For the Dads: What Comes Around

“My goodness, Natalie. You come from adventurous stock.” 

Really? Turning away from the email, I looked through the window to the trees beyond. I’d never thought about myself, or my family, or our life, as particularly adventurous. It was just how we lived. 

The email was from an editor who was helping me polish a few chapters from a book I was writing. The chapters—tales from my life—involved a close call with a bear, a snowmobile-windshield to nostril standoff with a bison, and a trip into the backcountry with a recreationally-unstable fly fishing guide. Looking at my life from her perspective, I realized she was right: we are an adventurous lot. 

As adventurous as those tales had been, they weren’t the whole story. They weren’t even the beginning of the story. They were plot points in a storyline that started when I was very small, possibly before I was ever born.

Because you’re reading here, I’m guessing adventure is something you value. Maybe you’d like to write more of it in your life’s story—and your family’s. Maybe you want you and your progeny to be adventurous stock but you feel a little stuck. Maybe you need some help and a little hope. Let me tell you a little about my dad.

Adventurous Stock: a Backstory

When my dad was in his teens, his youngest aunt’s husband invited him to go canoeing and camping in the Minnesota Boundary Waters. Dad declined. He told me this story when I was in my teens and could tell he had regrets. When I asked why he didn’t go, he said, “I was being a gorp.”  

When I was 5 and Dad was 26, I made the most magical discovery of my young life: glass bottles of soda cooling in the creek. I was camping in the woods on my grandparents’ farm with my dad and my mom. Aside from the soda, I remember popcorn cooked over a fire, a cavernous canvas tent, and rain—through which Dad carried me up the hill in the morning. 

During my elementary years and Dad’s twenties, he (together with my mom) fostered an adventurous family life close to home. They took us hiking, biking, wading, and, occasionally, camping at nearby Ledges State Park. They took us to zoos, to Iowa State wrestling meets, and to see the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins play. They took us swimming, although neither of them liked water. Over time, I realized if Dad thought something was worth doing, it was worth doing with some or all of us. 

When I was 8 and Dad was 29, he and Mom drove us across three states to take us to the mountains of Colorado, a trip that involved much picnicking and many opportunities for my brother and me to turn up our noses at the food my parents offered us. We did not like sandwiches and wanted to eat at McDonalds. 

When I was 9 and Dad was 30, he took me camping. I had recently learned about the grounding properties of tires and, of course, the weather was turbulent. Dad spent what seemed like an eternity talking me through a lightning storm I believed would end us if we did not move to the safety of the rubber-tired car. We stayed in our tent and survived

That same summer, after I outgrew my bike, Mom and Dad outfitted the entire family with bicycles. Riding together in the evening became a regular rhythm. 

When my brother and I were 8 and 12, and Dad was 33, my parents took us on the first of many visits to Yellowstone National Park. They wanted to show us there was more to life than malls and movies. Dad persevered in stirring us from our teenage lethargy. “Wake up!” he would tell us. “You can sleep at home.“ 

After a long day of cross-country skiing in Yellowstone’s backcountry when I was 18 and Dad was 39, he suggested I apply for a job in the park the next summer. Within five months, I was back to live and work in a place that is still working on me. 

That same summer, Dad and my brother went on RAGBRAI, a weeklong bike ride across the state of Iowa. Later, he biked it with Mom, my brother, me, and our spouses. Over the years, he brought grandkids along to bike a few days of it here and there. One of these grandkids went on to work for RAGBRAI. 

When I was 26, I introduced my husband to Yellowstone and the hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, geyser gazing, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling that can go along with it. Fly fishing he discovered on his own and backpacking he did with my dad. My husband and I returned again and again—some years wanting a challenge, others needing the solace of wilderness. 

When I was 27,  my husband and I introduced our son (and eventually our two daughters) to Yellowstone during their infant years. We returned with them, over and over again. Even though we don’t live in the mountains, we wanted the mountains to live in them. 

When my son was 2 and Dad was 50, Dad and Mom took him to Yellowstone, a happening that became annual grandparent-grandchild trips. For 21 years, they took all grandkids who had passed the diaper stage on weeklong road trips to explore the world and expose them to the benefits of God’s good creation. Even though the grandkids were less picky than my brother and me, traveling with young children is a lot of work. Together, Dad and Mom kept five kids fed, engaged, and accounted for on city streets and in the wild. The grandkids learned the art of attention, the worth of waiting, and the value of taking on a challenge.  

When my son was 24, he took a solo backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies. It was the cusp of winter. Between the weather and wildlife, I wanted to worry. My husband, however, reminded me that he was being who we raised him to be.    

The next spring, when my son was days shy of 25 and my Dad was 73, he invited my dad to the Minnesota Boundary Waters to camp and canoe. Even though walking and sitting and getting up and down had become increasingly painful and problematic for Dad, he accepted. Apparently, he was done “being a gorp.” Watching him maneuver his hip-replacement-gone-bad, in-desperate-need-of-a-knee-replacement body into my son’s vehicle, all I could think was this: What goes around comes around.

What Goes Around Comes Around

As an Anthem of the Adventurer reader, you’d probably like some adventure to come around. You might have missed some opportunities. You might wonder how to integrate a wife and kids (and possibly a mortgage) into an adventurous life. You’re not alone. Consider these two words for becoming (or building) adventurous stock: Start small.

  1. Start. We won’t accomplish what we don’t begin. 
  2. Small. We all start somewhere, usually somewhere rather less impressive than we might like. 

Don’t despise a small beginning. While these words relate to the rebuilding of the temple, the principle applies. If you want to foster an adventurous life for yourself and for your family, don’t sneer at the beginning stages. Just take the next small step. 

Dad regretted turning down that trip to the Boundary Waters, but he didn’t let it define his future. He married and had kids and a mortgage young, but he didn’t let any of that stop him from pursuing an adventurous life. Rather, he used all these as resources to build an adventurous lifestyle. Starting small and close to home, he took his wife, his kids, and his grandkids along, and became the patriarch of three generations of adventurous stock. And in the end, that trip to the Boundary Waters came back around in a way he never imagined.

May it be so with you. 

The Next Step: Ponder Your Path

What small step can you take this summer to start you further down the path to becoming more adventurous stock? Let us know what you discover. We’d love to hear. 

Happy trails ~


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