When I met Katie Stipanovich, she had recently graduated from college and was visiting some mutual friends. I asked her what was next. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Mmm, I don’t know. I’d like to be a political consultant… but I don’t really like politics.”
“What was your major?” I asked. “Political Science,” she replied. “Right.”
Since that day, I’ve watched Katie blossom. She sucked it up and moved to the big city, facing her fears and giving a big shout of “WOOOHOOO” with each advancement in her career. Though she’s yet to find herself in the world of politics, she seems to ski through life, always with a big thumbs up. I think she gets it from her dad.
I’m excited to watch where her adventures take her next.
I am in a lake, and I am annoyed. I look up, somewhat resentfully, as I readjust my waterski, my movements mimicking what I realize now was my pre-teen angst. My dad, Steve Stipanovich, is in the boat fifty feet away, and he takes a break from untangling the rope to look back at me. He can tell I am masking my fear by the way I’m behaving. He senses I’m about to quit altogether.
My goal that summer was to master the slalom waterski. In that moment, it felt like there was no way I’d ever get there. Just that morning I’d failed just shy of twenty times, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning, but I realize now, my dad knew better.
I am back in the lake. We make eye contact, and he smiles. He gives a thumbs up and yells, “You got it this time, Kate!” He revs the engine, looks back, and nods at me, and then, he guns it. And with that, about five seconds later I’m out of the water and grinning. My dad throws his head back, gives a bellowing “WOOOHOOO!” as he throws his fist in the air. Only my father knew how to draw that out of me, to get me to try things that made me uncomfortable. He taught me that failing twenty times before ten o’clock in the morning is AOK, and that life’s greatest joys come after plenty of failures.
My father has always found value in taking a risk. To me, his entire life was one epic tale after the next. He traveled through Europe and Asia, he lived off the land as a hay farmer in Oregon, and he bought a coal mine in rural Missouri just because he wanted a career change. As the oldest of his six children, he welcomed me into his exciting world. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve spent my entire life standing wide-eyed at his side, taking all of it in and him with it.
My father taught us there is no such thing as boredom. When my sister and I would whine about having nothing to do, his response was simple. “Go outside.” And with his guidance and encouragement, we learned how to DO things. We learned to make up games, we learned to explore, we learned to built forts, and often he was our partner-in-crime. He was never too busy to play with us, and he had an innate ability to make a game out of anything. I give him full credit for challenging me to see life differently. He showed me that even the most mundane things have the potential to be exciting.
Now that I’m an adult, we have fewer adventures together. Summers spent in the lake with him are becoming fewer and farther between, but I carry the memory of them with me. With his unwavering encouragement, I’ve challenged myself, I’ve tried new things, and I’ve taken risks. He always remains calm. His life-affirming presence is steadily by my side.
Sometimes, even today, when I find myself in a crowded place or a boisterous family gathering, I gravitate toward my father simply to stand in front of him. He places a single, giant hand on my shoulder and rests it there. And with that, I’m content.