On being a camping Dad

Transcendent:  “Extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience.”

I spent the first ten years of life growing up in the midst of a civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).    During the time I was aged 5 to ten my Dad was drafted into compulsory military service as a chaplain, meaning that for most of those years he would spend three weeks on “call-up” away from home followed by six weeks at home where he’d frantically have to make up for lost time at work where he was National Director of Youth for Christ.

Transcendent memories are those that remain with us for a lifetime, moments where the ordinary is broken by something remarkable.  Some transcendent memories about Dad’s call-ups are the sorrow of the day he’d depart, and one particularly memorable day where he unexpectedly returned home early with tick bite fever (I’m not sure Dad was as overjoyed about this as Mum and I were). 

It is very hard to watch the scenes in Mel Gibson’s film, We were Soldiers – where he farewells his children before going to Vietnam – without emotional memories flooding back.  Or for that matter any war movie that involves a chaplain delivering news of a soldier’s death as this was Dad’s lot in his war. 

But there is also a stream of other transcendent memories from my childhood, cherished ones of the many times Dad took to play with me, pray with me, talk to me, watch me play rugby, let me join in with his exciting work, take me on camps or hunting.   Things like games of backyard soccer where I’d secure a dramatic 20-19 victory, whooping and hollering and never having it occur to me that the last goal was more than a little soft. 

And I also had the blessing of a brother 17 years older than me who also invested in me too.  Favourite memories involving my brother include an overnight hike we did in the wilds of the Matopos National Park when I was 11 and a 100km bike ride around the stunning peninsulas of Cape Town when I was 13.    

And now I have three boys of my own I find myself on the other side, playing the role of Dad with three formative souls hungry for my time, attention, affirmation and inspiration. 

My observation of the many Generation X dads I journey with is that they’re deeply committed to the important task of investing into our children.  Over recent decades large strides have been made to greater enable fathers to be involved in the lives of their children but I still think many fathers with children at home still live with the tension between “provision” (aka work) and presence with our kids. 

I feel very fortunate to be involved in camping and to have my family living on site where they can be involved in my workaday world.  In fact my boys often have input vital to our operations because they see things through the eyes of one of our major constituencies, their peers. 

And I’m also very grateful that within the context of our camping ministry we’ve been able to partner with a program (Fathering Adventures) that creates transcendent memories for Dads and kids and actively encourages the role of father with support, advice and encouragement.

As my kids reach adulthood I hope they come to think of me as a great Dad.  But if I achieve it I suspect a significant part of that will not be my doing, but just the opportunity and privelege they have to grow up where they are.


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