It is common to be at the crossroads of going on an intense athletic adventure or choosing to be at home with the family. I have known many active fathers and mothers who frequently choose some alone time. And often those parents receive scorn from others. There is a trade off, opportunity cost, consequence, and loss of time with loved ones when an active adult takes a moment to be what their partner loved most about them; even though, in the eyes of others, adventure makes mother or father a bad / irresponsible / deadbeat parent who should be supporting their family and not dominating their spouse with childish midlife-crises desires.
I try to merge the crossroads by having my son take an active part in my adventures. If it is an adult adventure my son helps me prepare for the event. He looks over the charts and maps with me. He helps me pack and shop for food. He is four and very capable in being an active helper. The best thing about having him help me prepare for an adventure is that he feels apart of my event and it establishes a dialog in creating father and son adventures that he wants to go on.
My son has been in the dirt, sand, and water since he could crawl. Hiking, kayaking, and now rock climbing with my son are some of the most rewarding things I have done with him. The activity of being together refreshes my love of nature as I see things fresh through his eyes. It is the act of stopping to pick up Spanish moss and to teach him what it is and how it is important. Sometimes it is collecting fancy sticks and uniquely shaped rocks and letting him use his imagination to re-purpose them.
Being outdoors helps both of us to “live deliberately”. Many times I schedule a father son adventure before my personal adventure. By doing this it strengths my paternal bond and eases my self-imposed guilt for leaving him behind; even though, I have a supportive spouse I still feel guilty for not bringing him along. The other unique thing that happens is on my adult only adventure I truly can taste the following words by Henry David Thoreau because of my son’s influence in reshaping how I see the world.
Daddy you forgot my shovel, and my blue lunch box
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
As you have come to realize this is a post on the emotionally necessity for a parent to balance a social and athletic life with and away from their family. I did not want to write on why it is important to get kids outside and the tricks on how to be an outdoor parent. There are so many periodicals and blogs on…
- Using unscented baby wipes…
- Upgrading the first-aid kit with children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen, aloe vera gel, tweezers, and stock up on twice as many adhesive bandages.
- Be Safety minded knowing the area, having a flexible plan, and having a Plan B for the oops moment.
…and yet there are few about the duality of ethics and the emotionally necessary to have a social and athletic life outside of one’s family. It is possible to have it all. A couple just needs to cultivate the love of each other. It is the act of being supportive by using open dialog and to keep things, like time, balanced and fair. It is healthy to wright down a plan to achieve a balanced give and take understanding between partners with timed activities.
In my case, my wife does not want to go on a week long kayaking, backpacking, or rock climbing adventure by herself or with friends. She would prefer to spend a weekend at the spa. So to balance time between us, we divide the days into four categories. I have my alone time (and this gives her focused mother and son time). She has her alone time (and this gives me focused father and son time). We have family time. And we have husband and wife date time (and this gives my son focused time with his grandparents). After I spent the month of July in Maine, I took my son to Disney World, the zoo, rock climbing, several model train events, Native American Indian festivals, and to Pittsburgh for twelve days. In essence anytime she needed a break my son and I left to do an activity.
Some outsiders would read the phrase “anytime she needed a break my son and I left to do an activity” as an illustration on bad or neglectful parenting. I look at it as how we work together to listen and support the emotional needs of the other. I have shared with her how I would like the three of us to do more activities together in the future. And in time when she is healthy we will.
Being an outdoor parent has instilled more patience, openness, communication, and empathy within me. I have become a better man, husband, and role model by being an outdoor father. – Jeff