Lessons from my Father

Lessons from my Father Laura Pittman

It’s Father’s Day and I’m thinking about my dad, John Ott. He was a wonderful dad; gentle and patient, who loved photography. When I was at university, he lent me his old 1970’s camera so I could take my first film photography class. He encouraged me, supported me, and was so proud of me—in photography as well as everything I did.

I received my love of photography from my dad. He usually had one or two cameras strapped to him every time we traveled. He took some great shots of my sister and me as children, like the one above. As we got older, we were sometimes annoyed at his photography, but now we treasure the images he captured. Boxes and boxes of yellowed, round-edged photos that always lived on the top shelf of his closet. These photos help us to remember the beauty of our childhood, and memories that would otherwise be forgotten. A favorite shirt. Bike rides. A missing tooth. Friends that are no longer in our lives.

My dad died at the age of 56. I remember when he turned 40. Our home filled with party guests bringing “Over the Hill” gag gifts like “coffin nails” and a walking cane. Of course my child-brain registered 40 as ancient because of that party, but now that I’ve passed that birthday myself, I can tell you that 40 isn’t old! Fifty six is too young to actually use that walking cane. And definitely too young to die.

My dad worked a job he disliked most of his life, saving up, just waiting to retire early. He couldn’t wait to have some adventures, like sailing to Hawaii, and have time to enjoy photography.  According to plan, he retired early at 55, bought a beautiful home on 3 acres in the California mountains near Yosemite, and settled down with my mom to enjoy the second half of his life. Only he unexpectedly died a year later from cancer.

I wish I had more photos of him. One summer in college I took that old 1970’s film camera of his, popped in a roll of black and white film, and intentionally took a portrait of him for my  photography class. He was refueling the ski boat on the lake (his happy place), looking off into the distance, towards the sun and the warmth of the hope of the summer. I adjusted my composition and angles until the image told the story I wanted. I love that photo, but since it was before the days of digital photography, I don’t have a copy. 

In these days of digital photography, we are so blessed to have a camera with us on our phone most of the time. Don’t forget to use it! Enjoy and be present in the moment, but also click the shutter now and then. Moments are fleeting and they aren’t repeatable. Compose your shot with intentionality. Try to tell stories and capture shared memories with your loved ones, even the messy, candid, in-the-moment shots. Make your family feel seen and loved, remembered for all posterity. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. 

Dad, thanks for all you taught me, and all you passed on to me. I remember you and I thank you.  I hope that I've continued your legacy and that you're looking down on my life with a smile. 

~ Laura


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