When you are the only male in a household of seven women, threatening to run away on occasion is understandable.
So when my father–the patriarch of six daughters and an equally strong-willed wife–had weathered one too many bouts of PMS, hours-long wait for the bathroom or catfight from this estrogen squad, he would tell us he had almost enough in his runaway fund to flee.
The key word? “Almost.” It was always “almost.” I’m not sure if that is because he was afraid he truly would flee if he ever saved enough (doubtful) but he never had to find out the answer to that question.
My soft-hearted dad would save and save—and then spend the money on his bevy of young ladies or his sweetheart, my mother.
What I realized when I became an adult was that he never really would get the chance to visit the far-flung places he used to facetiously talk about running away to—and yet, while always said in jest, I think a part of him would have loved to go. It wouldn’t have truly been running away; he would have taken my mother and/or his daughters if he could have. And he would have loved the adventure of it all.
My father passed away last July in his mid-eighties. He did so without ever taking that trip to Europe, the Alaskan cruise, the African safari.
And so, when a little voice whispered to my soul last spring that my two boys and I needed an “adventure,” I should have put two and two together. My father was stirring the pot from the Other Side.
You have to know me to see why this is so. I am not what I would consider an adventurer. Camping, to me, is a three-star hotel. I do not long to bungee jump or cliff dive (I did the latter once and will never repeat that act. Once is enough, as they say.). My life will still feel complete if I never eat blowfish or drink snake’s blood.
And yet . . . after a year in which my life was turned upside down—with the death of my mother and my father, my sister’s ovarian cancer diagnosis and my divorce—I was thinking that the cure for all ills was adventure. How I did not see my father’s twinkling eyes in this I am not sure. But I do now.
In the months before he died, my father learned of my impending divorce. Ever protective, he worried. He knew I was temporarily short on cash. He knew I’d been out of the workforce for several years. He knew I was hurting and trying to get my boys through a tough time.
Almost bedridden, on oxygen 24 hours per day, and having shrunk to a frail version of his former self, my dad fretted about what he could do. He had talked to me on the phone and told me to lean on my large family. He told me we were all a rock for each other. And he told me how very much he loved me.
Which would have been enough. But, what arrived in the mail brought me to tears. In an envelope, heavily padded, his runaway fund. With a note that I was to use it for whatever the boys and I needed.
What we needed was cash for bills, groceries, etc. And common sense told me to use what Dad had sent for just those items.
I told common sense to go to hell.
I couldn’t, for some reason, spend his runaway fund. I was working three jobs and exhausted but I could not spend my dad’s offering on the gas bill. And I couldn’t return it to him; he would have been deeply hurt. So, I held on to it.
Now I know why.
Last spring, I listened to that whisper in my soul. Out of the clear blue, I booked a trip for my sons and me to Costa Rica. I paid for the hotel and airfare, but the adventures we wanted to have—those were on Dad.
As I stepped onto the tiny zip-lining platform thousands of feet up a Costa Rican mountain, the first of (gulp) 12 such platforms, my legs shook with fear but I felt a strange sense of calm. The woman who has never liked heights stepped off into the abyss, hanging only by a carabiner on a thin line. I could almost hear my father telling me that after the year I’d had, this was nothing. This was child’s play. That I had weathered the storm. I was up to this—and anything else life wanted to throw my way. I had proven myself over and over—and so this challenge, which normally would have had me quaking—was something I was larger than.
I could almost hear his belly laugh as the boys and I zoomed from tree to tree. He was there. I’m not crazy. I’m not one to make up stories. But I felt his presence. And it was one of pure joy.
His runaway money had finally been fittingly spent—on running away. On true adventure. On zip-lining and waterfall diving, horseback riding and crocodile watching. All things he would have loved.
I don’t know how many of you have a runaway fund. If you do, I hope you use it for your own adventure, large or small. While I treasure my father’s gift, I wish he could have used it while still physically here.
Here’s to more of us finding that horse to ride, a trade wind to fuel our sail or a jungle path to trek.
If you do, I know one soul that will be overjoyed.