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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Get Out, Try New Things, Make Memories

This is a post by Tim Red, NFI's Director of Military Programming. Tim served 30 years in the U.S. Army and now heads NFI's efforts to help the U.S. military add fatherhood programming to its work to support military families, pre-, during, and post-deployment. Tim and his wife have four children and live in Texas. Tim shares his memories here of trying new things while camping with his children as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

One of the best times I have ever had with my three youngest kids (at the time, ages 15, 12, and 9) was when I took them (just me and them) on a trip to Lake Texoma. Sheppard Air Force Base has camping grounds and cabins on this lake (by the name you can gather that it sits on the border of Texas and Oklahoma). We got a cabin for two nights (arrived on a Friday evening and left on a Sunday morning). The memories we made in those 48 hours will last a life time.

The kids wanted to make smores and I have never done that but we went up to the little store and bought the ingredients. We started a fire in the barbecue pit behind the cabin, untwisted coat hangers, and started cooking marshmallows. They were having so much fun doing this that they were even preparing them for these three young couples (without kids) that were in the cabin next door.

I cooked breakfast for the kids and I had so much smoke from the bacon grease that we had to open up the doors to let it air out (but it was a great breakfast and they loved it).

We rented a pontoon boat (and I don’t know a dang thang about boating – I was in the Army, not Navy, but the kids wanted to do this), packed up sandwich stuff and drinks and headed out on the lake. We'd stop and the kids would jump in the lake and go swimming. I let them take small turns driving the boat (don’t tell Sheppard AFB) and we made sandwiches and floated on the lake while we ate lunch. We took lots of pictures!

We played Uno, watched the deer feeding, played basketball/tennis, scared each other, and slept on bunk beds. There was a TV in the cabin that picked up 3 network channels – no cable – and I think that it may have been on for a total of one hour (if that long) – nobody could have cared less. They were either too happy doing something else or too tired to keep their eyes open.

Then when we had to leave Sunday morning, we cleaned up the cabin before leaving (it’s a military requirement). Everyone pitched in and did that with a smile on their face.

The smiles, the laughter, the fun, the wonder of new things were so special. And as a father, I enjoyed watching their faces light up from all of the different experiences. Just writing this makes me want to go again (but I will wait until it gets a little cooler). Next time, we will have to go star gazing…

A Family Legacy of Camping and Hiking

This is a post by Nigel Vann, Senior Director of Training and Technical Assistance for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Nigel shares his memories of camping and hiking with his son Jesse as part of NFI's "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer" campaign. In addition to the generational legacy of outdoor adventures that Nigel shares, notice the great work-family balance technique he practiced - using business trips as opportunities for family memories!

Reading Mike’s recent blog took me back to when my son was younger (he’s now 26). We had great fun going camping – although we didn’t start as early as Mike! I really like the way that Mike emphasizes how what we do with our kids at an early age can have such a lasting impact. For me, it’s a key part of establishing a family legacy. Although my parents didn’t take me camping as a youngster, I was lucky that they were avid hikers and I have many fond memories of short family hikes as I was growing up. That’s certainly a tradition I’ve carried on and been able to pass on to my son.

Besides many hiking adventures, three camping trips with my son stand out in my memory:

The first, which may have been Jesse’s first camping experience, was at a local campground in Maryland when he was probably 5 or 6. I remember him being fascinated with the fireflies and enjoying the ranger’s campfire presentation, but my main memory is that it rained overnight and flooded the tent – so we abandoned the campsite and drove to a nearby restaurant for breakfast! That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the outdoors though – at least until he hit the teen years!

My second memory is of a camping trip north of San Francisco in 1993 when he was 8 years old. I was working with one of the Young Unwed Fathers Pilot sites in Fresno and took Jesse and his mom along for the ride. After my work was completed, we spent a day in Yosemite and then drove 2-3 hours north of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway. We camped near a beach and spent the evening wandering around there. As we prepared to settle down, Jesse suddenly proclaimed “I saw a meteor!” His mom and I missed it and were never able to verify what he saw, but he still talks about it to this day.

The last time I remember camping with Jesse was also associated with a work trip for me. I was attending a Child Support conference in Phoenix, Arizona in 1997. Jesse was 12 and I took him along to see his birthplace in Tucson. Afterward, we camped at Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona for a night and then camped at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights. We spent a day hiking down in to the Canyon. Previously, I’d hiked down as far as Plateau Point a few times (about 12 miles round-trip). In fact, one time, a few years before Jesse was born I actually ran most of the way (I was running a lot at that time). Unfortunately, those memories clouded my judgment in 1997 – we started out later than we should have and I ignored the signs saying something like “if you reach this sign after such and such a time, you are advised to turn round now because it will be too hot later on.” Needless to say, by the time I realized we couldn’t make it to Plateau Point (around the 4 mile point) and we turned around, our return trip was hard, hot, and pretty unpleasant. The good news is that there were a number of water stations along the way and we did make it out – but I worried that I’d turned Jesse off hiking for life. However, that night at our campsite he was still enthusiastic and we vowed to do a father/son hike to the bottom one day.

He did lose interest in hiking and camping during the “interesting” teen years that followed, but he and his fiancée are now keen hikers (they actually completed a 2-3 week camping trip in California, Arizona, and Utah last year) – and he still reminds me every now and then that we have to make that father/son hike soon. When that happens, we’ll do so in memory of my dad, who also hiked part of the way into the Grand Canyon with me one time – he would have loved to be with us.

What Camping Can Do For You and Your Children

This is a post by Mike Yudt, NFI's Director of National Programming. Mike, his wife Kelly, and their two sons are avid campers. Mike shares his thoughts on camping with young kids as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

I often hear many people say that they do not like the idea of camping and can’t understand its appeal. I’ll be the first to admit that camping is not for everyone. And among those who do camp, there can be a sense of competition as to what is really camping and what is not. To me, that whole discussion misses the point.

The beauty of the outdoors is that it's something that all can enjoy in some form or another. In a day and age when so many jobs keep people tied to an office, it is critical to impart a love for the outdoors into your children at an early age. It will bring balance to their lives and a sense of rejuvenation. After all, who doesn’t like a breath of fresh air after a long period of being indoors?

So, as a father of two young boys (three and one), I along with my wife decided to “break them into camping” at an early age. With both of them, their first camping trip came within their first five months of life. I’ll never forget those first camping trips and the ones that have followed. Children, especially very young children, have a way of expressing awe at the beauty of nature in ways that we as adults cannot fully understand or appreciate. My wife and I are getting glimpses of this as we watch our boys respond to every sound of nature, point to every animal, and pick up every stick or rock around them for a close examination.

The beauty of camping, especially for children, lies in this: it’s a break from the routine of sleeping inside in the comfort of a bed. It represents an adventure… An adventure that your kids will surely love if they are introduced to it at an early age and with a positive attitude.

If a child grows up camping, he or she will undoubtedly like it because they don’t know any different. I understand that for some adults camping is a stretch. The idea of roughing it in the woods apart from a bathroom facility, water or electricity just doesn’t sound like a good time. My encouragement is to find a form of camping that meets your needs. Maybe that’s pitching a tent in your backyard or in the yard of someone you know. Maybe you secure a camp site at a state park that has all of the amenities you need: restroom facilities close by, running water and the option of reserving a site with an electrical outlet.

Whatever you do… commit to exposing your kids to the outdoors as much as possible. If you do, I’m convinced that in the end we will have happier, healthier children who can someday be in a better position to find those quiet , peaceful places to turn to in order to decompress from all that is happening in the world around them. Just one dad’s thoughts….

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