Adventures in Fatherhood 2017

I had an amazing experience with a group of dads and their kids doing some adventure and bonding in the wilderness.

I had previously taken the Summit Adventure Instructor’s course and Tom Smith asked if I wanted to help facilitate the next Adventures in Fatherhood. My schedule ended up opening up, and I was excited to be part of the event Summit has been doing for thirty years.

On the scheduled morning, about fifty dads and their kids from Focus on the Family rolled in on the buses. After some introductions and orientation, we set everyone up with backpacks and gear, then boarded the buses to get to the trailhead. The classic Sierra beauty greeted us as we reached the Balls Area, near Yosemite, which contains a series of beautiful granite domes.

The initial hike up the mountain wasn’t too bad; it’s about a two-mile hike to a series of campsites. The large group then broke into smaller groups, called patrols, with about eight people in each. Each patrol was made up of a Summit instructor and a person from Focus on the Family, and then the dad and child, as most had come as duos.

Lower Jackass Lake

We made camp that first day and enjoyed good company and the wilderness beauty. We learned that each patrol would have a different schedule each day. The next day we went to Lower Jackass Lake, which was about a mile from camp. This provided patrols with the chance to learn some navigation skills. Lower Jackass Lake was a blast, even if there were mosquitos. We spent the early afternoon jumping off rocks into the freezing lake, but we had fun.

Rappelling Off The Prow

The next day offered a hike to a place called The Prow, which is a granite dome visible throughout the whole area. The Summit Adventures technical crew had ropes set up at the top of the dome so each patrol group could clip in and hike to the top without danger. The climb is what we would call a Class 3 or 4, with several exposed spots that would make for a fatal fall without the right equipment. Everyone clipped in and made it to the top of The Prow safely.

At the top of The Prow, a duo rappel was set up so each dad and kid could rappel together, but on separate lines. I went over first with Lydia, who was the Summit instructor in my patrol. When you come over the edge of The Prow, you land on a ledge at the end of your rappel, which is about 150 feet down. But the exposure is 600 feet, so when you come over that ledge you’re literally looking 600 feet straight down. A little bit of a pucker factor, even for me.

Rock Cimbing

Everyone loved the rappel, even one duo that was a little nervous about it at first. The day before, a guy joked about flipping upside down on the rappel, which actually happened, but he got himself straightened out. After the rappel, we did some rock climbing, which was fantastic for the dads and their kids.

After the rappel and rock climbing, we made it back to camp. The dads had time to finish some homework, which was to put together a blessing for their kids. The idea came from biblical history, such as when patriarchs from the Old Testament would bless their children, as a kind of rite of passage. We had a philosophy regarding the blessing, a philosophy encouraging the dads to say the things you want to say to your kids while they’re young, not when you’re on your deathbed and your kids have lived half their lives.

Watching Dads Connect with Their Kids

The blessing event happened that day, and it was a real tearjerker for everybody. Dads and kids alike were moved; it was one of the most special experiences of my life. Kids grow up so fast! It’s not hard to imagine time flying and before you know it you haven’t said all the things to your kids that you’ve wanted to.

These sorts of moments are worth their weight in gold. They create context. These moments come from the heart. Unfortunately, they don’t often happen if you aren’t in an environment to make them happen. You don’t get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to take my kid rock climbing and have an adventure, and then I’m going to give him a blessing.” Most dads don’t do that, so it’s nice to have an experience like this that’s designed to build memories and connections with your kids that might never happen somewhere else.

The kids also wrote letters to their dads, which was just as powerful. Part of the program involved a half-day where the dads and kids could go off and have alone time. This helped set them up for deep conversations, which in most cases is pretty intimidating, for both the dads and the kids. Yet in every case they returned from this alone time and couldn’t share enough about how moving those conversations were.

An example was one dad who was really nervous about that alone time. He didn’t know what to do, how to start some deep conversation. He ended up having a fishing lure in his pocket from the last time he’d worn those shorts. He pulled out the lure and he and his kid went down by a stream. In the process of them just talking, they threaded some dental floss through the lure and caught four fish!

That was one of the most amazing stories, because you see how serendipity plays a role in making connections happen. It almost seems like magic, like God smiles on us and says, “Good job taking that step of faith. I’m going to make this an experience you’ll never forget.”

It almost seems like magic, like God smiles on us and says, “Good job taking that step of faith. I’m going to make this an experience you’ll never forget.”

I was so honored and humbled to be a part of this event and see bonding experiences take place. We want to do three more events and hopefully more in the future. I can’t wait to facilitate again next year.