A thank you to a “fun” dad
There is something romantic about the solitude of nature. The sense of seclusion and the interconnectedness with the world around you is indescribable. I enjoy the proverbial “call of the wild” to be alone in nature as much as anyone, and yet when I think of being outdoors I never think of myself alone. I always think of my father.
I am lucky to have a father that was named Fun Dad by my school friends. I always found this funny because he wasn’t Fun Dad to me; he was just dad. He certainly wasn’t Fun Dad when he made me eat my vegetables or go to bed earlier than I wanted. He also wasn’t Fun Dad because he didn't let my friends and I do whatever we wanted. As dads went, he was probably stricter than most. So how did he become known as Fun Dad? His love for nature is how.
It was on his bike that my dad really earned the nickname. As 10- to 14-year-old boys, my friends and I loved to ride our bikes around Wascana Lake in Regina. For many of us, it was our first taste of freedom. We didn’t have to be ferried around in the back of the family mini-van or stick to a strict schedule. You would think having your father tag along on these rides would cramp the style of a 13-year-old and his burgeoning sense of freedom.
My dad loved being outdoors, and instead of being a drag on our fun, these trips often meant that we could go farther or venture somewhere new. Most importantly, my dad was just one of the guys who loved to be on his bike enjoying nice weather and a fresh trail.
He never lectured us. Instead, he led by example and taught us that we could have fun in nature without being destructive or obnoxious. Often, the teenage experience is filled with angst and cynicism, but my dad’s enthusiasm for the outdoors was infectious. He taught us that growing into young men didn’t mean destruction and pessimism, but could mean nurturing and optimism.
It is easy to have a revisionist history of childhood relationships and think “I may have hated what my parents did then, but now I appreciate it.” That is how I feel about those early bed times, but not in the case of the bike rides. Even as a kid, I felt lucky that my dad was into cool stuff like biking. As I got older, he started coming on fewer bike trips, and I was left with just my buddies and our bikes. He got busy and I think he also knew that he had to foster our independence. I would still invite him, though, just as I always had.
My dad eventually stopped biking and the Fun Dad nickname began to disappear. I would be surprised if he even remembered being called Fun Dad. But I remember.
As a kid, Fun Dad was just dad to me, but now I can see he really is Fun Dad. He is nearing retirement but the two of us still take an annual rock climbing trip to the mountains. And for Father’s Day this year, we will be canoeing the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan.
As an adult, I now have some sense of the difficulties of parenting. I’m sure my dad had sleepless nights worrying about being a parent. As a kid I didn’t see that worry though. Instead what I mostly remember is a smile on my dad's face when he shared his passions with me. His passion for the outdoors and for life were what my dad shared with me on those bike trips.
The importance of parks to family
I am glad that my dad was able to share his love for the outdoors with me in Wascana Park, one of Canada’s largest urban parks. In my mind, nature and my dad will always be linked.
Some people think of parks as a luxury, but I don’t see family as a luxury. Wascana Park helped create the memories that helped create my family. Sometimes we say we value our family, but we forget to protect the things that build a family.
My dad will always be Fun Dad to me, and I know there are family stories just like mine all across the country. Parks and other places to make family memories are a necessity. For me, conserving the nature of Canada is in part a way of preserving the memories that I created with my father.
This Father’s Day I will be sharing my passion for the outdoors with my dad in one of Canada’s many natural areas. I hope you spend some time with the people you love, doing the same.