raising little ones in the great outdoors

Fatherhood

It’s 5 o’clock in the morning – time for dawn patrol. The surf is going to be good. Offshore winds are cleaning up a fresh combination swell sweeping in from the North and South. There’s going to be a-frame peaks up and down my local beach break giving chest-high right and left hand awesomeness to all takers. Which board should I take? What’s the water temperature? All I can imagine is that first wave. How it will instantaneously wash away all the stress and worries I’ve been accumulating since I was last out. Stoked!

WWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!

A mini eruption blasts out of the bassinet next to my bed and shatters the ethereal silence of the morning. The little surfer-devil sitting on my left shoulder screams, “Danny, run for the door, go quick, Laura will wake up and take care of him!”
Of course, she was up last night with him, and the night before, and she’s taking care of him (and me) all day seven days a week. I wrestle myself out of my semi-stupor, rush into the bedroom and collect my rather angry son, who I’m sure is thinking “What took you so long?”

Needless to say, I’m not going surfing today.

Levi is just coming up on seven months old. In that time I’ve come to realize something about fatherhood and the desire to raise your children with a love for the outdoors. It’s not just raising them outside, but getting adult outside time. We have all these grand plans yet don’t realize that there’s a lot more to it now that we’re parents.

Getting out in the water, or taking a day to go to the mountains becomes elusive. It never was before. We can no longer without a care, take off when the surf report says, “Go”! What we once took for granted can feel like it’s slipping away.

I got a comment from a new father that he had an 18 week-old baby boy. He was totally stoked, but hadn’t been in the water in weeks and was about to go insane. I’m confident I speak for most like-minded parents in saying we know exactly how that feels. Surfing, climbing, skiing — these pursuits seem different to me from other outdoor activities e.g. golf or ultimate Frisbee. For me, surfing is not just a physical outlet. It is my meditation. My communion with the natural world. My immersion in a force greater than the sum of my personal life. For most participants being high and dry for long periods of time (days for some people, weeks for others) really has a tangible negative effect on our psyche.

We’re dads now. Being a father is one of the most important jobs we’ll have on this earth. Sit down and make a list of what is important. These lifestyles we pursue often end up surprisingly far down the list. Responsibility is part of being a father. I’m not saying we must always sacrifice all of our personal pursuits to spend every moment with our family. Personal sanity is important, but the priorities have changed and it is hard for many fathers to find that perfect balance of familial joys and personal passions.

Pick a surf magazine and you’ll read about the power of surfing on people’s lives. You might even read something along the lines of “marriages have failed because of the powerful pull of the ocean…” or some such nonsense. When I sit back and look at the big picture, one day a week in the water when the waves aren’t even good, with a happy, close, and loving family is a lot more important than catching a session every time the swell comes up. If you look at the statistics of absentee fathers in this country, many fathers must find it difficult to balance personal fulfillment with family. Some refuse to scale back their activities, while others scale them back so much that personal happiness goes away altogether. They can build up resentment towards their family that all to often leads to a break.

Now that contentment with my new lot is setting in, my biggest concern really is what I’m going to be able to do when my son is old enough to join me. I envision myself in a couple years taking Levi on his first wave. I place him in front of me as I kneel on the board paddling out to the break at San Onofre. A wave comes through untouched, and I spin the board around and with a few quick strokes Levi is feeling the wave propel us in towards the beach. We stand up and turn, going to the left with the wave lining up for us perfectly. As we accelerate, the smile on his face gets bigger, and bigger, he’s hooked. Am I going to be confident enough in my abilities to do that with my boy? I hope so. It’s my goal.

Steve Bohrer, my fellow contributor at The Outdoor Parent, likens life to the seasons. There is a season for everything and if you embrace that season you’ll get the most out of it, he says. There’s always that nagging thought in the back of your head when you look at the surf report and know its going to be good, yet know you’re not going to be in the water for it. When it’s a lifestyle, not a hobby, it can be difficult to let it go at all, but that’s what fatherhood brings you, a dramatic shift in priorities worth any sacrifice.

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12 Responses to “Fatherhood”

  1. Karl W says:

    I have a 1 year old and you nailed my feelings exactly with this article(not with surfing, but other outdoor pursuits).

    You can’t just get up snowboarding on a sunny day with a foot of fresh pow anymore, its about priorities, and making the most of the now-rare outings until the little ones are big enough to share our passions. Find that balance best you can, and then trust that day when you take your son out surfing/ boarding/ whatever for the first time and seeing the “smile on his face get bigger, and bigger” it will be worth all those missed days out and a thousand times more.

    I look forward to keeping up with this site

    Cheers

  2. Shannon says:

    There is a season to everything under the sun…
    Becoming a parent requires sacrifice. So many birth a child not realizing that this is what you sign up for – they become bitter and throw their relationships away rather than dying to their own passions for what is ultimately a very, very short time in our lives. The activities will always be there – though our youthful vigor may not – but our children pass through our hands like sand in an hourglass. In the meantime, save up for – borrow – beg for the gear that will enable your family to do what you can. Go hiking. Go biking. Go sledding or snowman-making while your spouse is shredding (and you’re drooling over the sweet snow). Just go! Sky-diving may be out for now (as a whole-family pursuit), but compromise helps us keep our sanity while we anticipate more adventurous outings as the children grow. The more of us get out there with our children, the more family-friendly these places will become…and the greater joy we will all experience for making it work no matter what our situation.
    Alright, I’m off my soapbox now 😀

  3. My spouse and I have found the give and take rhythm that is necessary when you have little ones…but it can be easy to slip out of the groove with the unexpected nighttime fever, teething nightmare or dog-howling incident: (Whisper/Yell/Hiss) “Mom,why is Sula barking?” (Mumble/Yawn/Dream) “There must be a porcupine on the deck.” (Excited/Loud) “REALLY? I WANT TO SEE IT!” (Mumble/Grim Awareness) “It’s actually just the wind…” “NO, YOU SAID IT WAS A PORCUPINE, I’M GOING TO SEE IT.” (Fading footsteps of four year old, swish of sliding glass door, waddle-sprint of parents at 3:23 a.m.)

    But “the groove” as we call it is essential–if ephemeral–and if either of us is in it, feelin’ it or even remotely close to it, that person has got to GO and GO NOW. No guilt, no second-guessing, just the honest, “Baby, I love you, thank you, and I’ll pick up some Dorothy’s tamales in Harstel on my way home.”

    When the babes are little, one of the most important pieces of new parent gear is a quality breast-pump and a dad willing to rise and help teach the 3 week old babe how to take a bottle. It does wonders for father/child connections, and helps momma feel more like a human and less like the proverbial milk-bar (which often looks and feels like one of those bars that starts serving at 8 a.m.: homey, but fairly gritty and awfully stale), and makes “groove-states” possible for BOTH parents.

    Is there ever a time when it doesn’t work like that? When the over-tired, misplaced resentment is flowing like the wine I haven’t drank in 16 months? (Exaggeration is also a sign of exhaustion) When we snap and snarl at each other like the mountain lion I just KNEW the dog was barking at that night at 3:23 a.m. when our son sprinted out of the house? Yes.

    As mother of Porcupine-Lover (age 4) and Big Truck (age 7 mos.), I am also realizing that time away with my spouse needs to be a priority: so we’re off on our first trip sans kids at the end of the month (okay, the infant is coming on the plane–see “milk-bar” commentary–but he is staying with a friend) to surf, see a movie, and to stay up late…for reasons that do NOT include porcupines…but definitely count as “the groove.”

    And then it is summer. Long days, lots of hours for family adventures by the pond, climbing/hiking/biking with friends, & evening walks with the dog. Never forget: it isn’t an either/or it is a both/when.

  4. Edward Holmes says:

    Searching ‘parental priorities and fatherhood’ brought me to this site at a time when the next search could have very well been ‘divorce ramifications to beautiful son development’…

    The first 18 months of my sons life have been a gigantic change on the life of my wife – who has embraced eagerly the changes, challenges, and joy of being a parent; for myself it has been a challenge to the internal child that doesn’t want to give up anything, and a battle with the rationale/psyche of the 39 yr old skier, cyclist, hockey player, motorcyclist, climber.

    My love and wonder for my son grows every day; conversely I have taken my guilt and frustration for what I feel is my lifestyle slipping away out on the relationship closest to me – that with my wife. In a classic example of projecting: the fights, frustrations and sniping back and forth seldom directly involve my daydreams of riding my sportbike to Denver this June, or heading to the backcountry for a day of turns, arguing the ‘necessity’ of a $2000 freeride bike, etc etc etc. Instead they bubble over on perceived lack of appreciation of one another, trivial household chores, nitpicking on habits and stuff that is petty beyond what a marriage should be based upon.

    Fatherhood is growing up, being a part of watching your family grow is benefit of fatherhood as is the beauty of bringing the family closer through the lifestyle events/activities that make you who you are.

    Thanks for the timely publishing of this post – it is time for me to do some growing up…

    • Edward,
      thanks for sharing. I’ll never pretend to be an expert and dole advice at the drop of a hat, because I’ve learned enough to know that there are no magic bullets in life.

      I paused a while before commenting on this, but thought it might be worth relaying this conversation I had with my mom a while back right after my brother had left home. My mom is unable to answer a cell phone, but can be pretty wise.

      Somehow the topic of physical growing pains came up in the conversation. I shot up like a weed when I was 15. My legs used to hurt so bad. Growth is painful in both the physical and emotional aspects. My mom made that leap in the conversation and mentioned that those struggles to grow and re-invent were some of the most difficult we encounter. The emotional form of those quick growth can be just as painful, she noted before adding that they are, in hindsight, the moments when we know that we are truly alive. That we are not static, but evolving souls. More so, that we can surprise our selves and rise to the challenges in front of us.

      Old dogs can learn new tricks. Good luck in your journey. Maybe some of the other parents have some thoughts on this.

    • Steve says:

      Edward,

      No doubt about it, fatherhood is a tough transition. It may be small consolation, but you’re certainly not the first guy to be overwhelmed and worried about the loss of a ‘former life’. In fact, I’d say any father who says he hasn’t felt that same way at least a couple times is a liar.

      I can tell you that my experience has been that any perceived sacrifice will be more than rewarded in the years to come. I’ll be honest and say that it may take a few years to get back to a level that you were at before your son was born. Maybe by then you won’t even be interested in the same things. Maybe he’ll want to ride and ski with you. For me it’s one of the best feelings in the world when my 13 year old daughter begs me to take her climbing. Then the days of setting up TR anchors, belaying class 3 slabs, endless harness and shoe adjustments, all for 10 feet of climbing before they run out of attention span are all worth it.

      As for the spousal relationship, I think the oldest and most boring ‘secret’ is the most important – communication. So easy to say, so complicated to do well.

      Good luck growing up, I’d say we’re all somewhere along that path, but I hope we never truly get there.

    • Danny says:

      Wow, thank you for sharing what has been such a tough time for you. All to often we get distracted by society’s mindset that we can have our cake and eat it too when it comes to raising a family.

      I agree with Steve in communication being the most important thing. It seems like the easiest, but especially when we as fathers and husbands are struggling with something its hard to share what we see as weakness, and it eats away at us, eroding everything in the process. Our wives and children sense a lot more than we know, and it has a profound negative effect.

      I’m still a rookie at this whole parenting thing (almost 8 months now), so I think I’m far from being a wealth of knowledge on the subject. I just know myself, I’m one of those “29 going on 12” guys who just wants to live life and have fun. I had to set a very well defined list of long-term priorities for myself, and whenever I get into these situations (play or family), I go through that list mentaly. If what I’m struggling with comes after anything that could be harmed, I put it aside and focus on the greater priority. Not everyone needs to be so strict with themselves I think, but for my personality and mindset, I need that well-defined structure to keep my focus on the long-term importance of my involvement in, and more importantly with, my family.

      Best of luck in your journey ahead, I think we’re very similar in this subject. We just look forward, and the sacrifices we make now I’m sure will come back ten-fold as our children grow.

  5. Roberta Grant says:

    Hello,
    I am an adventurous wife who used to share the same lifestyle with my husband. Living out of a car and raft guiding then marriage house and jobs. Now nine month old. I see my husband Kabe after three years of gving up that nomadic life to train to be a firef ighter/paramediic a real job then a baby right after. We live in a place where we can recreate whitewater kayak bike ski a couple times a week just not together. Recently, he has been looking up old never pursued girl buddies. Now he is on the Grand Canyon because I could see he needs it and deserves it as he a good supportive husband and father. I am in school so I cant go anyway. We were finally getting along all the resentment that you all mention aside before the trip. Now I have new fears and insight that when he gets back form the amazing raft trip of the Grand he won’t want this life anymore. I am very adventurous myself and have a daily dreamer’s itch to live in another country and learning to surf so I am also giving up dreams. He no longer thinks this way because for a good reason he has a good solid job for once he worked so hard for. Will he think the same when he gets back ? And my intuition is just telling me these things. Am I just a crazy paranoid wife ? Please help me understand what this is like for fathers. It is easy for women to just dismiss men as “immature” but that’s the easy way out. Women and men are different even in these modern times and we will always be. So please give me some advice. Is there hope and what should I do ? He’s my best friend and our relationship is changing and it makes me deeply sad and where does our son fit in ? I hope the

    concerned and loving wife,
    Roberta Grat

  6. Steve says:

    Roberta,

    I can’t claim to be much of an expert on parenting or marriage, but I’ll give you my perspective based on my own experience. Congratulations on the new addition. At 9 months your baby is probably just hitting what I call the “unbelievably cute” phase. Interacting with you but not able to get into everything and leave a path of destruction in his/her wake. But there’s no doubt that having a baby is a total life change. Besides the obvious physical aspects like lost sleep and the logistics of dealing with a baby, there are a ton of big-picture decisions, learning, reprioritizing, etc. Having a new baby can put a strain on any marriage, not just on those of us who love getting outdoors. But it’s important for both of you to be united and support each other so communication is really key. My wife talked me into going to a marriage class a few years ago and I think it helped us to communicate better, even though I thought we did just fine before.

    You ask about how fathers feel, and I can only speak for myself here. For one thing, the marriage relationship changes because the mother is usually pretty consumed with the baby. As a new father I felt an extraordinary amount of pressure to provide for the family, help my wife with the baby, etc. You want to do all these things but you also want to continue to pursue those interests outside the home. So you can feel guilty for wanting to be outside but at the same time grumble that you don’t get out as much anymore. I think the key is perspective, but that long term view is really hard to achieve at first. I think one thing that has really helped me has been having a group of friends who are parents at different stages of parenthood, from infants to grandchildren.

    Let me give you an example of how these things have sort of come together for me. Last weekend the call went out to go backcountry skiing on Saturday morning. I needed to help Jennie set up for an activity she was planning for the kids at church, so I couldn’t leave until 9:30. My friends have all been there too, and they understood. More importantly, they agreed to wait for me. On a powder day, no less. We still were able to find great untracked snow and we had a great time. Three of the guys that went are grandparents and they’re still ripping it up. In fact, they rip it up with their kids. So I’ve seen from their example that an adventurous life certainly doesn’t end when children come along. It’s a different adventure, but is no less adventurous. I’ve had just as much fun night skiing crud with my kids as I had skiing waist deep powder with my friends, maybe even more. Because watching your children develop a love of something that you love is an incredible gift. And before long they’ll be ready for the bigger adventures too. I took my daughter backcountry skiing for the first time this year and it was so awesome to watch her ski her first untracked powder slope and hear her excitement as she retold the story.

    Parenting can seem overwhelming. No matter how much you think you’re prepared beforehand, you never really are. But the good news is, having a family is definitely worth the effort, and nobody says it’s not an effort. I’d say talk to your husband, be open about how your lives have changed, and together make a plan for the future. You’ll probably laugh in a few years about how things ended up a lot different than your plans, but be flexible and creative. The mountains and rivers aren’t going away, but kids grow up really fast. I wish you guys the best of luck!

    Steve

  7. Jennie says:

    Roberta,
    I just wanted to add something. While we certainly don’t know all the facts about your marriage, I certainly do know what it’s like to be the one left at home with the kids. Frankly, many times it’s no fun and I find myself wrestling with ugly emotions (jealously, feeling left out, envy). Thankfully, I’ve learned not to give into these emotions while my husband’s gone. When he gets home things instantly improve. I hope the same is true for you. Communication is huge but a good babysitter is a tremendous help. Find one and go kayaking or hiking or climbing or just take a walk, but get outside – together! I hope this helps.

  8. Kevin says:

    I am a Libra so I have struggled with/strived for balance all my life but fatherhood adds many more levels of complexity doesn’t it?

    I don’t pretend to have the answers but I note that during this -most humanizing stage- in my life that I think more about my own parents and pick and choose carefully from lessons learned from them. Some parenting approaches I copy intentionally, others accidentally, others I try to do differently without judging them for decisions they made.

    There are lots of choices to make and I try to think ahead, communicate with my wife about pros and cons and how decisions will affect her too. Kids are pretty resilient and adaptive I believe. I say that with 3 and 1.5 year old boys so that may change.

    On the topic of getting out there like the good ol’ days: It doesn’t happen the same way anymore of course. I look for quick hit activities, closer to home (my drive to climb/ski/mountain bike time ratio is more important than ever- not only cause of gas prices), doing what is great locally, try to plan some outings in advance so I have something to look for. That goes for with and without the lads.

    As the boys are getting more and more capable (little one rides a scoot with assistance now –yay another milestone) we can include them more and more of course. Taking them to the climbing gym involves mostly playing on the pads, hanging from holds and dropping onto pads, and with the 3 y.o. playing ‘elevator’ tied in pushing up and down buttons and swinging up high. Very little, but some, climbing happens, but more important to me right now is the exposure and seeing climbing as something fun to do …. As a family.

    Biking on flat paths and playing at the bunny slope is way more fun with my family than I ever could have expected but it doesn’t always scratch the itch that I am (and I suppose many of you are) cursed/blessed with. There are times (like after back to back 3 y.o. birthday parties) when I just have to get out for me. This is when some quick hit mountain biking comes in to play for example. Particularly when I feel the need coming and nip it in the bud, I do feel it makes me a better dad and husband when I get back after blowing off some steam – there are more damaging addictions for sure. For now, multi day alpine trips and expedition climbing are on hold- partly since we live so far from relatives that can really step in and help I might add. I note too that when we finally had the chance to ski tour together this winter, my wife was uncomfortable and backed out of the opportunity- just in case – granted there was some moderate avalanche danger that weekend.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to ramble and pound out my thoughts on the topic I think about often.

  9. Daniel says:

    Man I’m just glad it’s hiking weather hear in GA. My 8th month old, 4 yr old, our 11 yr yellow lab, my wife and I went for about a 2 mile hike today. We were off to having a blast checking out the creek and the rope swing that swings out over the water fall. Then on the way out my boys hit a yellow jackets nest,.. 4 yr old took one on the hand and our 8th month old took 2 to the head while riding in mommy’s backpack and lets just say that its hard to run, holding a baby and praying at the same time…LOL

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