I took this photo a little over two years ago, when my daughter, Pema, was three and a half years old. Those are wild plums in my hand, frozen by the late autumn night, thawing in the sun. We happened upon them during one of our walks along the river, one of many, and thoroughly enjoyed the serendipity of their sweet, leathery fruit. Afterward, we spat the stones into the river, watching them splash and sink. Pema and I have a few thousand such memories, but I picked this one because it was only a few months after her mother, Megan, and I separated.
That divorce was peaceful and loving – we didn’t separate because of antagonism – but it did shock my world. My role as a father and husband was turned upside down. Shifting from a father-mother-daughter trio to a father-daughter duo was not easy, but within a few weeks I made one hard and fast rule. When Pema was with me (half the time), I did nothing but focus on her. The rest of the time (when Pema was with Mom), I worked and cooked, did my chores, etc.
That simple rule made all the difference, and today I am reaping the benefits in ways so diverse I could hardly number them. After apprenticing as an outdoor kindergarten teacher, I am now in the throes of planning a first grade for the fall of 2018, with the hope of taking six to ten kids through eighth grade in the wilderness. And nailing the tests.
Megan and I, though still divorced, now live together in community with about ten other folks, including another family, in northern New Mexico. We range in age from three to seventy-eight years old. In 2016, a friend suggested that I create a blog to share some of our adventures. I’ve been doing so for a little over a year now, and you can read all our stories at www.offgridkids.net. Since then, my life has teemed with kids, including a four-day kindergarten that has no classroom building whatsoever. Our stories, like our lives, are endless romps in canyons, mountains, rivers, and our minds.
But in 2018, I’m doing more. I’m taking a stand as a father, and particularly as the father of a young girl. None of us, man or woman, has to go far in today’s world to witness the anger and frustration coming from women. The incidence of rape and domestic violence in this country is shameful, and there’s considerably more trauma at the verbal and, dare I say, spiritual level. Women do not feel the freedom, whether in the work place or simply on the streets, that men do. This is a tragedy, and thousands of women are coming out to share their stories.
There are many reasons for this brokenness. I believe the father/daughter bond is one of them. Of the four women I am the closest to, not one of them has a healthy and whole relationship with their father. Not one. And I know of dozens, perhaps hundreds, more. And men too. There are bad mothers out there also, but not nearly at the epidemic rate at which our young men are failing their children.
Women will not be healed by men. And men will not be healed by women. We have to do this together, and alone. Each of us needs to step up in the ways that we can. So, it is with a humble heart that I take a stand for fatherhood. I have been told by many women how meaningful, even healing, it has been to read some of the stories I’ve shared about the unique adventures, and love, that Pema and I share. It is enough, sometimes, just to know that others are out there. But we need more. We need to hear from the good fathers out there – and we do know you’re out there – not just the horror stories that we catch on the news. We need this for men, and we need this for women. Most of all, we need this for our children.
To that end, I invite you to share your stories about fathers. Share them with each other, and with your children. And if you feel compelled, share them with me. I will collect and publish these stories, both on offgridkids and on Facebook, so that they can easily be read and shared together. Let’s fill our daughters, our sons and our husbands, our wives and grandmothers, our grandfathers, single men and women, and our entire human species with stories, real-life examples of what it means to be a father. Let’s stand up and be counted.
You can submit stories to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if it’s a short one you can share something in the comments section below. If you have photos that go with the story, feel free to submit those too. You can use real names, or change names if you prefer to remain anonymous. Whatever works. Write a few sentences, a few paragraphs, or a novel. I will select the best of the best and share them in a few weeks’ time.
To our daughters, our children, and ourselves!