Conquering Fear

April/12/2012 16:49PM
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My older daughter, her husband, and their five kids came to visit us in Arizona on spring break last week. They come every year for spring break. We love having them and try hard to entertain them so they will keep coming back. The kids range in age from 10 to 16. This week my younger daughter, her husband and their daughter, who just turned 6, are coming.

I organize the entertainment. Living in the Phoenix Metro area we have many options. This year we bought a segway. The three younger grand kids made hundreds of trips up and down my very steep driveway. One day the segway went to the desert and one would ride  it while the others hiked. We went to a Coyotes hockey game, we rode horses, we went to a Cubs spring training game, we went to the track and bet the horses, we almost hiked up Tom’s Thumb, and my only grand son, who’s 10, and I played nine holes of golf. There was lot’s of pool time and shooting hoops.

But every now and then the organizer(me) puts an item on the agenda that creates controversy.  This year it started out as zip lining. Everyone was all in for that. But, my zipline guy double-crossed me. He called with short notice and said the corporate guys had had booked the zip line and he had no choice but to give them priority. He said it was only a 400 foot zip line and it wasn’t very exciting for either kids or adults. But, he said, “I will give you an alternative that will take more than 5 minutes and will be exciting.” Rappelling, he said. Whoa, you want me to convince my daughter and son-in-law that they should let their kids go off a cliff backwards? Sure, he said, I do it with boy scouts all the time. Then he said, ” I even get the suits to go sometimes.” That really hurt being an ex-suit. So, I said, book it Danno.

Two years ago I got in trouble with this same daughter over four-wheelers. I rented three and took them all to the desert and introduced them to the fun of four-wheeling in the desert. Half-way through the afternoon a policeman came by and said, “no riding double, we had a fatality out here last week.” We weren’t riding double, but that didn’t make my daughter real happy. Nor, her mother, my wife, and biggest critic with some of my great ideas. One of the kids, the oldest, had a minor mishap that made it all even worse. She wasn’t hurt, but tipped the machine on a rock.  It took a year to get off the daughter’s bad list for the four- wheeling episode. But, every kid, when asked back at school what they did on spring break, cited the four wheeling first. Enough time had passed, maybe I could sell the rappelling.

So, we sat down and discussed it. The four adults, or the three adults and the old kid as my wife called it. My wife sailed right into me. Are you crazy? (probably) My daughter, calm, as always, asked lot’s of questions about the process and the guide. She reminded me that the four-wheeling guy passed out helmets and said have fun. No training or safety discussion. Was this going to be like that?  My son-in-law just said he didn’t like heights. After they beat me up for quite a long time I said, “If you want, I’ll call and cancel the rappelling, But, I firmly believe we all need to try to conquer our fears. If we never challenge ourselves with adventures that are safe but scary, we will always find it hard to do what seems threatening. It might be speaking before 2,000 people, it might be stepping in if we see and adult abusing a kid in public, it might be standing up to a bully, or any other scary thing. The younger we take on a scary challenge and succeed, the better the chances we can do it again when it counts.”

I guess I should be a motivational speaker, since we decided to keep the appointment. We got to the top of the drop area with a very difficult climb. As the guides were setting up the ropes, the kids were setting up the line-up. And, I’m thinking, I’m too old for this s*it, what have I done? I was glad they didn’t put me first in the line-up. Off the side went the oldest grand kid and one of the twins. Then the grand son and the second twin. Then me and my daughter. Finally, the son-in-law and the next-to-the oldest daughter. Several spectators had gathered to watch these fools go down this cliff. My wife, spectating in the shade with a Kindle, had to answer questions about what was happening.

Then, everyone did it a second time. Time ran out or we would have gone more. Everyone had conquered their fear and found rappelling to be safe and fun. Even if it looked really risky to those hikers walking past. Stepping backward off a sheer cliff when done with proper instruction and equipment can be very safe. Taking that first step can be terrifying.

      Did I do the right thing by making this adventure a part of the 2012 spring break? Ask my grand kids and they will say absolutely. It was an adventure they would find hard to do back in Illinois, something none of their friends will ever do, most likely, and it was so much fun. For me, it was a reminder that you never really conquer fear, you just learn to deal with it. Some never do and their lives are less rich for missing out on so much. Will it help them with their next big scary challenge in life? Ask my nephew, a world-class rock climber who has published two books on rock climbing in Taiwan. Well, you know his answer, why use ropes?

I’m working on next year already. Hmmm, white water rafting, maybe. I’ve done that before so I won’t have that same feeling I had on the top of the cliff this year.

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