This post is going to be super personal for me. So much so, that it has taken me over a year to even look through these photographs. For months, my fiancé Eliott and I were planning and anticipating our first West Coast, road-trip adventure. I could not have been more excited for this trip – it’s basically a photographer’s dream. Our trip was scheduled for mid-April of 2016.
However, the whole mood for me changed at the end of March. That’s when I found out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was literally the hardest decision I could have made to still take the trip. My first reaction was to just throw the whole trip away and spend as much time as I could with him. He on the other hand, would not let that happen. He made me swear that no matter what happened, I would take that trip. See, my dad was a Vietnam veteran. Not only did he travel all over during his time of service, but even after he was out he traveled all over the US. He knew and believed so strongly in the importance of traveling – seeing new things and experiencing life. So - he refused to be the reason why I missed out on this opportunity. So, as hesitant as I was, I promised him that I would take this trip.
We flew out to San Francisco, ventured to Muir Woods for the day, and made our way to Yosemite the next day. After returning to San Francisco, Eliott and I drove down the coastal highway 1 where we spent the night in Big Sur. We continued our journey south where we stopped in Los Angeles before making the trip to Palm Springs. From Palm Springs we ventured to Joshua Tree. Then from Joshua Tree we made it back to Los Angeles. Basically, we traveled our BUTTS off. Driving was exhausting at times, but I’m so thankful for everything I experienced while I was out there.
The day after I left for SF was when my dad was admitted to the hospital. For those of you that knew him, you knew he had a heart of gold…but was stubborn as a mule. He refused to let anyone tell me that he was in the hospital while I was gone. He did not want me to make a fuss and come home early. He wanted me to enjoy life and this trip I had anticipated for so long. So, I found out about his drastic change in health when I was on my way home, in an airport, somewhere in Missouri…you know, the perfect place to find out terrible news.
As soon as I returned to Pittsburgh, I went to see him. For the hell he was going through, he sure had great spirits. I spent every day with him. I knew how much he hated hospitals and thought that if I could at least be there by his side, it wouldn’t be as bad. Shortly after getting back, I hastily went through all of my pictures, selecting the best shots to show my dad. I didn’t even edit them – I feel like that’s saying a lot for a photographer. I just wanted to make sure my dad saw the amazing time I had. I wanted him to know that even though I disagreed with the promise I made to him, he did the right thing. He was so happy looking through them all. He could tell that Eliott and I really enjoyed our trip and that it was an experience we will remember for the rest of our lives.
My dad passed away on May 4th, 2016. I will forever connect this trip with him. He has taught me one hell of a final lesson – Live your life to its fullest. Take that trip you’ve always wanted to – and don’t be afraid to go a little broke in the process. Money is paper, and it can only get you so far. If you want to do something, anything with your life – make it happen. Life is too short to wait for the right moment. We all have the power to decide when the moment is right – so get up and do it, do it now. Put your heart into it, give it all you have, and don’t regret missed opportunities, take them now.
As you can now understand why, going through the photographs has been a challenge for me. The vacation was unbelievable, but a part of me always felt the sadness of that time of year, every time I looked through them. I will always remember my father’s mark and the lessons he taught me. I will forever remember this trip as his final gift to me. Thanks, dad. I love you.