Reckless Endangerment

Life is a frustrating series of boundaries. I’ve always hated the things I can’t do, lack the talent to accomplish, or won’t find the access to attempt. And now, as a father, I will be forced into the role of “them”. I’m now part of the big, dark, unsupportive mass of people setting up the “don’t go near there” boundaries. So this has me thinking about how much the fences vary.

Two Southern California Teenagers are in the news. One, a sixteen-year-old girl currently solo-sailing around the world… non-stop. The other, a thirteen-year-old boy trying to scale Mt. Everest.

They get press because their endeavors bring outrage. Shock. Calls to child protective services because their parents are clearly unfit. People whisper about how these kids are going to die and any proper parent would never support such aspirations.

Maybe that’s true. Or maybe… Just maybe…

We’re all scared alarmist chickens and these parents are doing it exactly right.

What about the fact that this 13 year old climber has already done 5 of the world’s 7 summits? (The Seven Summits refers to the highest peak on every continent…) Most climbers in the world will never do the seven summits. Nearly all the folks who’ve done Everest, including the sherpas, haven’t done all 7. And he’s climbing with his parents who happen to be hard-core adventure racers. The result is a 13 year old with goals and enough dedication to train harder than most adults. This is hardly a kid going from PS3 to Crampon boot.

Or how about the fact that the 16 year old sailor comes from a family of sailors and her brother did the trip a year ago? I’ve met this family. I worked with this boy who did the trip. I don’t agree with everything they’re doing, but I know that their daughter wanted to do this long before her older brother decided to pull up anchor.

Truth be told, I’m pondering all of this for one simple reason: I have dangerous pastimes. I was jumping my bike as soon as I could balance, and when I was a kid we weren’t wearing helmets and kneepads! I’m obsessed with performance driving. I love rock climbing. I enjoy solo trips deep into the backcountry. And my favorite kind of skiing is cutting fresh tracks through tight trees. Yet I still feel like I never really pushed the envelope enough. I’m not half as daring as I’d like to be, and yet my interests scare the hell out of a lot of people.

I know I’ll definitely introduce my son to these pastimes. And there’s a good chance he’ll like one or two of them and want to push the envelope himself. Which means… he’s going to get hurt. And it’s going to be on my watch.

Now before you start filling the comment section, know that I’m far from reckless. I’ve embraced the use of helmets, and I wouldn’t tree-ski without one. I don’t go out into the backcountry without leaving plenty of info on where I’ll be. And anyone who’s climbed with me will tell you they felt very safe.

But I hope I never embrace the growing fear that permeates our culture and is shouted through megaphones toward all parents. I stand astonished to find that everyone can tell you a horror story about everything from sleeping to vaccinations. Do not go onto the internet to see if something is bad for your child. I’ll save you the google time; yes, it’s terrible. Someone knows someone whose child died from it… Anything you can think of, no matter how innocuous, can kill your child.

Into this stupefying din I accept the fact that there will be blood: From skinned knees, and scraped palms, and probably some random headwound which will bleed like a broken damn but only leave a tiny scab on a big lump. That’s growing up.

Heck, that’s just life.

We could all die doing anything. Hanging a picture or hanging from a cliff-face. But I truly believe that taking risks and pushing yourself is the only way to stay young. And my son IS young… so hopefully I can push myself long enough to at least keep up for a while.

A part of me really hopes he ends up world-class at taking risks. I’ve accepted that I won’t be a cutting edge climber or F1 racing driver. But if that’s in his future then I’ll be on the sidelines grinning so much it hurts.

I’ll like it almost as much as doing it myself. Almost.

The real battle will be everyone else. Because now, suddenly, the tiny percentile chance of something going wrong is the only percentage we’re supposed to care about. It’s like believing you will definitely win the lottery every time… and the prize is pain and suffering. Best to not play at all!

Dream big. Take risks. Do something that scares you.

I say that for me. I need to remember. I need to hear it over the rumble of doom. And if I’m really blessed, I’ll raise a son who’ll hear it too.


  1. We have a saying in our house:

    It’s not “if” or “when” but “how many” and “how bad”. (3 of my 4 have now been to the ER for trauma. The oldest twice.)

    You push me to take my kids on more adventures.

    But I disagree on one point. You won’t like it almost as much as doing it yourself. You’ll like it more.

  2. Its funny, i’m having the OPPOSITE problem with my oldest daughter. Sophie is the most “careful” child on the planet. It took her 3 years to get to the point where the slides at our park don’t scare her. And about a week ago we took her to a birthday party at a roller rink and tried everything imaginable to get her to skate and she just wouldn’t do it. Sometimes I think she misses out on what’s great about being a kid… you know, that deft-defying feeling where you feel you can leap from tall places as long as you roll when you hit the ground. But then I look back at some of the things I used to do that my parents would have killed me themselves had they actaully known, and for some reason I feel a little better about our “careful” angel! 🙂

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