Thursday, 22 August 2013

Portraits of My Ever-Changing Outdoor Family

Karst Springs.

What is a family?

As I've written about previously, I'm in the process of a divorce. This has forced me to look at myself in brutally honest ways I wouldn't have otherwise--and I consider myself a reasonably self-aware kind of guy. Who am I without my wife of 20 years? Who am I without the label "husband"? Was I the husband I thought I was? I'm still a father and I'll always be a father, but am I a good father? Have I failed my kids by not being able to hold their family together? Is it my fault their family is broken?

Deep down, I believed I'd failed my sons because their family was broken, even though I knew it takes two to make a marriage work or not. In many ways, throughout our four-and-a-half years of separation, my wife and our sons and I had functioned as a family even though I lived in a different house. For the last year, we went to movies together, went dog sledding and heli-snowshoeing and skiing together, even went on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Family Camp on Catalina Island last summer. Instead of making the kids shuffle their lives between our two houses, I "had" them every second weekend. Weekdays, I'd go to "their" house in the morning to get them out of bed, make them breakfast, and get them off to school one week. The next week, I'd go after work, make them supper, help them with homework, put them to bed and then go home. Usually my wife would be there and we'd work together.

Initially, I thought nothing would change when we decided to get divorced. It wasn't until a few weeks later that reality hit me, and I realized everything had changed. It had to. Shortly after we got home from Catalina Island last summer, I knew that we could never reconcile and be happy, healthy individuals even though we got along so well on so many levels. But I couldn't voice it, and I was stuck in a limbo where I felt like I kind of had my family back even as I knew the feeling wasn't real. Still, I thought I was prepared emotionally when we decided to divorce, and I would have been...if nothing had changed. When I realized how deeply and completely I'd been in denial about the changes that had to happen, I began to grieve what I perceived as my losses. One of biggest was the loss of my family, my boys' family. Even the illusion of it that I'd been clinging to was gone.

So I changed the start of the Big Grey Rocks description from "We're an outdoor family" to "I'm an outdoor dad. My sons are outdoor kids." This despite the fact that their mom had rarely come hiking with us. Hiking was a bond shared between a dad and two sons, and the divorce wouldn't affect our family life on the trail.

Then last Sunday we went hiking with a single mom and her two sons. When we reached the end of the trail, she said, "I'll take a family portrait." Mack, Michael and I posed, the picture was taken, and I didn't think about it again.

Later that night I got an email from the mom. Before the hike, she'd seen that I'd deleted "We're an outdoor family" from this blog. When she'd offered to take a "family portrait," she'd chosen her words carefully. Then she proceeded to respectfully challenge my thinking on what constituted a family. It was a wake up call I desperately needed. I knew I was a good dad. I knew I was a better me than I had been in years. What I didn't know was that I had an opportunity to build even stronger bonds with my two boys--family bonds--if only I could see it.

I see it now. My family isn't gone. It's changed just like everything changes. Nothing is permanent. The Rocky Mountains in which I find my peace, and that I bring my boys to for their benefit and mine, aren't permanent. They're in a constant state of growth and erosion, and for some reason I find comfort in that.

I'm starting to find comfort in the fact that we're a family of three now, my two sons and me, and we have before us the opportunity to change and grow as a family. Thank you for helping me see, S.

C-Level Cirque
Skyline Luge at the Winsport Olympic Park
Upper Kananaskis Lake
Corri-Robb Trail
Fullerton Loop
Tubing at Lake Louise
Kula Kai Caverns, Hawaii
Pocaterra Cirque
Pocaterra Cirque
Ptarmigan Cirque
Boulder Field on Little Lougheed


  1. You have a great family! Well written Ken. One of the most healing realizations after my marriage ended was that my family was not broken, it was whole and perfect with the 3 of us.

    1. Thanks Deirdre! The realization that my family of 3 is perfect and exactly how it needs to be has lifted a dark cloud from my heart.

  2. Great post! I'm sure the future is bright for your family. Good for you for raising your sons in the great outdoors.

    1. Thanks Tami! I just got back from guiding "violent" young offenders in the mountains for four days. What an amazing experience. Among other insights and realizations I had was just how lucky I am to have my family and how bright our future really is.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...