Moments Matter

The Hunter’s Dance

Editor’s Note: The following post was partially inspired by Wendy at After the kids leave. I encourage you to read her post entitled “Alcoholism, a child’s perspective.” It is both relatable and heart wrenching. Thank you, Wendy.

His weathered tan arm gracefully skims the top of the sand with the metal detector. The hunter’s dance begins. The device floats in a succinct side-to-side motion. Panning, each stroke deliberate. Small grains of sand glimmer in the sun.

My Dad was even featured in the local newspaper. Photo Credit: David Millenkamp

TREASURE HUNTER: My Dad was even featured in the local newspaper. Photo Credit: David Millencamp

Finely oiled sunbathers worship their Sun God. Pot bellied men sit in their blue and white-checkered lawn chairs with ice coolers at the ready. Children run in and out of the icy ocean water with sand-covered knees and tipping buckets.

The man, avoiding the beach goers, focuses on the task at hand. He listens acutely for the beeps to increase in frequency. Beads of sweat drench his plastic headphones. The beeping picks up pace, his heart races faster.

The dance is at its climax.

He’s hit something.

Treasure.

He circles the spot with his machine. A small child streaks across the treasure spot. “Damn kid. Watch out,” he scolds. This is his spot. Gently placing his metal detector to the side, he reaches in his pocket for the digger. Flipping the sand, he’s hit a monumental find – a large ring.

His eyes cross as he intently studies the piece. The afternoon wind begins to whip up the sand. He’s quiet pleased. “All be damned,” he mutters. He slips the ring in the top right pocket of his fleece vest.

He needs a smoke. Heading to his black truck, the nasal singing of Willie Nelson streams from the open windows. His fingertips gently tap on the steering wheel. His mind begins to wonder about the big find of the day.

He realizes this is no ordinary treasure. This is no trinket ring, bracelet or modest newlywed’s wedding band. It’s no charm bracelet, or kid’s toy car lost during a beach outing. Oh, he’s got thousands of those…

Meet my dad – the “treasure hunter.” It’s no secret to those who know me well that my dad was “unavailable” during most of my life…battling his demons with alcohol. He is the son of a strict, abusive German father. He grew up poor, without a mother. And at the age of 22, he survived the violent trenches of the Vietnam War.

Wish Upon a Falling Star
Most kids wished for a shiny new toy when spotting a falling star, or tossing a penny in a fountain. My wish remained unchanged as I had always wished for my dad to stop drinking. It seemed like such a simple wish. But it also seemed like an impossible wish.

Growing up, I can remember him changing his prison guard uniform after work, and leaving in his truck to search for treasure. For many years, he would dig for antique bottles. Then, he transitioned to searching for coins – specifically antique gold coins. He would sometimes be gone for days – searching for treasure.

Clearly, he’s never been the type of father that patted me on the back, and we threw the ball around the backyard. That just wasn’t who he was, and over the years I’ve learned to accept that cold hard fact.

Around 10 years ago, my father finally stopped drinking. It took more than 30-plus years for my wish to come true. However, as most children of alcoholics understand…you take sobriety one day at a time with no expectations.

Over the years, I have learned to appreciate who he is – an introverted, caustic, gritty, plain-spoken man who has endured some of the darkest horrors of humanity. His mother and sister locked away in a mental institution as a boy during the 1950s. He battled feelings of being lonely, hungry, cold and sick while being shuffled in a broken foster care system. He survived the harshness of beatings and psychological torture from his father. His best friends were blown to bits.

He is a survivor.

Here's an antique ink bottle my dad found that dates back to 1872. One of his many treasures.

Here’s an antique ink bottle my dad found that dates back to 1872. One of his many treasures.

My dad loves to read alone in his room. He idolizes John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. He watches old black and white Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock reruns. He smells of Old Spice cologne and cigarettes. He drinks only Folgers coffee. He walks with a slight cowboy limp as if heading to a shoot out at the O.K. Corral. His cursive handwriting denotes a style from the early 1900s with elaborate curves flowing, almost whimsical.

Finding Peace
He’s now retired and a staple at the local beaches as he hunts for lost treasures of forgetful beach goers. Occasionally, he’ll retrieve someone’s lost keys, or a sentimental ring. Being clean and sober now, it makes him feel good to help other people in his own way.

My mother has stuck by his side for the last 41 years. Visiting his daughters and grandchildren, there is a sense of peace within him. Yet, like most hunters, he is still on a restless quest for allusive treasures.

Ironically, the most valuable treasures have not been buried deep underground all these years. My sisters and I have been here above ground the entire time. We are continuing to take it one day at a time with our father – the treasure hunter.

I love you, Dad.

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