Lessons in Bravery, Conquering, & Growth From My Dad

My father always pushed me in sports growing up. It wasn’t because he was a dad that needed to live vicariously and find validation through his son’s achievements… he had a far deeper purpose. Sometimes I hated it all, personally. I wasn’t very good at most of the sports that I did, and this frustrated me. In my barely-developed child brain, my measurement of “being good” was whether or not I could score goals. I often thought that my dad measured me by whether or not I could score goals – I thought he’d be disappointed if I wasn’t really good.

Not only was I wrong – there was so much more to it than that.

In basketball, I sucked. I rarely scored points. In hockey and soccer, I sucked. I culdn’t score goals. In Cross Country, I sucked – I wasn’t quite fast enough to win any serious medals. Same thing with Track and Field. I had athletic ability… but with each failed attempt, my ego was continually battered, more and more. I continually lost passion for the idea of athletic pursuits. Yeah, it was fun, but what was the point of it all if I couldn’t score?

My dad saw it. I didn’t. So he kept pushing me.

One sport in which he relentlessly pushed me was skiing. This was when it first truly clicked.

By nine or ten years old, my family had taken me skiing four years in a row. On one particularly brutally windy and snowy day, my dad declared we were taking the highest, hardest lift on our mountain – Ninety Nine Ninety at the Canyons ski resort in Park City, Utah. I thought maybe we’d be skiing a black run. “I can do this,” I thought to myself. “I’ve done this plenty of times before. Piece of cake.”

We rode the lift up. It shuddered in the wind, snow beating violently against our faces. This was some of the most intense weather we’d had all season. When we got to the top of the lift, he declared we would not, in fact, be taking a black diamond. Instead, we would be skiing Charlie Brown, one of the most difficult double black diamonds in the entire ski resort.

I couldn’t believe it. I was terrified. Initially, I wanted to protest, but I knew that would be such a weak move, and this was my dad – I didn’t want to look like a total pussy in front of my dad. Rather than let me complain about it, or stand around deliberating, coming up with excuses, he simply told me “let’s go!”, clicked his ski boots tight, and pushed forward. Moments later, he was 10 yards past me, and I could hardly see him anymore in the thick blizzard.

I pushed with my poles to keep up. I’d never been on this side of the lift before. In front of me, I saw my dad – he was carefully poling forward, across a steep, narrow ridge. I shuddered with fear – there was a very, very steep drop on both sides, the wind was howling harder than ever, and I probably didn’t even weigh 90 pounds. Nonetheless, he didn’t stop. My only choice was to move forward.

Eventually, we came to a stop. We were at the edge of the ridge, and above us was a sign that read “Charlie Brown” with two black diamonds next to it. My dad told me I could go first. I looked down, and couldn’t believe my eyes; in order to even begin the run, I’d need to drop into a frighteningly steep angle into a thick crowd of trees, with little room to maneuver and turn.

I spent a solid five minutes at the top. He patiently waited. The only move to be made was… drumroll please… forward.

So I did it. I did it with him. I did more than I thought possible. We made our way down the run, slowly, and surely. Each turn I made, he was just a few turns behind me, there to bail me out if I messed up.

Eventually, we finished.

The feeling I had was indescribable. I had committed a bold act of bravery, and even more: my dad was there to see it, to witness it, and to validate it. At ten years old, I was a conqueror. I had mastered nature with my skis, yet more importantly, I had mastered the fear inside of me.

I was addicted. We went back up the same lift several times over that day, experimenting with many of the other double blacks on the mountain. I grew more and more confident with each run.

When I came back to my elementary school, I was beaming with pride. In my mind, I had successfully done something few adults had the bravery to do. I was beaming with confidence. No one could take the experience away from me. More than that, it elevated the energy and vibration that I brought back to school with me. My friends were all amazed with the stories I brought back from the mountain. Of course, this was in Arizona – had I been raised in a mountain town, I would have needed to be doing backflips and 360s off of huge jumps in order to be considered impressive at ten years old. Fortunately, my ego was blissfully unaware.

However, the lesson had been made: I was capable of more than I thought possible. My limitations existed solely in my mind. The process of conquering nature through determination, athletic prowess, and skill is immensely rewarding. I found something that I was good at, and developed a swagger.

When we moved to California, the swagger grew. He pushed me to join the Junior Lifeguard program, which I also was initially terrified of. I found solace in my own athletic ability to overcome nature, once again. In Junior Lifeguards, I learned how to surf, I learned lifeguarding rescue techniques, and I learned how to swim in rough ocean conditions.

It was pretty scary, at first. One week during the program, we had to contend with five foot waves. Have you ever seen a five foot wave, up close and personal, when you haven’t had much experience with the ocean before? It’s a sight to behold, and a force to be reckoned with.

Yet soon I realized that I had strength, and speed, and I could in fact powerfully overtake waves. My body transformed from a lame, 11 year old boy’s body into a powerful tool I could use to glide and cut through the water with swift precision. I became obsessed, and soon I was one of the fastest, most-able kids in my junior lifeguarding groups.

Through constantly pushing me, my dad planted and slowly grew a seed within me. That seed grew into a vibrant vine of of life and strength within my soul, a source which I could tend to at any time. How? By pushing myself, and my limits, and testing myself physically.

He never pushed me in sports so that I could find a sport I was good at, just so I could score a bunch of goals. He pushed me until I found arenas in which I could develop my own self confidence.

Between skiing and junior lifeguards, that’s exactly what happened: I was in an environment in which I could develop serious confidence in myself. It wasn’t really about scoring goals anymore. It wasn’t about being better than others – these things didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had been pushed to do things I was fearful of, and upon doing them, I overcame them and rapidly grew into a far better version of myself. I eventually cultivated and developed skills that the vast majority of my peers didn’t have – hell, most adults couldn’t ride the slopes or waves I was conquering at 12 years old! By overcoming my fears (with the integral help of my dad), I had grown to be able to do things that others cannot and will not do. In a sense, these abilities felt like superpowers.

I changed, mentally and physically. I approached social interactions differently. I spoke to girls differently. I approached all of life as a whole differently. I had proven myself, time and time again, against mother nature, but most importantly… against myself. Overcoming myself has been massively empowering.

It’s all been possible through my Dad. I’m very grateful. I’ll be paying it forward with my own kids, someday. Everyone deserves to be pushed like this, and to discover their depths.

I’m gonna go call my dad and tell him I love him.