Good Directions

My dad was phenomenal at directions. He knew where he was going. He was incredibly familiar with roads (main, side, and virtually unknown). He loved studying maps. If you asked him the best way to get to anywhere, he’d insist on clarifying before answering: were you looking for the fastest route, most scenic route, least traffic route? What were your goals?

He insisted on everyone in the family knowing how to read a map. Before the days of GPS, we had atlases and foldable road maps, and we never left home without them. A state map was essential to every car anyone in the family drove. We needed to be able to tell which way was north without an arrow on a GPS screen or vehicle display telling us. We needed to be able to navigate.

Dad was phenomenal at navigating, but at times, he was slightly less phenomenal at following someone else’s navigation. He was good at determining where to go, and sometimes he had trouble being willing to follow someone else’s assessment of where to go…even when that someone else was looking at the map while he was driving. He usually thought he was right. And he was willing to err on the side of trying his own way first, even when he ended up wrong. He had a GPS when traveling very far from home, but it was a back up. He listened to his own ideas first, then checked with the GPS, then relied on whomever was navigating – in that order.

He was usually right. But not always.

For years when all the grandkids were young, Dad created a scavenger hunt for Easter. Mom took care of all other aspects of the celebration, but Dad covered the scavenger hunt. He created notes to place all over the property, best accessible by ATV. We all traveled together, with him driving the ATV and the rest of us pulled on a flatbed trailer with bales of straw for our seats. (Well, everyone except for a couple son-in-laws who usually volunteered to stay behind for one lame reason or another.)

Dad got excited when he handed one of the grandkids the first note. And that’s when the problems began. Dad was good at directions, but not quite as good at handwriting and spelling. A lot of notes needed some deciphering. We’d laugh and let the kids try to figure out where the next stop would be, pile onto the trailer, and enjoy the ride to the next stop, where the grandkids had to find the next clue, usually rolled up and tied to a twig, tucked under a rock, or perched on a limb. Some years, the notes had an added layer of security in a plastic bag in case of rain. (Then there was the year a surprise downpour drenched us all. It’s one of my favorite photos of Easter. Even though we’re all soaked, we’re laughing and having a great time. Another favorite is the year we all jumped off the trailer at just the wrong time, causing an imbalance that sent my mom tumbling. She was fine. The funniest part wasn’t watching it all happen in slow motion – although that was hilarious – but was my dad laughing, when that probably wasn’t the wisest choice he could have made at the time.)

As good as Dad was with his own directions, instructions often broke down in translation. Of course, that’s the case with all of us when we communicate. We know what we want to say, but others might not hear it through the same lens. Or we think we know what the other person is trying to say when we actually get their message wrong.

We can still enjoy the time together and appreciate the relationships we have even when there are misunderstandings, even when we end up taking some twists and turns we hadn’t expected. After all, that’s part of the adventure of life together.

A world (or family) in which we all think the same would be a bit frightening and boring.



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