Father’s Day is this weekend. Celebrate with an outdoors adventure, and if you can, bring dad. This is why.
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was my dad’s dream since college. A few weeks shy of his 60th birthday, my brother and I were right there with him to celebrate.
I looked at my watch: 5:15 a.m. We had been standing in the dark for a half-hour, ripe with anticipation for the gate to open. Only it, and about a mile of hiking, stood in our way before we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.
When it comes to family bonding experiences, nothing beats a good adventure in the great outdoors. Bonds created through shared experiences in the wilderness play an integral role in family relationships.
The outdoors have always been one of the main ways I bond with my dad. I believe shared experiences, especially those in the wilderness, are a central component of fatherhood, relationships, and raising healthy children.
Dad: My Door To An Adventurous Life
My dad took me rafting down the Grand Canyon when I was 10, then on a ski trip when I was 12, to discuss the birds and the bees (actually, to let an audio tape do all the talking), and countless hikes and campouts as I grew older. This formed the basis of our father-son relationship.
And today it’s a good one. We drink beer, watch baseball, talk about the upcoming season, and always steer the conversation clear of politics and my dating life (or lack thereof).
I value these times with my old man. But we spend our best moments together not in front of a TV, but out in the dirt, under the sun.
I am 10 years out of college and the outdoors still plays an integral role in how we bond.
We can leave awkward or contentious conversations behind and just hike, share the trail, share a granola bar, share a tent. We enjoy the magic people have with one another, not in conversation, but in living through something challenging together.
Wilderness As Therapy
I spent nearly three years working as a wilderness therapy guide alongside young adults struggling with addiction and behavioral issues. Few had hiked or camped before being “forced” to experience it in a therapeutic setting.
Of course, the roots of people’s issues go a lot deeper than simply a lack of campouts growing up. But I have seen how powerful wilderness can be, how it can be a major tool in helping people grow and become healthy, well-adjusted individuals.
Wilderness provides a setting that helps facilitate healthy relationships because there is no way to manipulate the outdoors, the land, the conditions, or the elements.
People are responsible for reacting and adjusting according to the weather and terrain, whether through their preparedness or their attitude. We find many teaching moments, metaphors for life, and humbling moments.
Experiencing the wildness of a place helps people gain personal insight and foster healthier coping mechanisms. And the challenges of the wild bring people closer.
A hiking trail is a great place to tell a story, or be completely silent. When two people hike a trail, they create a bond that can’t be replicated in front of a TV. Few people would argue a father taking his son backpacking through Rocky Mountain National Park would be better spent at the mall.
Time: The Best Gift
My dad is at a stage in life where buying a gift for him is difficult. He doesn’t need another toy, a new shirt, or a new gadget. That’s why my brother and I have been giving him gifts in the form of time spent together, through adventures and experiences.
Two years ago my dad, brother, and I backpacked through the Virgin Narrows in Zion for my dad’s birthday.
As a Christmas gift, the three of us backpacked through the Superstition wilderness outside of Phoenix.
My brother and I are both in our thirties and have long since moved out of our parents’ house. Finding time to go backpacking together is not always easy.
But it is something we have tried to work into our schedules at least once a year. I believe it is these types of experiences that keep growing our family bonds.
If there is dysfunction, or strain — or even if everything is great — a few days of backpacking together seems to go a long way toward creating and maintaining healthy family relationships. It’s worked for me, my dad, and our family. There’s a good chance it could work for you, too.