Dad's toast at my wedding probably didn't make much sense to anyone else in attendance that night. But for me, two complete stories were wrapped up in his small phrase—one that spanned the past three decades and one that was yet to be written.
Dad looked at Daniel and me as we sat, surrounded by all the people who loved us most, and offered these words of wisdom: "Pop the balloon."
Not exactly what you might expect to hear from your father in a moment otherwise marked by white tulle and champagne.
Unless, of course, you knew my dad.
When I was in high school, I joined the track team. For some inexplicable reason, despite my sub-five-foot frame and short legs, I decided to take up the high hurdles. Dad, always my number-one fan and self-appointed coach, watched as I trailed the other runners in race after race.
One night, after arriving home from a particularly demoralizing meet, Dad was giving one of his pep talks. "You're not supposed to float over the hurdles," he told me, winding up to his trademark intensity. "You're supposed to attack them! Stop making it so pretty!"
Inspired by an impromptu object lesson, he seized a leftover birthday balloon from the kitchen and taped it to the wall. "All right," he said. "I want you to pop this balloon . . . with your stomach."
What? I gave him my best 15-year-old "you're off your rocker" eye roll.
"Attack it like it's a hurdle!"
"I'm serious," he said. "Pop the balloon!"
I shrugged, knowing there was no point in arguing when Dad got this excited about something. I took a few steps back and launched myself toward the balloon. But as soon as my stomach made contact, I immediately bounced back. Everything in my brain was telling me to hold back, that if I really went into this full force, I would find myself eating wall.
"No," Dad said. "You have to go through the wall. Try again."
After several more attempts and my share of frustrated tears, I made the declaration that this was officially impossible. Then my little sister, eight years my junior, who had been eyeing everything in silent concentration, asked if she could try.
Not wanting to be shown up by a first grader, I took a big breath. I'm doing it this time, I told myself. I'm going through the wall.
I closed my eyes and surged forward. The next thing I heard was the glorious sound of exploding rubber. I jumped up and down, alternately squealing in delight and eyeing the balloon remains scattered across the kitchen floor. I couldn't have been more elated if I'd just gotten a blue ribbon at the biggest track meet of the year.