I am the “Missing Dad” in the family vacation photos. You know who he is, the person who is always behind the camera taking the picture, while the rest of the family is standing in front of some landmark or novelty. I am the one who is reminding the kids to stand still and to smile at the camera so that I can take the picture. All the while, I am the one who is smiling behind the camera, thinking about how this picture will remind me, and them, about a past event.
The other day I was looking at some old pictures taken from a past family vacation, one taken shortly after my ex and I separated so it was just me and my children. We were driving from Sioux Falls to Denver, and making a tourist experience for the kids and stopping at all the tourist stops that I had visited so many times before. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, Wall Drug, and Denver Zoo were all on the agenda, and a photo was taken of the kids at each location. Each photo staged and prepared carefully so that I would have a memory to review later in life.
I have one of these photos from this trip separated and framed. Not that it is a spectacular photo, either in composition or lighting, but because of the subjects. In this photo, I am included with my children. There I am, the “Missing Dad” holding my daughter while my two sons are included and smiling. This photo is special since it is our family – all of us – celebrating our trip together. This photo is special because a stranger took it. I remember the stranger, a middle-aged woman who was with her family. She saw my daughter taking a picture of her brothers and I, and asked me if she could take our picture with all of us in the frame. Obviously, I agreed and my daughter handed the camera to her. She fumbled for a moment and then pointed the lens in our direction. My daughter smiled (as she always does) and the moment was preserved in time.
We thanked the lady and she returned the camera to me. Such an innocent transaction and such a simple act. Took no more than 2 minutes of anyone’s time. However, that woman and her time has created a memory for me that will never be forgotten. I am no longer the “Missing Dad” from the family trip photos. I am now a part of the trip…and a part of the family. This woman, a stranger who I will never know, gave me a fantastic gift that day. She will never know the joy that she has left me with, and I have no way to either express that with her, or to share my feelings. However, I will always remember that simple act that created such a moment for me.