By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jun 21, 2010 at 3:33 PM

Last night, after having to reschedule my Father's Day get-together with my dad, I went for a walk and started thinking about dad. Call it a trip down memory lane.

I thought about different things we've done together, our last ballgame (the day Robin Yount's number was retired) and our shared interests. Most of all, though, I thought of our various talks over the years.

Not long after my parents separated, my old man took me camping.

My brother was along, too, as were my father's current wife and her two children. It was a good trip; we went to Interstate State Park near St. Croix Falls. We camped, we fished, we pulled my brother's bike out from the bottom of Lake of the Dalles, we literally walked across the St. Croix River (bad drought that year) and we rode our bikes into Minnesota to visit a amusement park of some sort and I ended up walking all the way back when my bike broke.

There are a lot of memories from that trip but one in particular stands out today. I don't remember how it went down, but at one point during the trip, dad and I went for a hike.

We navigated through the woods not really talking to each other. We'd pause to take in the natural beauty of the park, point out various forms of wild life, but that was about it. After what seemed like a few hours of aimless wandering (let me say this about dad -- his sense of natural navigation lacks ...) we found ourselves in a clearing and took a seat for a little bit.

Again, I don't know how it happened but we started talking. For the first time in my life -- I was still in grade school at the time -- my dad and I were talking. We talked about why things happened the way they did, we talked about a lot of things, especially our relationship.

I wish I could remember the full details of the conversation. What I do remember, vividly, is one simple piece of advice my dad gave me:

"There's going to come a time," dad said, "when we probably won't see each other as much. You'll have your own life and your own things and that's OK."

It was a tough concept for a kid to understand -- especially for a kid who was already struggling to have some kind of relationship with his father. He went on to tell me that he and I had a special relationship, we weren't going to be like most fathers and sons and again, that it was OK.

At the time, I nodded in agreement and told him I understood. Quietly, in my head, I tried for years to fully comprehend that concept.

Finally, 20 years or so later, as I spent Father's Day evening sitting along the shore of Lake Michigan, it made complete and total sense.

Unlike a lot of children whose parents split up, I wasn't really ticked off about it. My parents fought a lot. It happens. I was, however, pretty annoyed with the way things were unfolding. It's not like I was overly close with my father to begin with. We'd go to Brewers games (Pepsi Fan Club tickets, always upgraded to third base box seats) and hit up Gilles' after. We went on a few vacations, but for the most part, dad worked a lot.

It's one of those things that dad said I would eventually understand and I do. Completely.

When my folks divorced, though, I looked forward to our alternate-weekend get-togethers when they happened. A lot of weekends were missed -- not entirely his fault -- and it got harder.

There was some bitterness, anger and resentment but after a few years and a lot of work, it went away.

Dad and I today are far closer than we've ever been in our lives, even though I think of him more as a best friend, confidant or consigliere at times than I do as a dad. That's not a knock ... it's just, kind of how things developed.

I've been through some rough times in my life. My dad didn't exactly give me a shoulder to cry on, but he let me get all the emotions -- whatever they were -- out of my system and then sit down with me and help me come up with a rational course of action.

We've laughed, we've cried. We pick on each other. He's bailed me out of more jams than I could ever count and I try like hell to return the favor. In short, my dad is probably my best friend.

During a rough stretch in college, I went to see the campus counselor. He asked me about my relationship with my father. I thought back to that long-ago conversation in the woods and smiled.

All at once, I realized that dad was right. Everything he said to me that day had panned out the way he said it would. He and I weren't -- nor will we ever be -- the "normal" father and son. But in retrospect, I don't think I'd have it any other way.

I'll always be grateful to my mother, despite our mutual stubbornness, for all the work she did in raising my brother, sister and me. But even though my father wasn't there, I think I've finally reached a peace and an understanding with him and with us.

It's a day late, dad, but Happy Father's Day. And thanks for the advice.