One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is setting aside time each year for a memorable trip with my two sons. In previous posts I have discussed
(1) the kindergarten right of passage trip I took with my first son,
(2) a trip we took when he was especially discouraged at school,
(3) the kindergarten right of passage with my youngest son, and
(4) the first before-school-starts joint trip we took as this tradition took on life.
In this post I want to reflect on our latest special trip (last week), now known as “Man Trips.”
Note: I realized language was becoming more important when I slipped and called a donut trip a “daddy date” and was corrected by my son. Now we exclusively call these “donut adventures” and the naming of other outings follow suit.
As we drove on the first night of our trip I asked the boys if they knew why we took these trips. They could quickly give me three of the four reasons we do these.
- “You love to spend time with us.” It was good to hear them say this first and without hesitation.
- “You want to instill a sense of adventure so we won’t be afraid of new things.” We talk about this frequently as we brainstorm potential trips. I do not want my boys to back away from anything God would call them to do because of fear. They enjoy thinking up possibilities. Right now deep sea fishing is the leading candidate for our next trip.
- “You want our family to be an example of others.” If I am going to encourage them to be more of an influence on their friends than their friends are on them, then I think it important for them to know the things that I am doing to serve as a positive influence in my relationships.
- “You want to set the tone for each new stage of our life” (the one they, understandably, couldn’t verbalize). At this point, they know I plan to take an individual trip with each of them before they start kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college; and take trips with the three of us on the other years. Beyond that I’m not sure they understand “stages or seasons of life.”
This was encouraging to me. They didn’t just know our itinerary of fun; they knew why we had set aside this time. They even gave the answers in the order I would want them to weigh them.
My strategy for these trips has remained pretty consistent:
- Have enough fun that the boys will always remember the trip and don’t realize I’m trying to shape their character.
- Do at least one thing that they find moderately frightening (so far: camp in the woods, climb a mountain, ride down a waterfall, and – this time – fly on a plane).
- Have a couple of key lessons to instill which we talk about at key points on the trip
This time the key lessons revolved around the theme of “life as quest: an introduction to God’s will for elementary school age kids.” We unpacked this in three conversations:
(1) Reviewing what the gospel is and what they need to do with it.
A. Understand the key truths of the gospel summarized in the phrase “Jesus in my place.”
B. Believe the gospel as being necessary for them personally.
C. Publicly live out the gospel beginning with baptism.
(2) Study Ephesians 2:1-10 to tie the first and third conversation together.
A. We discussed verses 1 through 9 to recap the conversation from the night before.
B. Then, after a little explanation of verse 10, I asked them to think about how they would discover what God created them to do as a teaser for the next night’s discussion.
(3) Discussing what they can do to discover God’s will at their age.
A. Be willing to try new things to find out what they’re passionate about and good at.
B. Expect that God will use them to change the world around them.
C. Guard their character as what is most important in any situation.
D. Make sure their closest, trusted friends are people who seek to honor God.
Right now I believe both of my boys understand the gospel (1A). They’ve both told me about conversations they’ve had with friends at school about the gospel and were pretty clear in how they described it.
But my youngest does not yet sense the weight of his need for the gospel to fully grasp why believing the gospel is vital, rather than merely “a good thing good boys do” (1B). And my oldest son is wrestling with the idea of publicly displaying his faith through baptism (1C). In our conversations I wanted to gauge again where they were and help orient them to what the “next step” would be for them individually.
Here are a few of my other reflections on this trip. I won’t rewrite things that I mentioned in previous posts about these trips (you can read those in the links above; I review those posts before each trip).
- By the term “Man trip” I am not capitulating to a particular stereotype of masculinity. Even with the theme of adventure, I am more seeking to eliminate fear-motivated passivity than force them into the mold of a medieval knight. My goal is that when my boys wonder, “What does it mean to be a man?” and “Am I a man?” I, as their father, will be the primary voice that comes to mind and their friends daring them into juvenile or dangerous activities that often are counterfeit entryways into manhood will not.
- I could tell these trips were beginning to affect the identity of my boys because they wanted to recreate scenes from previous trips; seemingly little things like getting a ball uniform for their stuffed animals or getting Outback cheese-fries and taking them back to our room on the last night. The strong desire to repeat these events indicated they were memories that were taking root and becoming part of their story.
- My youngest went from being afraid to fly (i.e., for a few months I was afraid his aversion to flying would ruin the trip) to saying he wanted to fly over the ocean. I’m not predicting he will be a missionary, but at least he’s looking for a reason to go overseas.
- Each “man trip” gives my wife a stay-cation. After keeping up with the boys all-day, everyday for the better part of a week I have a renewed appreciation for how valuable that would be. Giving her this time to rest and be off-duty is a valuable part of this investment for me.
- The value of several days of uninterrupted time with my boys cannot be over-stated. Being a father who works full time it is so easy to become an event-oriented father. Even when it’s not coaching their sports teams, the increments I am available (i.e., couple of hours in the afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon) can begin to feel very event-ish. There is just a different style of relating with uninterrupted time.
- I do minimal reading on these trips, because there is little time. I did read a few chapters of Live Like a Narnian by Joe Rigney on the plane. I would heartily recommend the book and anticipate as my boys reach a middle school reading level we’ll go through this together; drawing upon our years of listening to Narnia at bed time and identify some of the gospel lessons in the characters Lewis developed in the Chronicles.
- I think reading in from of my boys is important but it is something I seldom do. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to teach your children to love to read the Bible, first you have to teach them to learn to love to read.” I believe there is merit in this statement. Having them see me read a “non-nerd” book with the emblem of a red lion on the cover (something that would interest them) I hope is a step in that direction.
The itinerary for this trip was a little more robust than most (if you care to see picture, click here). My missions travel and the boys visiting grandparents meant that #ManTrip5 became our summer family vacation. Whether long or short, this is a tradition I would strongly encourage every father to pursue in some form. The boys and I come home from every one of them thinking about what we’ll do on the next one.
 If they began to feel pressured to live up to a certain standard because of this purpose, then I would not verbalize it. But at this season, from what I can tell, they appreciate that we intentionally do things together that they realize their friends would want their fathers to with them. This objective is seen as a “perk” of living intentionally; not a burden to have to carry.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.