All Downhill from Here


All Downhill from Here

Sometimes a good dad leads, but there are times when a good dad follows.  I learned to cross country ski from a friend whose family owned a little cabin three miles back in the woods from Crooked Lake.  There were no groomed trails nearby; instead, we skied the many two-track logging roads that wound their way through miles of local forest.  There was a groomed snowmobile trail which served to divert all the loud motorized traffic safely far away from our adventures.  I quickly fell in love with the quiet and serenity of the sport.

My attempts to lead my family, especially my four children into the sport were fruitless.  Much to my dismay, they considered cross country skiing to be too much work.  They did show an interest in downhill skiing though because it offered the excitement of speed.  I didn’t get any help from the children’s school as annually they brought sixth graders up to a ski hill in the U.P. for an exposure to the sport.  The oldest one reported home that downhill skiing was “a blast”.  I tried to ignore that.  Then the next in line child also had a “great” time when he got his turn at the sixth-grade trip.  It became hopeless when my wife shared that she also had skied downhill before we dated and she enjoyed it.

The winter when I realized that the votes were 3-1, with the two youngest voting “naïve” was a hard winter for us.  Work had been especially demanding including much out-of-town travel.  I grew up in a dictator authority household when it came to spending any family free time.  We did what my father wanted to do.  What it lacked in participation it made up for in simplicity of decision-making.  I considered hard that winter that I had followed my father’s lead perhaps a bit too closely.  So, one evening at the supper table, when the subject came up about the winter break long weekend coming up for the kids, I asked, “How would you all like if I took a day off and we all go skiing?”  I have to say that it was more of a shock than I expected, which told me a little more about my parenting to that point than I perhaps wanted to know.  Finally, the oldest Jacob, asked for very important clarification, “You mean downhill skiing?”  It was almost an out-of-body experience to hear myself say “Yes”.  

A few weeks later we were headed to the same ski hill that the school visited because they had a deal for beginners that if you signed up for their skiing introduction class you got a free lift ticket.  All you had to pay for was equipment rental and medical bills. 

I held my nervousness inside until we turned off the highway onto the road to the ski hill.  The terrain became noticeably rolling with the hills almost seeming to grow before my eyes.  When we neared the parking lot and I had to crane my neck to follow the steep rise of the hill my doubts grew faster than the hills.  “There’s no way”, I thought to myself.

It got worse when we joined the group on the bunny hill for ski class.  The instructors demonstrated just how easy it was to slow down, to stop, and to turn.  It looked easy.  However, when it was our turn, I soon discovered that my “pizza wedge” slowing/stopping left a lot to be desired.  It was embarrassing when everyone in the family got their lift ticket and were allowed to head for the chairlift, but the instructor looked at me and said, “You better stay and go through this again.”  Alas, a perpetual ban to the bunny hill.  The bunny hill.  The shame. 

My second class went no better than the first.  Then my two oldest sons stopped after their first trip down the slopes to ask if I had passed yet.  This, after I had just demonstrated how to run into your instructor and just about knock him over.  He looked at me, looked at my sons with sympathy, shook his head, and handed me a lift ticket.  “Here, before I get hurt.” 

On the actual hill I found out that I wasn’t nearly as dangerous as that instructor worried that I might be.  With each run I gained experience and confidence.  After lunch I tried hills that were a little more challenging.  Surprisingly I did not break anything.  I hadn't even actually wiped out, although a time or two it was more than a little iffy.  By the end of the day, I had pretty much gotten over the sensation that I was going to plummet to my death from the chairlift.  I was also a little tired, much relieved and even more surprised that I had a good time.  That’s the day that I graduated from the bunny hill of fatherhood.  Sometimes a good dad leads, but there are times when a good dad follows.

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan

Photo by Anna Surovková on Unsplash