The Pendulum Swings

Posted on September 25, 2010

The most important word that comes to mind when thinking about being a father, especially while on an adventure, is patience.  Years ago, before I became a father, I remember a young high school girl who was in my office talking about her estranged relationship with her father.  She commented that she wanted to have a dad who would help her do things and not rush through and get all stressed out when they didn’t work right.  She wanted him to be patient like her grandfather.

For many grandparents, freed from the constraints of busy work schedules and financial concerns, grandparents may feel more relaxed which allows them to be truly patient with children and teens.

At times, when I feel too rushed to pay attention to my son, I am reminded of this girl and of my own father’s words as he approached the end of his life, “I wish I had spent more time with you kids.”  His words remind me to be  committed not only to spending time with my son, but also to being as patient as possible when we are together,  not only while on adventures, but in our day to day time together.

While fatherly patience may be a child’s desire, it’s also easy to see how men aren’t particularly hard wired for that virtue in many of our day to day activities.  Goal directed energy is a concept that was bred into me, (my wife can attest to how hard it is for me to sit and not be multitasking), and a concept I’m often talking to students about when dealing with the process of their maturing.

Being thirty-five when my son was born, meant that I had a lot of years to chase a young man’s dreams and goals.  Hiking mountains, riding my bike across the state, fishing, and participating in triathlons were my passions and I was constantly challenging myself to make it to the summit, finish with a better time or catch a bigger fish. Every event had to have a bigger goal, a greater payoff.

When you become an AdventureDad however, you have to change your priorities. You need to switch to enjoying the process of the adventure for itself and not merely as a means of attaining a goal.  A classic example in this regard is the book,  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  in which the author, Robert Pirsig, writes about striking a balance between pushing toward goals and enjoying the flowers of life along the way.

Kids are kids.  Not only in terms of physical abilities but also in terms of emotional maturity, changing desires, variable motivation and a lack of organizational skills which can challenge even the most patient father.  Every kid, at sometime,  will lose their enthusiasm on the way to an adventure, leave essential items at home, or once on the outing, want to quit and go home.

Is a change of priorities worth it?  Jeff, my brother-in-law, lost his oldest son, Jonathan, to cancer at twenty-four  years of age.   Not long ago he recounted a story from one of our family reunions where we all set out on a hike to Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Jonathan, who was six at the time, lost interest in the hike so he and Jeff just waited in a small field for several hours until we returned.  Jeff said, “You know, we found twenty-two different species of flowers that afternoon.  More than probably anyone else even realized were there.”  Because he was willing to change his priorities, Jeff will always have the memory of a special time spent with his son.

As a patient adventure dad, you can set goals but understand your child’s limits and areas of difficulty and then plan accordingly.  When my son Alex was very young I would plan our activities so that we could find time to take a nap together in order for him to rest.  You also have to be ready for mishaps along the way and be flexible regarding any circumstances that arise.

Most importantly, remember that it’s about building a relationship with your kids.  Kids are resilient and can find a way to make play out of just about anything.  So, follow their lead, and be open to changing a seemingly failed adventure into an emotionally meaningful time for all of you.

Patience also allows you to savor the moments that with the passing of time will become memories.  For many years, I coached and cajoled Alex on various hikes or adventures to keep up with me.  About a year ago, while hiking in the Alaska wilderness, I realized that we were now at the same pace for hiking and able to shoulder similar pack weights.  This summer however, I watched with labored breath and a keen sense of my limitations, as Alex eclipsed me on the mountain trails.

This time, it was he who had to be patient with me.  I’ll forever remember his words of encouragement on the side of Mt. Sneffels: “Keep going, you’re doing good.”  The pendulum of our relationship has started to swing and like all fathers and sons, it is a swing you experience with great pride, but also some sadness as you remember those younger days.  Never wish a moment away.  I guess I’ll have to look forward to being an adventure grandpa someday to experience those shared nap times again.

Posted in Reflections

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