I’m pretty sure that climbing has been in my blood from the time I was born. My dad was a structural steel worker who used to earn a crust working on the skeletons of massive skyscrapers in New York City like the World Trade Center and the AT&T building. When I was a little kid I’d “borrow” my dads tools and climb up one of my favorite trees and just hammer nails. Sometimes those endeavors actually developed into primitive tree dwellings, but all of the really clever modifications were implemented by my brother who added pulleys for hauling up “stuff” and usually found ways to expand the floors beyond the level that I had the courage to climb. I couldn’t do a single pull-up but sometimes I would imagine myself as training in the trees for a future in the mountains.
I’ve always struggled with the question of how much to tell my parents about what it is that I do. My mom, for example would get vertigo from climbing a step ladder and literally couldn’t sit up and look out of the car window when we drove up the Mt Washington highway in New Hampshire. I usually settled on the idea that the less they know, the better.
As I have moved further from “normal” recreational activities I always wanted my dad to approve of the choices I’ve made as a man. Initially I gave up soccer in favor of hiking. When I took off on the Appalachian Trail after college with my roomate, my dad was concerned but he accepted my venture. When I began hiking alone for multi day treks in the years after that, he grew more uncomfortable. When I began climbing he began reminding me with greater frequency “not to do anything stupid”.
Now that I am elbow-deep in this project, I have tried repeatedly to share this venture with him even though he does not know what a blog is or Facebook and he still insists on paying all his bills with paper checks because he is certain that the internet “just isn’t safe”. And that may be accurate enough–but recently I spoke with him on the phone and he was finally able to see several of the videos that I made and I hoped that this would help bring him around a little bit. It wasn’t easy to know how to respond when he admitted that he wished I was doing something else instead of climbing.
Sometimes I have moments when I wish that I was a normal person. I could just go to the gym. I could play golf or go bowling. I could go on normal vacations and lay on beaches and go to restaurants. I could have a home (even an apartment to rent, you know anything without wheels). Before Stefanie left for her new job we had a conversation along these lines and I realized that I have never just “gone on vacation” and relaxed.
And honestly, I really dont want to.
I have always had a very strong relationship with my dad but it has always eaten at me that the proudest accomplishments of mine may never be fully understood, accepted, or a source of pride for him. I didn’t ask to get diabetes–but I did, and now it is a part of who I am. I didn’t ask to be a climber, but now I am and I would be lying to myself if I hung up my rope and rack and accepted doing anything less unless that is where my heart led me. Someday that all may change, and if that does, I won’t have any compunction about hanging it up and walking away. I have never looked down on normal lives–if anything I have looked at that and wondered what it would be like to walk that path but realizing in the end that my proclivities were leading me in a different direction entirely–and that I couldn’t control the outcome.
Sometimes there is a fine line between a gift and a burden. I have been asked frequently what the “connection is between type 1 diabetes and climbing” is. There is another similarity that can be added to the list. Being true to yourself and following your own path is rooted in being honest with yourself and others. I can’t pretend that all of climbing is just a great big old time. Sometimes I look at the price I am paying and have to ask–is it really worth it in the end?
So here is how I work through this: it’s not the end yet so how can I even begin to speculate (and once it is, it will be too late to change who I was, so that’s a pointless question). Is anything ”worth it”? Nothing comes without a price-tag and in the event of life choices, the purchase is never refundable.
Ultimately you have to take what you have and make the best of it, work hard and be proud of what you do, and try and help other people because that is what matters regardless what path you take to arrive at that end–just like my dad always said.