A Dad’s Greatest Strength

The swift current of the an icy North Branch Skokomish river was up to my chest and I hadn’t even reached the halfway point of my crossing. I’d stepped in on a whim. My father had taken the trail and footbridge over the river and sat on the other side. The smart thing would have been for me to do the same. I didn’t do the smart thing because a) I was nine and b) I was–and still am–male.

It was more than simply taking a shortcut, though. We’d been camping at Staircase Campground in Washington’s Olympic National Park for several years in a row by then. I’d fished in that river and stood transfixed by it for hours on end. To me it was wild, mysterious, and dangerous. On this day, however, it became my challenge. As my father watched from the far bank, I stepped into our river and started across.

Had my mother been there, she would have surely snatched me back before the water reached my shins. Mothers see danger where dads and boys see challenges. That’s how God programmed them. Mothers keep us alive. Dads make us stronger. It’s a pretty good balance.

For those of you who’ve spent time in rivers, you know that the current increases exponentially as you near the midway point. With my rubber soled sneakers looking for traction on the large rocks that made up the bottom, there was little doubt in my young mind that one slip would send me to my grave. Thinking back on it, I’m sure the river wasn’t as vicious as is seemed at the time and I would have simply been whisked away to the wide shallow section immediately downstream, but a boy’s mind prefers the dramatic. The horrible death. The little coffin with my collection of Topp’s baseball cards tucked in around me. Pretty girls bawling at my funeral (a man must dream).

The important aspect of my little journey was not the consequences of failure. It was my dad’s reaction to my impromptu decision. He simply watched. I’m sure now that he expected to take a very cold swim to retrieve his eldest son. But he did the right thing. He allowed me to accept the challenge.

And that’s a dad’s greatest strength. It would be easier and require less wrath from our wives if we told our sons “no” more often when it comes to foolhardy ideas. But God made men to be the adventurers. For centuries it has been men who sought the far side of the water, whether it be a river or an ocean. And I believe that those adventurers all had fathers who watched them take risks and, no doubt, mothers who looked out windows in horror to see what their boys were up to.

By the time I reached my father on the far bank of the North Fork, I was tired, shaking, and cold. He nodded his approval and we sat looking at our river together for a while. It looked different from that point on. It was no longer mysterious and dangerous. I’d made it mine. And I’ll always hold that as one of my favorite memories, and I have my dad to thank for it. Remaining silent often takes great strength. I’m glad he was strong enough to let me face my challenges.


I am a husband, dad, Christian, and writer. Not necessarily in that order. It took me thirty years to turn my life over to my Redeemer. It's taken another ten to figure out what it is He has in store for me. My first novel, Now I Knew You, will be released in March, 2015. I pray that God will allow me to write many more before calling me home.

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