Spending time away with your children is something all dads should do says Paul Mills, who enjoys regular adventures with his two sons.
Arguably the greatest gift of my adult life has been my two boys, and some of the best times I have had with them has been our precious 'dad and boy' trips – just the two or three of us, no work, no email, no other commitments and the great outdoors to explore and be alive in.
For us these annual trips consist of sailing on a yacht away from 'civilisation' to explore isolated islands and coves or off road trips into the Sahara desert with endless miles of dunes, hamada and sparse vegetation.
We also have regular evening or weekend sessions lasting a couple of precious hours, nearer to home, of a simple nature and led by the boys desires for freedom and exploration – to a camp in the woods, or a beach at low water, or to dam a mountain stream.
Focus on what's important
At these times it's a real opportunity to focus on what's important and to develop a greater connection with each other as men and boys, away from other distractions and agenda's – in that slightly different way that happens when there is just one parent – dad – in the picture.
Me and the boys call this 'expedition mode'. It means that we are not bound by strict timings and schedules, we have food that we enjoy – and cook it together often outdoors, we get dirty freely and then choose whether there is any point in drying/changing – or not.
We take time to laugh and have fun, splashing in the water – stripping off for an end of day swim or surfing down a sand dune just because we can. We marvel at nature, sun sets and the night sky. We listen to the silence and when we talk the words are more meaningful.
Sleeping under the stars
When we can, we sleep under the stars and talk about important stuff – in between teasing and joking in that way that people who care about each other do, out of love and mutual admiration. We have fires and make stuff and the boys get real responsibility – taking a full part in what we are doing.
This could be managing our water supply or getting wood for the evening fire, it could be working out a route that keeps us away from the rocks or steering the boat in high winds and big seas so that dad can go forward, clipped onto a lifeline, and take a sail down.
At these times I really appreciate my boys and what it is to be their dad. I get to value them for being themselves; not the them as part of their peer group, or the them that is or isn't 'performing at an age appropriate level' at school (whatever that means).
I get to be close to them for days on end, laying awake in the tent at night listening to their quiet breathing and dreamy mumblings and sighs. I watch them turning a rock pool into a moated, fortified encampment or building a den in the deserted ruin of a foreign legion fort. I get to hold onto to them as we crawl on our bellies to the edge of a 100m escarpment to peer down as the wind tugs viciously at our clothing and hair.
Precious little time
I also see how they approach other people and what they bring to this contact, offering help with a tent, our tow rope when another vehicle is stuck; or chatting with a old and wrinkled shoemaker in his workshop in a Saharan dusty town, and cherishing beyond reason his gift of a leather necklace with their name carved into it – wearing it with pride and explaining its origin to visitors with starry eyes and a far away look.
In this modern world we so often get completely immersed in external pressures and demands, in work that maintains our professional pride; or simply getting through the 18 hours of pressure, travel, routines, commitments and keeping up with the Jones that make up our days, before tumbling exhausted into bed for a precious few hours respite.
How does this serve us as men? how does this help us be good dads? What do our kids think of how we prioritise our time and how we interact with them? go on, I challenge you, take a few minutes to reflect, and then choose to spend some 'dad and boy' time of your own, put it in the diary and make it a priority; you will never regret it and your boys will remember it forever!
Paul Mills lives on the West coast of Scotland. He is is a parent, a trainer in the education and care sectors, an ex foster carer and therapeutic teacher who cares passionately about and working with young people, especially boys, as they start their life’s journey.
To mark the launch of the film Down Dog, insideMAN is running a series of articles about fatherhood throughout February and we'd love you to get involved. You can join the conversation on twitter by using the hashtag #MenBehavingDADly; leave a comment in the section below or email us with your thoughts and ideas for articles to insideMANeditor@gmail.com.
For more information about the film see www.downdogfilm.com