A Father’s Lens

by | Jun 4, 1999 | Priorities, Treasure

I was eleven years old before my father finally acknowledged my constant requests and allowed me to use his prized Canon AE-1 camera. I will never forget that first thrill of a real camera in my hands. Hardly believing my luck, I snapped away, sneaking up stealthily on my subject matter, the elusive white-tailed deer. I promptly shot two entire rolls of deer-in-the-underbrush. When seventy-two exposures of non-descript grass and shrubs came back seemingly devoid of subject matter, I was, to say the least, disappointed. My father was annoyed. I’d wasted vacation film-a cardinal sin. I pointed out the microscopic specks in the photos defensively, “See dad, they’re deer, just look!” He seemed less than impressed. It was a while before he let me use his camera again.

My next quarry was a hummingbird. It whirred into our backyard for a fraction of a second one summer afternoon and hovered near a clump of scarlet flowers. I was so sure that my father would want photographic documentation of this miraculous event that I ‘borrowed’ his camera without actually asking permission. I waited and waited for the bird to return, but to no avail. I waited so long, in fact, that I forgot my quest totally and went inside. I left the camera outside. Overnight. And, as luck would have it, it rained. When I realized what I’d done, I was mortified, and certain I would be grounded until I was at least twenty. I knew I’d totally blown it. Fortunately, the camera was not permanently damaged, but I knew it would rightfully be a really long time until I had Dad’s camera in my hands again.

It didn’t happen again until I was sixteen, in fact, and had just won a trip to England in an essay/interview contest. I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to Europe. What I couldn’t believe even more was that Dad asked me if I’d like to take his camera with me. This being the trip-of-a-lifetime, he thought I might want to get some good pictures of it. I was fairly dumbstruck. “You really mean it?” I asked in awe hardly daring to believe he did.

Looking back, I think the camera was his own kind of Dad safety charm. It was an extension of him, a symbolic form of protection to ensure that I came home in one piece. At sixteen, I didn’t know what it meant to be a parent. I didn’t know how difficult it is to worry, to set misgivings aside, to smile, and then to let go. I was young enough to actually believe that it was harder for him to let me take his camera on my trip, than it was for him to let me travel abroad by myself.

The day I graduated from high school Dad pulled me into the kitchen. “Karen,” he said, “your graduation present is on the table in the hall.” He looked excited. “I hope you like it.” The only thing on the table was his camera. He walked into the hall and stood behind me. He put his hands on my shoulders. “I’d like for you to have my camera” he said by way of explanation.

For once in my teenage life, I was totally at a loss for words. “I was going to buy you a new one, a better one, but I knew how much you liked mine, and I thought this one would mean more to you. I thought a new one might not be the same.”

And he was right, because he had given me more than a just a camera, even more than a cherished belonging of his own. He had just given me the evidence of his trust, his benediction. He had given me a modern-day a rite of passage.

No gift, no matter how new or how expensive, would have meant more. That was half my lifetime ago. Since that day, Dad’s camera has been with me on tops of mountains and volcanoes, in alpine meadows, at sunrises and sunsets. It’s been to family reunions, graduations, weddings, holiday gatherings, and delivery rooms. It’s seen my first car, and my first boyfriend who later became my first (and only) husband. It saw my first bad perm, and my first gray hair. It saw our first new home and our first out-of-state move. It saw my first, second and third-born children on their first day of life. Now it regularly records their firsts.

With so much new camera technology lately, sometimes I’m fleetingly tempted to buy something flashier to replace Dad’s Canon. But, whenever I see the well-worn black leather case I think of my father and his gift. I think of him when I press down the shutter button, and hear the familiar click as the film advances on my life. I think of my father’s benediction and how it has become part of his legacy. A father’s lens on a daughter’s life. And then I know one thing. Something my father himself taught me. Newer might possibly be better, but it could never be the same.

Karen Driscoll copyright 2002 kmhbrdriscoll@hotmail.com

Karen has stories in the book “Chocolate for a Woman’s Courage”, and her stories “The Gift” and “The Servant” can be found in our archives. Www.2theheart.com/archives.


A Father’s Lens