I couldn’t have been any older than eight years old when I did this. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan meant winters were brisk and snowy – but it was never too cold that a snow day would be a waste. The snow was always brought new ways for my young, masculine soul to explore.
Whether it be sledding, making igloos, or snow forts, there was always an adventure, and on occasion, what made playing in the snow great: When Dad put on his winter coat. During those cold winter days, Dad would join my brother and me outside often.
Sledding was always best when Dad joined. Being pretty scrawny back in the day, whenever I’d slide down the hill, I’d never slide that far. But when Dad let me ride on his back down the hills, we’d travel much further and much faster.
He was also fantastic at making snow-forts. We used to use old storage totes to make gigantic snow blocks to build fort walls. Never would have thought of that at eight-years-old! But when Dad came outside with a spray bottle filled with water and gave the fort a superior coating, that was when I was truly blown away.
Dad was a snow-fort engineer.
But one evening, Dad surprised my brother and I. Instead of busting out the totes or using a spray bottle, The three of us piled up the snow instead, making the biggest giant snow pile to date. Now, this in particular snow-fall, it wasn’t good packing snow. But Dad had an idea.
It’s important to note: We built this pile of snow oddly close to our two-story deck (couldn’t have been more than 12 feet high) in our backyard. As far as I can remember, this was the first time we built a fort in this location. It was also the most inconvenient place to build, but we followed along — we were just happy to be playing in the snow with Dad.
Still, I was thoroughly confused. Soon, it was all to make sense.
“Do you want to jump off of the deck?” Dad asked us. At first, I probably looked at Dad like he was crazy! What kind of parent asks their kid if they want to jump off of the deck? What would Mom have to say about this crazy stunt? Then Dad said, “We need to pack the snow to build a good fort.”
To Jump or Not To Jump
Dad was right; the snow needed packed. “If you jump off the deck and land on the pile, it’ll pack the snow real good and make a great fort.”
This event was a long time ago, and truthfully, I cannot remember how long I hesitated or if I hesitated at all, but I do remember jumping off of the deck. The stairs leading up to the deck covered in snow, snow piled up on the deck and railing. I don’t know if I climbed up and over the railing myself or if Dad helped me over, but I remember looking down at the pile of snow and thinking, “That isn’t that far down.”
So, the countdown began, and I jumped. The fall couldn’t have lasted any longer than a few seconds. But I hit the snow pile, no harm done, and quickly got up because my brother was next. For the rest of the night, until we were tired and ready to go inside, we jumped off that deck into the snow, preparing one of the most fantastic forts yet.
Dad allowed my brother and I to take a well-calculated risk that seemed much more intimidating than it was. This risk is something a good father should be able to do for his sons. Now, there was still an element of danger present. We could have gotten hurt. Dad knew this. One thing was vital, however, and that’s the fact that Dad didn’t force us to jump.
I jumped because I wanted to.
Was I hesitant? Absolutely, but I knew I wanted to do it, mainly because I wanted that fort built. There are two main reasons why I jumped: First, I trusted Dad. He knew what he was talking about when it came to building snow forts. I knew he wouldn’t suggest something so outlandish if it were dangerous. The snow pile was huge, the deck wasn’t too high, and we all knew the snow would break our fall.
Second, Dad encouraged both my brother and me throughout the entire process. Being told things like, “You can do it,” “Everything will be fine,” “I’ll catch you if anything happens” makes a world of difference for a young boy. In all things, Dad was a great encouragement. Jumping off a deck into a pile of snow was no different.
But Dad also believed in me. He knew I could do it. For whatever amount of time, I wasn’t sure, Dad’s confidence preceded my own and assured me that I could jump off that deck.
From a Son to Fathers
To all the fathers reading this, I want you to know how important your voice is in your son’s life, regardless if they’re jumping off a deck into a pile of snow or not. Now, I’m speaking to you as a son — I don’t have kids of my own. I don’t speak from the experience of a father but as the experience of a son. As a son, I cannot tell you enough how much of a difference having Dad’s unbridled support and encouragement in my life has made.
And not just when it comes to jumping.
There have been many other times I’ve had to “jump” into with both feet in my life. Many times I’ve been thrown into as well. But time after time, Dad’s encouragement, kind words, and even advice, I never knew I needed saw me through.
Now, there are no magic words when it comes to this stuff. However, speaking from the heart, through your own experience, wisdom, and discernment. Draw on the life you’ve lived. Give advice accordingly. Encouragement shouldn’t be difficult. Sometimes, one of the most encouraging things you can do is listen to what your son is saying. He wants you to hear him.
Speak life into your sons. Bless them, tell them daily that you love them, that you’re proud of them. Just those two things go a long way.
My trust in my dad began long before I was standing on the other side of that railing. Built over the years because I heard my father speak life into me, but I witnessed his kindness, humility, and strength as well. Part of that was just because I was young and thought Dad was Superman. Everything he did made me think he was superman.
So, fathers reading this, hear this as if it were coming from your son: I need to hear you say that you love me, that you’re proud of me, and I need to know that you believe in me.
Whether it’s because you’ve put me up to a challenge. Or life has thrown one at me, and your encouragement will make a world of difference.
Knowing that you’re right there with me before jumping into a pile of snow makes all the difference.
David F.A. | Arsenal Headmaster
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