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!"1