You probably don’t remember me, but I am an old friend of your dad. We used to work a lot together and always had fun at it. I enjoy your dad because he is full of surprises and never shy about speaking his mind. I bet you are like that, too.
You and I met a few years ago, camping at Two Medicine Lake at Glacier National Park. You probably don’t remember that, either, as you were pretty small then. You and your dad shared our family’s campfire and you two got on your hands and knees and pretended to be bison, grunting and butting heads. It was pretty funny and I still remember it, even if you don’t.
I have a son who is about your age. His name is Aidan. He was at that campfire, too. Sometimes he and I bonk our heads, pretending to be bighorn sheep. (Not too hard though.) Like you, Aidan has spent a lot of time in hospitals and with doctors all over the place. Sometimes I think that really stinks because there are a lot of other places I would rather be than a doctor’s office or hospital. Almost anyplace is better than that, really. It’s hard to sleep and there are so many annoying people who come to poke needles at all times of the day. To tell you the truth, though, Aidan doesn’t mind the hospital, sometimes, because he gets to watch movies and push buttons to move his bed up and down and make a nurse come running in. Sometimes we have to unplug all that stuff, so he doesn’t drive the nurses crazy. Plus at the hospital he gets presents like it’s Christmas all over again.
So why is it that some kids have to spend so much time with doctors and other kids don’t? I think about that a lot. I’ll tell you a story about my grandma. My grandma lived to 100 years old. That is old. And guess what. She was never sick once. All she ever took were aspirin, which are little old-fashioned pills no one takes anymore. She had five kids and she never once went to the doctor, even for that. You know what else? Some kids spend even more time in the hospital than you and Aidan do. Some kids NEVER get to leave the hospital, or walk around, or go camping or canoeing with their dads. Ever. So there you go. Some kids grow to be 100 and never get sick, some are always sick, sick, sick, and don’t live anywhere near 100. That’s just how it is. I can’t figure out why. Maybe you will some day. Let me know.
Is that fair? No way! That makes me mad. It makes me sad. It makes me very, very, VERY mad and sad. I tell people that. A lot. Some people get tired of hearing me tell them but I tell them anyway.
At the same time, here’s something: Your dad loves you, just like I love Aidan. And I bet there are things you like to do. Aidan likes to build with Legos, listen to stories and go fishing. He taught me how to icefish. Your dad and I like to climb in the mountains and hunt elk and look at grizzly bears. Now that he is in California, I understand he likes to go look for great white sharks. That sounds like fun to me. Mostly I just like to be where I can smell the trees and feel the clean wind on my face.
That’s just me. I’m sure there are things you like that might be totally different. So what I’m saying is, do the things you like to do. Sure, you can be mad and sad and talk about that, but still do everything you want to do that you can do. I bet your dad will help you do those things, as much as he can. Of course, dads can’t do everything they want to do, or wish they could do, either.
Meanwhile, maybe we’ll meet up at Two Medicine Lake. The Blackfeet Indians go to Two Medicine Lake to pray because they think it’s a powerful place, kind of like their church. Some of the Blackfeet Indians have given Aidan some special medicine made out of bear grease and some grass that smells good when you burn it. I bet they won’t mind if we share some. There are lots of kinds of medicines and lots of ways to heal in this world, plus people are always coming up with new ones. At Two Medicine Lake, we can go on a ride on the beautiful wooden boat, or go fishing for brook trout and cook them over a fire, crispy in a pan. We’ll look for bears for sure. You and your dad can butt heads like buffalo again, though you are getting so big you might knock him over.
Cory, I like you and I like your smile. I hope to see more of it. Say hi to your dad and mom from me. I like them too.
My friend Ben Long and I have fought many battles together to protect and conserve wildlife and wild places; now we are both involved in fights for our sons. Ben’s son Aidan has been diagnosed with Myoclonic-Astatic Epilepsy (MAE), a rare form of epilepsy also known as Doose Syndrome. Ben lives in Kalispell, Montana, where he works as the Northern Rockies Program Director for Resource Media. He also works as a freelance writer and is the author of “Backtracking: By Foot, Canoe and Subaru on the Lewis & Clark Tr...” and “Great Montana Bear Stories.”
Cory in Glacier National Park, Montana, 2004
Top Photo: Ben Long and his son, Aidan, in Montana