‘Country Roads’ & Exploding Christmas Trees Lead to Final Lesson in Fatherhood

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final part of a three-part series about me walking into the “wilderness” with my 7-year-old niece and walking out with a completely different perspective on being a father. (Read intro post here)

• • •

I don’t think there is anything more powerful than presence. It’s a gift that is often taken for granted and/or overshadowed by the distractions of living life.

Sharing a moment with someone – no matter how big or how small – is what makes life really worth living.

I’ve quoted Chris McCandlessbefore and here I go again…he said it best before he died alone in the Alaskan wilderness: “HAPPINESS IS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”

I saw the power of presence over and over again at my niece’s father-and-daughter campout. These dads were spending unforgettable moments with their children – creating memories that had the potential to last a lifetime.

The program, which is a part of the YMCA, is branded beautifully:

Adventure Guides encourages fathers and their children to spend uninterrupted time together as members of a larger group, building lifelong memories and bonds. Through activities such as weekend camping trips, games, ceremonies and family adventures, dad and child will create memories that neither will ever forget.

I asked one dad during the weekend if they had anything like this for moms. He said, “They get plenty of mom time.”

A sad, but very true response.

This was a “Daddies Only” weekend and these little girls (and a handful of boys) were eating it up.

This power of presence hit me full force on Saturday night. After a full day of adventures, we all bundled up and painted our faces for the culminating campfire “ceremony.” I think they called it “Tribal Fire” or “Great Way to Get Rid of Our Christmas Tree.” 

The camp leaders put together an impressive stack of wood – AND Christmas trees. It was a welcomed blaze because it was the coldest night of the winter – 28 degrees.

(NOTE: Have you ever seen a Christmas tree burn? It’s an impressive explosion of sparks and flames. They could have filmed a public service announcement during this ceremony.)

When the fire quickly burned down – and was not threatening to singe our body hair anymore – we all huddled close to the fire pit and sang songs. I’m not sure if it was the group’s rendition of “Country Roads” or the campfire illuminating everyone’s chapped cheeks, but that was a profound moment for me.

In a society where we are bombarded by stories of dead-beat and/or workaholic and/or absent fathers, I was surrounded by approximately 50 dads with their arms tightly wrapped around their child.

Were they just keeping each other warm? That was part of it. 

Were they literally embracing the moment? Absolutely.

You could get a sense that everyone had loving, heart-felt thoughts dancing through their head as they stared into the flames:

• “We don’t do this enough.”

• “I will never forget this moment.”

• “Love. This.”

Not a single dad was talking on his cell phone.

Not a single dad was banging away on his laptop.

Not a single dad was staring through the television.

Not a single dad was checking his stocks, updating his Facebook status or glancing at the Mavericks score.

(Actually…I was the only jerk with his cell phone out. In my defense, I was trying to capture the moment for my sister and brother-in-law – photo above.)

For a brief moment, the daily grind – and all the trivial bullsh associated with the grind – was getting its butts kicked by the power of presence. We closed the evening with the tribal theme song, “Pals Forever.” (I’m glad they had a song sheet or I would have been the guy mouthing “juicy watermelon” over and over again.)

It was perfect ending to a wonderfully great day (exhausting, but wonderfully great).


Pals Forever, Pals Forever,
That’s our slogan, that’s our song.
Kids are stronger, dads feel younger
When they take the boys/girls along.

Through the days and through the years
We will wander side by side.
Pals forever, Pals Forever,
The Great Spirit is our guide.

Moms adore it, dads are for it,
And the kids all think it’s fine.
Pals Forever, Pals Forever,
As Adventure Guides we’ll have good times.

It was no “Country Roads,” but it spoke volumes about the mission and vision of the program AND what every dad should strive to focus on every single day: Presence.

With ALL of that said – three blog posts in three days about this fantastic experience – I have to wrap this up and finally close my laptop.

My son is crawling on me like I’m a human jungle gym, sneaking in an occasional face-squeezing kiss and continuously asking me: “Where’s Dus?” (a.k.a. our dog who is actually named Gus)

Reminder: I loved spending the weekend in the “wilderness” with Mary Grace, but more importantly I received a two-day, hands-on tutorial in fatherhood.

It’s time to be present.

“Hey, Crash! Where IS Dus?!?!?!?”

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