By Mark Kenyon
I’m writing this to you a little more than two weeks before you’re expected to be born. Your arrival has been heavy on my mind lately. In fact, over the past few days I’ve been slipping back and forth between two different states of mind – childlike day-before-Christmas anxiousness for your birth and wet-the-bed terror while thinking of the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to meet you. But I’ve also heard a lot about your expected ability to ruin my beloved REM sleep cycle and all the other changes coming my way. And maybe that’s why I’m writing you today. Maybe, if I can get a few things out of my mind and onto the page, I’ll feel just a tiny bit more prepared to become the person I know I have to be for you.
As you’ll come to find out soon, other than being your dad and the guy that annoys your mom a lot, I am first and foremost an outdoorsman. I’m a hunter and an angler, a hiker and backpacker and rafter and camper and kayaker. The outdoors has shaped all of who I am and most all of what I do. And what I’m most excited about, right now as I write this, is sharing those outdoor experiences with you.
I can’t wait to pop you in our new backpack carrier and take you for your first walk in the woods looking for shed antlers or your first hike in the sagebrush and pine covered mountains. I’m smiling now just imagining what your face will look like the first time you see a deer or a buffalo or a grizzly bear. I’m positively desperate to see your excitement after experiencing a close encounter with wildlife while on one of your first hunts or after catching your first fish. And years later, hopefully, I imagine being there to help you wade through the complicated swamp of emotions you’ll experience when you hunt and kill your first deer or elk or turkey.
I’m just so excited for so much. I’m already imagining all the adventures we might be able to share together, all the places we might see, all the things we might do.
But maybe it isn’t fair to put all of this on you – that’s another thing I’ve thought about a lot lately. Maybe you won’t find the same joy I’ve found in the outdoors. And if you don’t, I have to be OK with that. I promise to do my best not to be that dad who pushes his own interests on his kids so much that they become like a ball and chain (feel free to point me back to this note if someday I forget). Now sure, I might be a little disappointed, but you need to be your own man. I’m sure we can have plenty of fun learning to fix car engines, or making watercolor paintings, or watching football, or reading Shakespeare or whatever it is you end up finding a passion for. I can’t promise I’ll be good at any of it, but I’ll do my best.
Even if this all ends up true though, and you prefer hoops over hiking or flying kites rather than fly fishing, I still think the outdoors will impact your life – if by no other means than the fact that the lessons I’ll be teaching you have largely been learned from my time in the natural world.
From the mountains, I’ve learned that life is hard and the only way to tackle it is one step at a time. From the wolf, I’ve learned that life begets life and if we take that responsibility for our own, we’d best take it serious and give our thanks. From the deer, I’ve learned that life is precious but fleeting, so soak in every ripe second of it. And from the great grassy plains, I’ve learned that the world is big and we are small, and that only humility will help us find our way.
But still, in my heart of hearts, I do hope you’ll love nature like your mom and I do. And given your genetic make-up and the unorthodox live-most-the-year-in-the-woods/mountains/fields/streams lifestyle of the family that you fell into, I’m betting you’ll end up finding at least one outdoor activity that will strike your fancy.
And assuming that ends up being the case, I can tell you this. For the rest of my days I will do everything I possibly can to make sure you have the opportunity to enjoy and experience the outdoors as I have.
I promise to be there to help you learn to hike and shoot and paddle. And I’ll teach you to bait a hook and gut a deer and pack a backpack and build a fire. I promise to celebrate with you when you reach the summit or land the big one, and I’ll pick you up when you fall to the ground or miss your mark. I promise to work tirelessly to ensure you have the right to hunt and fish and shoot and explore. And I’ll fight with everything I have to make sure there are public lands for you to get lost in and wildlife for you to watch or chase after. And finally, I promise to do whatever is within my power to ensure that you grow up on a healthy earth with fresh air and clean water and enough open space to stay sane.
Looking back, I thought all of these things mattered plenty to me before. But I can already tell that they’re more important now, just knowing that you’re on the way.
And wow, it’s coming fast. I’ll be meeting you any day now buddy and the anticipation is killing me. But as I count down the days until this greatest adventure of life begins, and I ponder on these promises I hope to keep, I’m reminded of one more lesson I hope to impart on you.
From the trees, I’ve learned to reach high for what matters, and above all, to stand firm.
See you soon.