Adventure Dad

Speaker's Corner: Not much irks travel writer and new dad Kelsey Timmerman more than the words: "I guess your adventurin' days are over now, huh?"

03.05.09 | 10:21 AM ET

Photo by Annie Timmerman

I‘m a dad.

On Jan. 6, my wife, Annie, gave birth to our daughter, Harper Willow Timmerman. The labor was 20 hours long. There was a lot of pain and sweating and waiting. Annie wasn’t feeling too good either. She was always asking me to get her ice chips.

As a traveler and a writer, I’ve been whitewater-rafting, ice-climbing and shark-diving. I’ve been part of adventures during which fewer people came back than went. But I’ve never experienced an adventure quite as extreme as what went down in that hospital room. 

On that day, in that room, two Timmermans walked in and three came out.

Since then our lives have become even more extreme. There’s the extreme lack of sleep, the extreme projectile-pooping, the extreme compulsion to do nothing all day but watch little Harper sleep.

When she’s awake and I look past my reflection in her dark blue eyes, I see all of the places I want those tiny pupils to focus on: the neck-breaking sight of the Himalayas, a coral reef anywhere (if they are still around), the cliffs on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, the sunset celebration on Key West’s Mallory Square.

Since Harper’s birth, more than one person has said, “I guess your adventurin’ days are over now, huh?” Right now there’s little that irks me more than someone saying this.

First off, it’s kind of what I do for a living. To some extent, I don’t have a choice but to continue traveling to places near and far to write about them. Sure, the way I travel will change. The days of being on the road for three months at a time are gone; I just can’t do that anymore. After three months would Harper even remember me? Would I miss her first laugh, word or step? Not that I’ve traveled recklessly in the past, but I’ll probably travel a little more cautiously now. The main reason the question irks me, however, is that I feel Harper will only enrich life’s adventures.

I can’t remember where I read it (if you know, please tell me), but one of my favorite travel stories was written by a father who takes his 3-year-old canoeing down the creek that runs through their backyard. There are no rapids, no danger other than a bee or two, no foreign culture to be explored, no site that most of us don’t ignore each day. Things like squirrels, trash on the bank, and a praying mantis were grand discoveries. Both father and child had a blast.

Did someone ask this father if his adventurin’ days were over?

I like this story because it challenged what I previously thought about adventure. Adventure isn’t an exotic location or an adrenaline-pumping activity. It’s not a place or an action. It’s a state of mind. It’s a sense of exploration and willingness and ability to see with fresh eyes. For the father and child in the story, the creek running through their backyard held all the adventure of Mount Everest.

I haven’t been around a lot of children in the past few years other than my 5-year-old nephew, Jared. He seems to find adventure in whatever he does, whether it’s mowing the yard with his grandpa or shoveling snow with his dad. I’ve had the pleasure of being Jared’s sidekick. We’ve crossed the ditch in my backyard and entered the woods in search of imaginary coyotes. One day I watched in awe as he named a rock “Dut-dut-duh” and carried it into worlds he created. 

I can’t wait to see snowcapped mountains, blue oceans and tropical sunsets in Harper’s eyes, but I also can’t wait to see her point to great dragon-shaped clouds rolling over our backyard on a summer’s breeze. I can’t wait to hear her laugh at a butterfly. I can’t wait to see all of the things that I’ve been missing.

For now Harper’s adventures take place on the tiniest of scales. She’s exploring her neck muscles. During tummy time she tests them, lifting her tiny head up and over to see what’s on the other side of the room. She stares at lights. She focuses on our faces.

Annie and I are her world, and each one of her smiles is our adventure.

Is it coming to an end? Hardly.

This is only the beginning.

Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make our Clothes, for which he went undercover as an underwear buyer in Bangladesh. He considers himself to be one of the top 10 living underwear journalists in Indiana.

21 Comments for Adventure Dad

Danielle P. 03.05.09 | 6:01 PM ET

Thanks for this…I am due in July and I want to come right out of my skin every time someone tells me I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon and good thing I got it all out of my system before I settle down (??). Really, this is said at every point in life; when you get out school, when you get a new job, get married, etc….......people who say things like that probably never left in the first place. And real travelers can appreciate the near and dear just as much as the far and wide. Everyday can be an adventure.

Andrea Ross 03.06.09 | 7:48 AM ET

Congratulations! You’re right, it is a whole new adventure, but my little girl took her first flight at two weeks, my little boy at four days! We live in Cambodia so there was no other option, but to add a few more to the flight reservations. When I got my two-year-old new passport pages the official told me it was a first, with a rather dissapproving stare. I informed him I would be back with the next ones passport soon so it wouldn’t be the last. The adventure does change, but you can make it for the better. Favorite conversation ever:
“Guess where we’re going today Callie?”
“Ummm, no”
“Okay, no, we’re going to your school”
“Oh, I like school”
“Well okay then”
So don’t let them get to you, just smile and nod and know that they didn’t adventure before they had kids so can’t imagine doing it after:) Oh, and you may still be able to adventure, but sleep, well sleep is another story!

Catherine 03.06.09 | 8:46 AM ET

I love this post. It brings me back to those wondrous, intoxicating first weeks falling in love with my baby girls. It’s good counsel to savor the little everyday moments and adventures with kids, but don’t worry, you can still have some big adventures out in the world with them too. Traveling with children is different but doable (and in many ways better) - don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Catherine Forth

Kelsey 03.06.09 | 9:48 AM ET

Danielle P, Amen sister!  It seems like at every life stage folks always tell us that a certain part of our lives are over. I think a lot of time they are just trying to make themselves feel better - misery loves company.  Too bad we won’t be joining them!

Andrea, You’re my hero and your kid rocks!  It took me about 20 years before I had anything that could be labeled a “global perspective” of the world.  Your children won’t remember a time when they didn’t see the world as big ol’ place with lots of different languages, peoples, and cultures.

Catherine, Just bookmarked your site!  I’m sure I have a lot to learn.

Matt Gross 03.06.09 | 11:16 AM ET

Love the attitude, Kelsey! I guess it’s traveling-dad week on the Internet!

I’ve gotten the same question myself, quite often (mostly from in-laws). And my response is usually just a shrug: It’s my job, what else am I gonna do?

Looking forward to hearing of your first big excursion with Harper Willow…

Matt 03.06.09 | 12:26 PM ET

Matt, I just read your latest piece.  We are in the same boat/plane/department store/restaurant, my brother.  I wasn’t outwardly intolerant of screaming kids before, but I’d be lying if I hadn’t muttered to myself, “Someone shut that kid up.”  Now things have changed.  And by things, I mean the world….forever!

Annie and I took Harper on a 3-hour road trip while I was promoting my book.  Harper did great.  I think she’s go the travel bug.

It’ll really be interesting when our little girls are 18 and they tell us that they are going to go travel the world for a year by themselves.  As a traveler I’ll think - “You go girl!” as a dad, “Not my little girl!”

Kelsey 03.06.09 | 12:27 PM ET

Oops…the “Matt” above is actually me Kelsey.

Jenny 03.06.09 | 3:06 PM ET

Congratulations, Kelsey. Like everyone else who read your piece I have passionate opinions about traveling with kids. Our four year old took traveled for a year with us around the world and the experience was priceless (beyond words) for all of us. She spoke to a monk on a train to Chiang Mai, slurped noodles in China, made friends with the son of our Japanese inn-keeper on the Izu Peninsula, ordered a bowl of clams by herself (in Portugese) in the Algarve, watched in wonder as a joey crawled back into it’s mom’s pouch in Australia, learned to swim in the Gulf of Siam. Her dad and I quit our jobs, sold our home and took off on this trip to the warning of friends of family “are you sure you want to do this?”  “Isn’t this dangerous?”  “What if someting happens?” Well, something did happen - we all got an incredible jolt of the real world. Our daughter is now 28, finishing her master in public policy (third world environmental policy) and has a love of this world and the people in it that was born in her experiences abroad. Her dad passed away shortly after this trip so she also has really strong memories of her time with him abroad. And we both continue to see our passport as one of the most valuable possessions we have. Your travels with your daughter will open up the world to you in ways you haven’t even seen yet. Again, Congratulations!

Robin from Israel 03.09.09 | 11:47 AM ET

Great post, and one I can definitely identify with. As a mom to an 8 year old and a 5 year old I can say that yes, your travel style does have to adapt when you become a parent, but your wandering days don’t have to end by any means.

I came across a copy of Nan Jeffrey’s Adventuring With Children in the midst of a “my life as I know it is over” crisis while pregnant with my first and even now, 8+ years later, I still refer to it when my spirit needs a boost.

Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, the grandest adventure of all is just beginning.

Kelsey 03.09.09 | 4:32 PM ET

I’m glad there are so many adventurous parents out there.  It does a new dad’s travelin’ soul good to be in such great company.

Jenny, Sounds like an amazing trip.  And to think that at 4, the trip set your daughter on a career path!  I can’t wait to watch Harper play with kids in villages around the world.  Up to this point, my Frisbee has been my ice breaker while traveling—when all else fails whip out the Frisbee and play with the kids.  Now I have an even better icebreaker—a daughter.

Robin from Israel—Thanks for the book recommendation; I’ll check it out.

Kim 03.09.09 | 7:58 PM ET

Thanks for this, Kelsey. In the 15 months since my son was born, I’ve often struggled to find the right response to, “So I guess your adventurin’ days are over now?” You got it exactly right.

Wes now has three passport stamps, an enviable collection of outdoor exploits, and a strong preference for taco cart dining. I am certain that he and Harper will never describe their childhoods as lacking in adventure.

ella 03.10.09 | 9:55 PM ET

Congratulations! Your baby is so cute and adorable,if she`s in my arms I would stare at her for an hour!
Reading your post reminds me of my most precious moment 4 years ago! I`ve almost forgotten it!
  I bet your daughter is going be a traveler like you!
My son started traveling at the age of 5 month until then he travel around the globe,  It`s a wonderful experience to travel with a baby sometimes but the worrying is quite strong!

Tonya 03.15.09 | 8:14 PM ET

Your daughter is beautiful!  Congratulations to you and your wife.  I agree, adventure is a state of mind.  Trekking through Brazilian rain forests, surfing off of isolated coves where rivers meet the Atlantic in Bahia, snowboarding in the back country of Squamish… nothing will ever surpass the hours I spent watching my daughter, at two months old, discover her hands.  We’re all privileged to be able to approach life as an adventure.  Parenting, for me, has been the greatest adventure of all, and it never required forfeiture of my passport.

Alister 03.20.09 | 6:33 PM ET

The responses on this thread have left me with plenty of questions about travelling with small kids. I’m guessing kids would be a superb breaker of the ice in other cultures. But, obviously, the difficulties would be plenty for new parents and a complete rewiring of travelling habits might be required. Any chance World Hum could put together a story on that issue? For the record, I’m keen to take two toddlers to a wedding in Mumbai. Strategies, please.

Kelsey 03.24.09 | 9:32 AM ET

Kim, 3 stamps! That’s a new country every 3 months.  I think I was 20 before I had 3 stamps.

Ella, Thanks.  Harper smiles more each and every day.  She doesn’t quite have the laughing thing down yet, instead she has a sort of happy grunt.

Tonya, Seeing a pretty bird in the jungle is cool, but nothing compared to discovering your thumb and how good it tastes.

Allister, I’ve got plenty of questions, too.  I would love to see that article.  And I do think that a child would be the ultimate icebreaker.  I usually travel alone and am amazed at the hospitality folks show me, but with a child, not only would it be easy to get in with children but with adults too.  Parents are always willing to help another parent.

Homes 03.28.09 | 8:39 AM ET

Hi all… I am new to baynet too.Of course, I quit reading and posting on the some blogs & forums. I won’t go into details becuase I am sure most of you know why…
it will take a little time to get use to this interface, but I think I can manage…It’s a nice place to share my thoughts. I’m willing to stick around here andwatch it grow. As i also want to learn how to grow mine.I would like a “latest comments” link instead of a ‘new comments”

April 04.09.09 | 11:58 AM ET

Congrats on your new baby girl!! Your adventurin’ days are far from over, in fact they have been renewed. You will see things from the eyes of your adorable baby girl and a complete new sense of wonder and appreciation will fill your adventures like they never have before. My son spent his second birthday in Thailand and had parties in Cambodia and in the US - and traveling with him couldn’t have been more fun. The only difference I have found with adult travel and travel with children is that traveling with children forces you to slow down a little bit and also includes a lot of wandering and chatting with strangers - which I have found to be much more fun than sticking to the itinerary and getting from point A to point B. Whith children it’s the journey, not the destination. We can all learn a bit from our kids.

real estate 04.11.09 | 8:27 AM ET

Good for you Kelsey. Good to see you handled the pain of the birth like a man. During my middle daughters birth, I went for the pethidine, but the doctor felt that perhaps we should save it for my wife instead. Is there a story behind her name “Harper”? My youngest daughter is Shiloh and I think having an interesting name brings out the individuality that lkittle bit more also.

April is right in saying your greatest ever adventure lies before you. At the very least, as a parent, you’ll learn more about yourself than you could imagine.

I firmly believe that travel is the greatest education either a child or an adult can receive. If you’re ever in Australia mate…do drop in:-) .....I would then have bragging rights to knowing one of the top 10 living underwear journalists in Indiana.

Andrew from Oz

Kelsey 04.14.09 | 10:39 AM ET

April, I’m looking forward to chatting-up-strangers-while-our-kids-play-in-a-mud-puddle experiences.  I’m glad to here that your son has enhanced your travel experience. Thanks for sharing.

real estate, There’s not much of a story behind her name. A lot of people think that it has something to do with author Harper Lee who wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but it doesn’t really.  We both love that book, but Harper wasn’t even her real name.  We were just walking going through the alphabet and when we got to H names we liked Harper.  We wanted something unique but not fabricated.  Growing up with my own unique name (there used to be no Kelseys around, now it’s a popular name for teenage girls) was fun. 

I’ve been to OZ. In fact, I met Alby Mangels nephew Rick.  Anyhow, I turn up places.  Never know when I’ll show up on your doorstep.  Thanks for the offer.

Andrew Blachut 04.14.09 | 10:54 AM ET

Good lord, haven’t heard about Alby in years. I must google his name and see what he’s up to, asuming he’s still above ground. He was a bit of an icon with his adventure feature films and docos. I bet Rick is a wild child also :-)

The way you picked Kelsey’s name is great, just felt right and unique.

When we named Shiloh, I was of course listening to a Neil Diamond song…it’s also a town in the US and an Indian tribe I think.

Nepal Adventures 04.17.09 | 4:04 AM ET

That is a wonderful story of a traveler of true adventure spirit.

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