There are three pictures. One is from this past spring of my 11-year-old son skinning up a mountain in the Rockies. The smile on his face as he looks toward the peak is an exquisite mix of peace and awe.
Another picture, from around the same time, is of my seven-year-old daughter in the starting gate of a GS racecourse in a fluorescent hippie-flower speed suit with an expression of absolute determination.
The third picture is from seven and a half years ago. My husband is in a hospital bed and I am next to him. He is in a cervical-thoracic brace with various broken body parts and a mild traumatic brain injury. It was before the social-media selfie craze but I did take a selfie of us. Proof that he was still here.
It was he who spent countless days with our kids on the slopes—bent over with them skiing between his legs, promising them hot chocolate—and got both of our little skiers to pictures one and two: the payoff he had worked for and his fatherly dream fulfilled. Kids who love to ski anytime and anywhere, and especially with him.
It was a gray winter afternoon in Colorado and I was getting ready to take our son to his first-ever theater movie when I got the call from the trauma unit. My husband had been helicoptered into the University of Utah ER. He was alive. He had suffered head trauma in a ski accident. And no, sorry, but we can’t provide you with any more details at this time. Please make arrangements to get here as soon as possible.
Turns out it was the best-case scenario for head-butting a tree at 20-something miles per hour, which is what he did. He happened to be testing new helmets in what was then his role as editor of this magazine, and there was no way he would have survived without one. Our family loves helmets now.
Two months post-accident, we convinced the doctors to clear him for international travel so we could adopt our daughter, who was waiting for us on the other side of the world. It wasn’t lost on me, when I saw our baby girl in his arms for the first time, that I almost had to do it all on my own—that trip, plus raising two kids.
That could-have-been is a nightmare I hope I’ll never live, and now whenever I say goodbye to him as he leaves for the backcountry, I never forget to say, “Don’t die.” Not that it will keep him, or anyone with him, safe, but I think I say it as a reminder to both of us that we signed up for this life—and family—together, and we both need to try our best to stay alive, whether that means eating our broccoli or deciding the snowpack feels unsafe.
One of the things I love most about the father of my children is his sense of wonder and adventure and his unconquerable love of the outdoors. What I cherish most about his parenting, and that of all dads who wake up and get their kids outside on Saturdays and Sundays, is that he is here. He may be tossing a lacrosse ball with the kids or hiking with them somewhere high up on a peak, but in the end it’s his presence that counts.
I want the fourth picture to be the four of us in 30 years—alive, and as intact as possible.
Ryan Bass lives in Carbondale, Colorado, with her husband, two kids, a tiny dog, and a lot of helmets