Back before I got married and had a child, life seemed so simple. I was young, but not particularly reckless. I took chances, I drove too fast often and pushed my limits until one day I skidded off the road and into someone’s lawn doing 50MPH on a 25MPH corner. I think most of us went through phases like that, it’s part of growing up and learning about life.
I got into rock climbing and then mountaineering for a stint, scaring myself in the high places of the Cascade peaks of Washington State. It was actually during these trip that I started learning a bit more about responsibility. I wasn’t some adrenaline freak, always looking for a high. But I did think of only myself a lot. That ends pretty quick if you have any living cells in your brain when you take up mountaineering. There are others on the rope and you are a team in every sense of the word. If you screw up, others can be put in danger.
I distinctly remember coming down from Mt. Rainier one time, roped to someone I had never climbed with, due to circumstances. He didn’t seem to have the required spatial sense that helps keep old climbers alive in the hills for decades on end. That sense of space, time, place and fear (the good kind of fear which keeps you alive by activating your Spidey Senses). I had been blessed to climb with others who seemed to ‘get it’; what it meant to be such a small speck on a huge chunk of rock with only a slight delusion that you had some semblance of control over events. This guy didn’t have that. This guy stopped to take a picture. I looked back as the rope came taunt to see him with his camera out, looking uphill. It’s 2pm and the sun has been up for hours warming the glacier we’re crossing. And he’s standing on top of a small snow bridge over a crevasse. Oblivious.
I try my best to not be that guy. The guy oblivious to the danger he’s putting himself and others in. The guy who gets yelled at to, “MOVE, NOW!” while being pulled forward by his tethered rope. ( I apologized for my tone, but not my urgency, once we were safer)
Fast forward a few years to my daughter being born. And things change. For a while. At one point I become the sole bread winner in the home and take manly man pride in providing for my family. Sure, I don’t climb any more, in a gym or otherwise. But I took a look at all that was around me and realized I want to be where I am, relatively safe. The best father in the world for my daughter is me and I owe it to her to be around to pass on what I’ve learned. To pass on my love for her and help her grow up happy and healthy.
Fast forward a bit further. Separation and then divorce means my daughter is not in my physical world every day and we all get used to a new rhythm. Making the best of the situation in front of me, and with more time by myself, I adapt. With the bi-weekly bout of solitude I return to activities I engaged in before marriage (while acknowledging it was not marriage which caused me to back off those activities, but instead a decided refocus in life priorities). And climbing calls to me the loudest.
I’m starting over with only one new climbing partner. Then two and three and more. Safe stuff in the gym. The weather turns to Fall and any ideas I had of hitting local rock outside fades.
And then someone, a local climbing guide named Matt, puts the bug in my ear. He’s going back to Nepal in April to trek and climb a peak. At first I’m not too interested but then he mentions it’s something I could climb. A hit up Google and find an awesome post highlighting the route up this peak just 30 feet short of Denali, the highest peak in North America. But I’ll need to learn how to ice climb for the 10 or so pitches of AI1 ice (about 60 degree ice for 1000’+).
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this climb. At first I was all gung-ho. It was a challenge in the environment I love most; mountains. It was remote and I’d be in good hands. But it will be the hardest climb I’ve ever been on, far from modern aid. There is real risk. So why the hell am I doing it? Am I just being selfish again? My daughter would still be better off having a living father than one left on a mountain in Nepal.
For me, it comes down to the balance. I have found as my daughter gets older and more capable of doing things herself, I step back more and more. I’m still very involved in her life but that natural progression is taking place, the one where parents are replaced with a growing ring of friends and sense of an individual self. Her world is expanding and I’m thankful for that. I’m pretty sure this feeling I have now is different for Moms than Dads. We obviously handle our relationships with children differently and I’m only attempting to explain a bit of what I’m feeling, not every parents’ feelings.
With this easing of a feeling to hover and watch every moment (while still feeling the deep down urge to always provide for her), one that slammed into me like a Mack truck the moment she was born and I first held her while singing Little Miss Magic by Jimmy Buffett, has come a void. I’m curious to know if other Dads have felt this same thing around the 8 year old stage. It’s not a bad kinda void. It’s just that I’m not needed by her the same as when she was 3 (duh). And for me that gradual, natural separation that grows with children as they find their own selves in this world, while knowing they have a solid safety net in their parents, has led to a gradual easing of my risk profile.
I’d classify this climb in the moderate to low risk category, while acknowledging that all climbing contains risk (and driving and running and and and…). I have no desire to venture up Mt. Everest just 20 miles from where I’ll be climbing. That type of stuff never has appealed to me. I don’t like crowds, for one thing. But I am learning to balance my passion to push myself to find limits within and without, with my awesome privileges of being a Dad. Having my daughter in my life has surely changed how I look at risk, value solitude, follow my passions and approach being a Dad.
If you’re a Dad, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you may, or may not, have changed your views on risks as your child(ren) aged. I’m not looking for agreement or a rebuttal, I just want to hear your point of view.