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.