It is dawn. His primary concern is whether I have packed enough snacks. His mother always packs the snacks when we all go out. But this trip, it’s just Dad and him, and he knows I often am guilty of bringing only a few sardine tins, water and deer jerky. My son is 9.
In pallid light, I watch him double-check his pack. He inspects his water bladder to ensure it is properly connected, flips his headlamp on and off, slaps the pocket of his jacket, verifying the extra batteries. He tugs at the sheathed knife on his belt. He checks the lens caps on his little binoculars; double-checks the shoelaces on his boots. He does everything exactly as I have taught him.
Having finished his gear check, he shoulders his pack, then looks up at me. I nod, feigning authority. He nods back. Rain begins to fall, but his boyish face smiles broadly, and inside I burst with pride. A father and his son alone in the throat of nature; we are about to hike six miles together, make camp and hunt all weekend in rough country. I am so proud of him in this moment that I could cry. I almost do.
I am an adventure dad. And these are the most important days of my life.
People often ask me about my boy, our family and the way we choose to live. To some it may seem extreme. We fish trout, bass and salmon. We hunt deer and turkey. We pick mushrooms. We crab. We snorkel for crawdad and dig for clams. We camp, canoe, raft and backpack. We are an outdoor adventure family.
While that may sound rather romantic, the reality of being a parent exposing your child to the indifference of nature is as frightening as it is exhilarating. Fear sometimes enters loudly.
Everything from falling tree branches to mountain lion attacks go through my mind when we are out there. In nature, there are neither punishments nor rewards, only consequences; harsh but effective teachers. As my son says, “It’s not a video game out there.”
When fear enters my mind, I remind myself that he must learn the laws of nature so he might later return to them in his life’s questionable moments. If I rob him of these lessons, I shirk my fatherly job. Likewise, if I do not pull him away from the modern world of flat screens, Wi-Fi and prepackaged dinners, he will not come to know that the real world is made of water, rock, wood and bone.
I’m an adventure dad not because I want to expose my son to unnecessary risks and fear — I’m an adventure dad because I want to be with him when he encounters the inevitability of risk and fear in a healthy environment.
Perceiving fatherhood as a sacred bond was passed on to me by my father; I strive to honor it.
Existing outside the limits of time, our bond nonetheless seems to strengthen with each adventure we take. I have witnessed how the teachable moments, quiet lessons and hands-on experiences he encounters in the wild have shaped him for the better. Though I tell him he is developing his “bushcraft” when he learns to build fires, tie knots, fish patiently or hunt in silence, he actually is crafting and honing character.
Taking him into the woods or onto the water are gifts of nature and priceless lessons that I hope he never forgets.
I just need to remember the snacks.
This story for Parenting Now! appeared in the June 12th edition of The Register-Guard.