturing majestic images worthy of National Geographic covers.

Funny how time changes things. It is barely perceptible. One day you look up and a lot of your world has changed in directions that you never planned. Back in my childhood, "Cats in the Cradle" was hit song. I liked the melody but never really got what it was about. A few years after college, I packed up and left VB to bounce around the Southeast following a project management career that I stumbled into by accident. While in Atlantic Beach, I started a fishing team to compete on the saltwater circuit. Dad would come down to join us for tournaments. Then in 2000, I had to drop from the circuit due to a fallout in the tech sector of the economy that left me broke. My family stood me up until I was able to recover and then I was off again to follow a paycheck before I finally landed back in Tidewater in 2006.

Ron and Dad hanging by Old Blue shortly before we got evicted from this spot!

So what does this have to do with Kentucky? Well a little of nothing and a lot of everything. For the last several years, dad has been rebuilding Old Blue, spending countless hours turning it into a 460 hp beast of a hotrod. For 42-years, Louisville, KY has hosted the National Street Rod Association show with over 10,000 people coming to show off their custom built hotrods. It may sound strange for those that haven't seen them, but these are truly works of art and master craftsmanship. It is phenomenal what people can do with what was one time destined to be scrap. The show is somewhat of a Superbowl for antique restoration and the venue where dad planned to debut his masterpiece.

Rat Rod, f/7.1, ISO 200, 1/30 second, 29mm, Nikon D300

I was waiting in a dentist office a month prior to the show when "Cats in the Cradle" was playing in the background. It was the first time that I really "got it". When he asked me if I was interested in going a couple of months prior, my initial response was that I was too busy. Work was unbearably heavy and I had volunteer and social engagements to attend. There was no way I could take a week off to spend in Kentucky looking at old cars. Sitting there it hit me that I was the son that was too busy for his father that devoted years of his life so that I could have the career that I do today. That we are getting older and that trivial things are taking precedence over those that truly matter. That I didn't want to think that our last great time together was in a park back in an October of my childhood.

The powerhouse of Old Blue

So last August we set out on an adventurous road trip, just the two of us and Old Blue, traveling 800 miles for something much more than a car show. It was everything it should have been. We laughed at dumb jokes, bickered over directions, recounted old stories, and simply had a great trip. I got to shoot a couple thousands photos of beautiful machines and dad got show off Old Blue to his "customers" as he liked to call them, people that could truly appreciate his work of art, but all of that was secondary.

f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/1250 sec, 16mm, Nikon D300

The truth is I discovered that if you care enough, the "Cats in the Cradle" song can be proved wrong. Don't wait for an opportune time to reconnect. If you do, you will miss it. A lot happens over time but there are some things that stay the same; you just have to try harder to make room for them. Instead just make it happen and you'll have new stories tell of your time together.

f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec, 20mm, Nikon D300