Climbing the Mountain: A Reflection of Fatherhood
I sat on the edge of Iceberg Lake – a majestic place some 6100 feet up in the mountains of Glacier National Park. My daughter and I congratulated each other on a successful hike; then we “feasted” on the turkey sandwiches we had carried for our lunch on this six-hour outing.
As I looked upon this frozen lake in late June, I thought this moment was a reflection of my life as a dad. Venturing on a path along with my child and coming to one of the most beautiful places I could imagine. For me and my grown daughter, our journey has brought us to a wonderful place with a solid loving relationship, mutual respect and adult interaction. Isn’t that the destination I imagined all those years ago when I held her in my arms as a baby? Fatherhood is a mountain we climb together.
That day we traveled a long way. We encountered challenges. Twelve miles of hiking. A steep climb up a rocky trail. Stepping stones across rushing waters. A slippery snow field. And a makeshift log bridge to cross a chilly stream.
We made the journey together – encouraging and helping each other every step. Even though the last stop was magnificent, our adventure wasn’t perfect. On that log bridge I lost my balance, slipped and plunged knee deep into the cold water. I was embarrassed; but I recovered quickly. My pants dried. Ever prepared, the dry socks from my backpack felt great. Oh well. Wasn’t I better off for giving it a try? Didn’t Teddy Roosevelt tell us that if we fail, at least we fail while daring… so that our place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat? Becoming my supporter in our evolving roles, on the return, my daughter encouraged me to find a walking stick to hold my balance. With tree branch in hand, this time my crossing was successful…and dry. I carried on. I dared to be a dad.
Fatherhood. It is a journey. Sometimes up a steep hill. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes you struggle. Sometimes you fall. Sometimes you get your feet wet. You will be tired and sometimes exhausted. You will recover. And when you look back to the trail you have climbed, you will smile and be fulfilled.
Looking at the frozen lake and thinking about our four days of hiking I realized once again that “being there” truly gives you a different perspective. In the months before our trip, I read a book, browsed websites and watched videos. We had a map to show us where to go. But the black and white lines on the map and the written words couldn’t compare to the technicolor of the vistas, the grizzly bear or the long-horned sheep we saw with our own eyes.
To do our best, we listened to the others who had made the journey before us. Dads who were walking the same trail shared current information. Teachers lent professional perspective and mature hikers offered years of perspective and wisdom. On our way up the mountain, we gathered recognizance from those who had been to the top. “Watch for the bear in the woods. Don’t miss the fork towards the falls.” Older hikers recommended which other trails to take the next day. How long. How strenuous. And the teacher – this day ours was dressed as a Park Ranger – told us about the snow bridge and how to carefully cross it. He cautioned us of trail closures and other perils ahead.
Sharing What We Learn
These hikers reminded me of those folks we encounter in our lives as dads every day. We should listen to them. Their wisdom and experience are helpful. But each of us envisions a unique destination with our own traveling companions, so the real prize is making the climb ourselves – so we can sit with our own child atop the mountain and celebrate together. Making the climb and seeing the lake for myself was irreplaceable. The freshness in the air. The chill from the ice on my face. The water in my shoe. The fatigue in my muscles. No words could describe how I felt sitting next to my daughter in a place like this. No words can describe how it feels to be an engaged dad. Fatherhood is a mountain you climb with your children. You cannot do it alone.
At my age, I have become one of those dads who has “experienced” much of life. I have hiked many trails, seen a few mountain tops and stepped in my share of cold water. In many cases, I know what to expect over the next hilltop and around the next bend. I have been there, so I will share. But I am lucky. I am still exploring and learning. I am fortunate that my grown daughter will still spend time with me. She will still talk to me. Our conversations have changed since she was young; and I am proud to say they now focus on social justice and charity as well as investments and her career. But our relationship still remains solid. Years of “hiking” together have built a foundation of comfort, respect and trust. We both recognize that treasure and we work to hold on to it.
I will continue up the trail and gather more to share with other dads. There will be other parks, other mountains, other trails… other conversations. Reflections of fatherhood. I have vowed to climb with my daughter as long as I am able. And she has committed to climb with me as well. We have promises to keep… and miles to go before we sleep. God willing… a Be There Dad today, tomorrow and forever.
I really enjoyed reading about your experience hiking with your daughter. My son Hunter (17 years old now) and I have hike parts of the AT together and have enjoyed most of all the fellowship at camp, around the fire and in the tent, just taking it all in together and building memories. Thanks for sharing and best regards my friend.
Great story Jeff!! One of your best yet.
What a special time to share with your daughter. Inspiring!