One bright summer afternoon in 2001 my 7 year-old son and I were standing on an overlook taking in the awesome and powerful beauty of the Lower Yellowstone Falls located in the Yellowstone National Park. Prior to stopping we enjoyed the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, forests, animals, and landscapes. Being that we are of White Mountain Apache (me) and Navajo (my son) heritage, we had a healthy respect for nature’s majestic creations.
Most of the drive he was silent taking in the views as I explained that Yellowstone was once a place where Shoshone, Bannocks, and Nez Perce Indians hunted, lived, and held ceremonies. It was a place where they LIVED. After stopping to walk down to the Lower Yellowstone Falls, my son would stop and touch the ground to feel the soil, and look for the different types of birds.
He was a true Apache from the mountains of Apache in that he always had a deep reverence for nature, animals, and peaceful quiet. His nalis (maternal grandparents) owned a ranch in Rough Rock, Ariz., on the Navajo Reservation where he learned how to ride a horse pretty much while he learned to walk.
In fact, when his dried umbilical cord fell off as a newborn, I took it and carefully buried it where two small creeks blended in the middle of a beautiful canyon. That creek was dried most of the year, but when the snow began to melt or when the summer rains fell, it could become vibrantly alive and fill with pure, sweet water that is known to exist in Upper Cedar Creek, Ariz., which is in the heart of the White Mountain Apache Reservation.
In the tradition of my people, I buried his cord with prayers, corn pollen and placed with it a horseshoe and rope, somehow knowing this son of mine would always have a talent for horses and being with one in nature. My prayers were for him to be strong in his faith, loyal to family, and to not fear hard work. I also asked that when the sorrows and pain of life came to his world, that he be strong like his ancestors and to stand tall, be patient, and to love all living beings—even when they hurt you.
I recalled those memories as we stood at the falls with several other tourists who were all silent. The volume of water that falls is one of the largest in the entire Rocky Mountains. You can feel the power and energy of the water as it goes over the falls.
As I glanced over at my little son, I noticed a light veil of water from the mist covered our arms and face. My son rubbed the water together with his hands and blessed himself head to toe with the moisture and not wanting to ruin the moment, I just smiled widely and my heart filled with deep love for this child of mine.
We had been there a while and were each lost in our own thoughts. We needed to get moving onto our next destination as Yellowstone National Park has so much to see and explore. Finally, I got close to my son and asked him, “…so, what do you think?”
He got a serious look on his face and kept staring at the powerful, raging river, the canyon, the whole scenario of emerald green trees, flowers, rocks, cerulean blue Wyoming skies and says in the most serious voice a seven year old can muster: “I’m going to bring my family here one day.”
As parents know, our children surprise us, shock us, and make us very proud for the people they are developing into being. Our children take us on journeys that make you cry tears of joy and pain. They sustain you and they also bring the most incredible joy with simple actions—and words.
That day, as we stood at the Yellowstone Lower Falls, I saw into the future and knew my son was going to be a wonderful father and husband to one fortunate, special family.
That day, I saw a young boy already thinking, planning, and looking forward to a life filled with family and beauty and it made me very proud and deeply touched.
Therefore, as we celebrate and honor our fathers this Father’s Day, I want to say “I love you and am so proud of you” to my son Bryan Houston Sells. You are an amazing young man and I pray that you always remember to have faith, family, and beauty in your life each day.
I also want to wish each one of you a “Happy Father’s Day” and also say a special prayer for those single-mothers who serve as both mom and dad to their children, for I admire you greatly.
Valarie Tom is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and is an awarding-winning journalist for her work in magazine, print and television. Tom has taught in college and currently teaches mass communications in high school in Phoenix, where she resides.