Dads need to know how they can win, and I firmly believe if you can be consistent in these three areas, you will absolutely win the fatherhood game. You’ll have bad days, your kids will have bad days, there will probably still be an unfortunate goth phase around 14…but ultimately your kids will have that stable foundation only a dad can offer that will help them turn into the functional adults we all hope and pray they will become (you know, so they can finally move out of your house). Okay, enough jibber-jabber…let’s go!
My middle child (the 6-year-old) has been all about hunting for years. He is constantly asking when he can go, if he can come with me, when we’ll go scouting…the kid just wants to be in the outdoors. Now, as a squirrelly boy who can’t sit still through a single meal, he’s not exactly ready to come out on a hunt just yet. But, a few weeks ago the whole family headed up to the woods for some much-needed R&R, and I made a plan to take Gibson out with me to hang a couple game cameras one morning. We both had a terrific time out there together, and here are the 4 things I believe I did right to make this a success…
I was afraid this day would come. Thinking back on my 10 year-old self, I would have LOVED the chance for someone to take me hunting. I was an outdoors kid in a non-outdoors family, and ever since my little ones were babies, I was determined that they were going to have the wild, outdoors childhood I wished I could have had. But, fearing the answer, I asked him: “buddy, do you even like hunting? It’s okay, just tell me the truth.” Even though I knew it was coming, it still stung like a hot knife in my back: “No, dad…I hate hunting! It’s so boring! We have to walk a million miles carrying heavy stuff, and we usually don’t even see anything. I hate it!” The ball’s in your court, Dad…what do you do with that one?
I LOVE sharing my passion for the outdoors with my family and seeing my son have some great first-time experiences, but there are those moments where the hunt is impeded, where whining is the order of the day, and where I am just ready to start a full-fledged dad-rant! So, how do you do it? How can you create awesome memories and raise your kids with a love of the outdoors without going insane? Well, I’m certainly still figuring it out, but here are five things I’ve learned that help everyone have a much better time. There will still be periods of frustration and “teachable moments” (translation: those times when you might just leave your whining son on the side of the mountain), but these ideas can help mitigate the worst of it.
We built our fire, ate some camp staples (all roasted over the open fire, of course), told a few hunting stories, and turned in for the night. Of course, the five year-old I was worried about most (who was spending his first night ever in a tent) fell fast asleep and stayed that way all night. Then, just as I was drifting off for the first time, I awoke to, "Dad! Dad, wake up...do you hear that? Something is breathing outside our tent!!!" Somewhat delirious, I popped my head up and listened closely...sure enough, there was a steady, growling, breathing noise that sounded extremely nearby. As I listened, trying to remember if I had, in fact, put every scrap of food safely back in the truck so as to not attract bears, I realized the sound was coming from directly in between us. I breathed a sigh of relief and whispered, "go to sleep - it's your little brother snoring."
Then it happened - my wife delivered our third child, I looked down as the doctor cradled the gooey infant in her arms, and I blurted out "it's a girl." I was wrecked!!! I knew instantaneously that there is something wildly different about a daughter to the heart of a father. Don't get me wrong: I love my boys more than anything, but that little girl has melted my heart in a way I never thought possible. From the moment she entered my life, she has been slowly destroying me in the best ways possible.
We had been in the wilderness all of 5 minutes when Hendric jumped up and proclaimed he had just sat on a cactus. Sure enough, a small prickly pear near our tent had escaped his notice, and he had literally sat on it. Of all the fun dad jobs I've ever had to take on, pulling cactus spines one at a time out of your son's bare butt cheeks is up there with one of the most bizarre. (For the record, this would be one of three encounters he'd have with a cactus over the next 24 hours..."watch where you're going" is the most repeated lesson he learned on this trip)