What would happen if we stepped out of our comfortable routines for a little while? What if fathers took one of their kids on a four-day wilderness experience designed to bring father/child pairs from all over the country to the High Sierra to climb and rappel off towering rock faces, swim in pristine alpine lakes, and gather daily to cook, sleep and worship under blue skies and bright stars? What if everyone was encouraged to share and reflect on these activities to transfer any and all learning from the wilderness to life back home? This purpose-filled break from normalcy is found on a Summit Adventure “Adventures in Fatherhood” (aka “Dad’s”) course.
What follows is an account of one such routine-breaking moment on a recent dad’s course:
There were four father-daughter pairs perched atop a mountain peak resting and sharing notes they had written to each other earlier in the day. One father’s routine of joking about literally everything kept things between he and his daughter very superficial. Nonetheless, his daughter read her note aloud, “Dad, you have been the best dad in the world to me!” To which the dad lightheartedly quipped to the group, “She has a great sense of humor doesn’t she?” A long, awkward pause followed and it seemed obvious that others didn’t exactly know what to do next. As another daughter prepared to read her note, I asked this dad if he really thought what his daughter had just read to him was intended to be funny. When he said “no”, I then asked him if he could tell his dad he had been the best dad in the world.
In a second, his eyes began to tear up and I asked the rest of the dads if they could say the same thing to their fathers. It was a powerful moment as all of us dads (me included) let tears roll for painful memories and lost opportunities. The “aha” we shared was to not waste meaningful moments with superficial banter. This broke down barriers and each dad was able to connect with his daughter in far deeper ways than before. Several dads told me later the most powerful part of the entire course was that single transformational moment.
The sharing between fathers and their children in this story occurred a very long way from their normal lives. In particular, this group was in a wilderness setting—a common venue for expanding comfort zones. We KNOW from over 40 years of Summit Adventure courses and anecdotal evidence from thousands of participants that exchanging comfortable routines for short but challenging wilderness experiences are life changing. Two researchers from Indiana University who studied a recent Summit Dad’s course agree:
The findings suggest that spending time together, free from distractions of everyday life, contributed significantly to the development of the father-[child] pairs’ relationships. This led to rich discussions and gave participants a historical event in their relationship that they could often discuss and reminisce upon. This theme also includes the idea that the fathers and [kids] perceive value in spending one-on-one time with one another free from the distractions of other family members. (Davidson & Ewert, 2012).
In addition, researchers noted that:
The subjects also expressed a sense of discovery about their partner. They communicated that the course allowed them to show a different side of themselves to their partner rather than just their roles as fathers or sons. Subjects said they were able to disclose “deeper” levels of information that would have normally been difficult to express. For example, one father remarked that the duo experience was the first time he had talked about his divorce from his son’s mother. These types of moments may lead to easier communication in the future by creating avenues or settings that may be comfortable for fathers and sons to use in addressing delicate issues. (Davidson & Ewert, 2012).
Summit Adventure’s escape from routine is designed to encourage reflection upon relationships. Spending four days in the wilderness far from normal routines is indeed a valuable way to see if any changes need to be made, and how best to make them. The truth is clear: Summit Adventure courses improve relationships between fathers and their children.
- Enhancing Social Support through Adventure Education: The Case of Fathers and Sons. (Davidson, Curt; Ewert, Alan).