My boys hold a very special place in their old dad’s heart, one that will never change or diminish in any way. They are part of me, and I feel my soul is strengthened and enlivened when I’m around them. My life is better because of them and their unique personalities and perspectives, and I can’t imagine living without them, even though I know what it’s like to lose one of them along with their mother.
When my daughter came along after six sons, things instantly changed around our place — namely, wardrobes filled with princess dresses, sparkly shoes, tiaras, a play toy closet overfilled with stuffed animals, dolls and drawers of “poofy stuff,” as the boys would say. The house was instantly converted from everything “camo” to everything “Cinderella.” The boys soon learned who ruled the roost as Amber Rae made her way into their “stuff” and embedded herself deep in our hearts.
As early as I can remember, Amber took to the water like an authentic diving duck, which ultimately led to my pet name for her, “Baby Duck,” which she embraced with every bubble bath she experienced covered in mountains of bubbles surrounded by her fleet of little rubber duckies. Amber was adventurous and fearless around the water, which both thrilled and terrified us. She’d jump off the edge of the pool or diving board without a second thought and would run to do it again and again. Her greatest fear as a youngster, however, came with listening and watching fireworks, something she didn’t outgrow until well into grade school (the dogs still suffer).
Amber made her way mostly unscathed through childhood, although I’m sure she blames any anxiety or mental lapses she has now on growing up with all older brothers. One of Amber’s favorite things to do was to sit in a cardboard box while being pushed around on the carpet from room to room. She might have loved it, but I generally hacked up a lung pushing her around the house for hours on end.
I started taking Amber camping with me after I ended up single again and was living with all the boys in Hyde Park. We’d take the big tent, cooking gear, camp equipment and go to Spring Hollow up Logan Canyon, where we’d camp and fish at Third Dam. It’s where Amber used her very first pink fishing rod. An empty creel never stopped us from eating lots of good food though. It became one of our favorite traditions and would lead to other daddy-daughter trips fishing from our kayaks at Tony Grove or backpacking overnight into White Pine Lake.
I was fortunate enough to have Amber as a student in my 5th-grade class. Yes, she belonged to the 5th grade “Drama Llama Club” (was even president for a while) but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. During a time when my time with her was limited on a regular basis, I was lucky to spend the whole school day with her. What a treat! I’m not sure if she felt that way sometimes, but it was certainly a bonus for me.
Very early on in her childhood, Amber decided she wanted to learn to dance. She began taking lessons with Cache Civic Ballet and over the years progressed and excelled in her ballet skills. She was a natural and looked it onstage. Each year we looked forward to her performances in “The Nutcracker” and other dance reviews. This will be the first year we won’t get to see her perform locally which will end a time-honored family tradition for us.
Amber’s education journey had its ups and downs, as with most girls her age. There were tearful moments as friends and classmates jockeyed for higher positions in the Drama Llama Club and the usual “boy issues,” which often broke her heart and resulted in my thoughts of committing a felony or two. It was during these times that Amber would confide in her brothers (who definitely thought about committing the felonies) but instead tried to include her in their world of hunting, fishing and working on their trucks. Amber was a good sport and would go shooting and hiking in the mountains with her brothers but was true to her feminine traits in spite of how hard the boys tried having her become Annie Oakley. She would compromise by going with them for tacos or hanging out with me at Village Inn, especially on free pie Wednesdays.
Our favorite place to eat and solve the world’s problems is by far A&W. Amber hates pickles and I hate tomatoes, so we make bets as to whether they remember to take those off our burgers. We love quoting lines from our favorite videos. “Napoleon Dynamite” is a regular. “You gonna eat your tots?”
Amber came and had lunch with me today in my classroom. She’s leaving for college this afternoon. My daughter is all grown up, tall, beautiful, smart and ready for a new adventure outside the Hawkes’ nest. As we sat and talked about what things might be like now that she’s a college student and moving out, I asked her what she most wanted to experience being away from home. Of course her reply? “Well, they have an A&W there.”
I’ll sure miss my Baby Duck.