Rocket Man's Daughter


And I think it's gonna be a long long time Till touch down brings me round again to find I'm not the man they think I am at home Oh no, no, no, I'm a rocket man... -Elton John

The smell of gun powder and Epoxy glue fill my nose as you help me and my bunk mates craft our model rockets. "Rocket Man"; That's what the kids are calling you and I'm secretly feeling lucky I get to call you "Dad". I'm not so much interested in building a model rocket...I've been building them since I was six. This is nothing new to me. But I enjoy watching you instill your source of joy in eighty-seven children. And I like the attention I get from being "Rocket Man's Daughter". You make me popular. The Summer sun beats down on our skin and we're ready to launch. My favorite part is coming up; counting down, pushing the Red Button and hearing the Rumble-Roar-Swoosh of a launch.
You carefully place our rockets on the multi-rocket launch pad you built special for us.
 5...4...3...2...1 BLASTOFF!

This past weekend I flew to New York to make a surprise appearance at the sleep away camp my Aunt Dale and Uncle Ronnie own. My Dad started their Rocketry program the first Summer it opened, seventeen years ago. This was back in 1999, the days before 9/11, where you could fly a giant box of model rocketry paraphernalia underneath a plane. And that's what my Dad did; Gun powder, metal rods, sharp nosecones and flammable glue made their way from LAX to JFK with ease. But that's neither here nor there...
Each Summer since my Dad's sudden death, eight years ago, Camp Tioga honors my Dad on August 1st (his birthday), by launching model rockets, as Elton John's "Rocket Man" plays over the PA system. I hadn't been to the camp in ten years, and I haven't been an actual camper in thirteen years, and mostly, I haven't had any interest in returning. But this year I felt very pushed, driven and compelled to go. So three weeks ago, I bought a plane ticket, called two cousins worked out logistics and prayed we could pull the surprise off...and we did.

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Model Rocketry: a hobby rite of passage for forty-something single dads in the 90's. You are the President of the Rocketry Organization of California, Los Angeles Chapter. You can't just be a participant. You need to be President. I don't know this now, but I'll be the same way later in life.
You sit at our towel-lined kitchen table late a night; repairing broken fins, popping smushed nosecones, replacing cardboard cylinders, placing decals and repacking mini vinyl parachutes. Sandpaper, masking tape and tiny wires are everywhere, yet organized. Even at six years-old, I can see how much you enjoy this, how proud you are when launches are successful and parachutes deploy properly. You love the comradery of fellow "rocketeers", and as a single Dad who works from home, you really need it. 

Though it's been eight and a half years since my Dad's passing, I still feel him all around me...especially when special attention is paid to him. Even in death, my Dad LOVES being the center of attention; admired and remembered and honored. And I'm more than happy to do just that, because I too like to be the center of attention. I could think of no other way to honor him this year than to fly three thousand miles to almost give his sister a heart attack and watch three hundred campers and staff remember their "Rocket Man".
I stood with my Aunt in the center of the camp grounds, as campers and counselors huddled in silence on the deck of their bunks, holding the space and watching with joy as a few model rockets were launched into the sky. My head is filled with the music and I'm so certain I'm right where I'm supposed to be.
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Happy Birthday, Rocket Man. Tonight, the sky is alive with the sparks, the noise and the gentle parachutes that keep me afloat, alive, energized and recommitted to the knowing that you are always with me. I used to count down the days until I'd see you again, wishing so many mornings I would not wake. But I don't need to do that anymore, Dad. I don't need to be afraid I'll lose you, forget you, not be able to reach you. After all, I am Rocket Man's Daughter; she doesn't forget anything. She knows you're just a launch pad, a Red Button and Rumble-Roar-Whoosh away.