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Adventures for Men: the Benefits of Father Son Adventures

Father son playing on the walls of The Garrison, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Time for Some Father Son Bonding?

Calling all dads; how often do you spend time with your sons? I mean actual, one on one father son experiences, without the distractions of phones and work and the other half of the family? If you haven’t experienced father and son bonding yet, you might want to think about doing some. Because family time is fleeting and before you know it they will have grown up and departed and those tween and teen years will just be memories. In this post we explore adventures for men, the benefits of father son activities and why parent teen bonding experiences really matter….     

Stuart and kids getting on train

Father son adventures on the train

One on one parent teen time sounds good, right?

Imagine you are lying on a beach as the sun sets. The only roof over your head is a constellation. The only company is your son. And you are talking. Really talking. No pointless chit chat. No arguments. No phones. No texts. No slamming doors. No siblings demanding attention or office colleagues demanding time and energy. Just calm, relaxed, one to one bonding. Does that sound good?

Of course it does. It’s how it is meant to be. It’s how it used to be; in the days when sons spent their leisure time with their fathers, worked with them on family businesses or, further back in time, accompanied them when they went hunter-gathering.

Rock sculptures on the beach on St Mary's Isles of Scilly

Don’t rely on towers without foundations; being alone together helps build strong bonds

Why build father son bonds?

Deep connections happen when family members spend time together. Nature provides a space for father son bonding, something that gets lost in the flurry of modern living. If you have a son, you have probably heard of Steve Biddulph’s book ‘Raising Boys’, which encourages parents to let boys be boys, and indulge in physical play. He also has a theory that the later years are really important for male bonding, whereas up until the age of about seven, the mother is key to a child’s growth and security. From seven onwards it’s the Dad stage.

Boys spoiling for a fight at Rhuddlan Castle Medieval Reenactment

Boys need to be physical and spend time with role models from 7 up

Increased respect and understanding

Charles Lyster runs Wild Journey sailing trips for families and has run several sailing trips specifically for lads and dads. He believes time together is essential and made sure he built it into his own family life, sharing childcare with his wife. He got to know his son properly in the outdoors on hiking, sailing and shooting trips. This strengthened their relationship immeasurably and they still do things together today. His desire to help foster father son relationships in others followed the death of his own father, who he’d have liked to know better. “I’d love to know more about his decisions and regrets, what he would have done differently and what he was pleased he did.”

He vividly recalls a day when he got his dad to himself, without his two brothers being present. “I was about ten and I loved collecting fossils and he took me off to a chalk quarry. It was the only place where there was some exposed rock, and there weren’t any fossils, but I could take you through that day hour by hour because it was so precious.”

Climbing on Tresco near the Ruin Bay Beach Cafe

Adventures for men; find that exposed rock and climb it together

A safe space without rivals

Charles believes the adventures or outdoor courses need to be one father and one son. If you have two sons then sorry Dads but you’ll need to go twice. “The whole one-to-one thing is so powerful, and there’s a potential for rivalry if two sons are present.”

Father and Son, On the Beach, Southland, New Zealand

Father and Son, Southland, New Zealand. Only one at a time please!

Intense time together

Gareth Thomas runs Woodmatters, a Lake District company teaching green woodwork and bushcraft courses. He also remembers fondly the time spent with his own father, a biology teacher who grew up on a farm in Wales and cared deeply about the countryside and wildlife.

“Days spent out walking with Dad were really influential. He was a very gentle man and relatively quiet,” says Gareth, “but nevertheless I think the experiences I had with him had an intensity to them because he was always looking at what was going on, he was always spotting plants and insects and trees and he could name them. I think it was largely because of that I got such an interest in the natural world.”

In turn Gareth and his wife Ro passed this knowledge and love of the outdoors on to their own son and daughter almost accidentally. “We are doing what we enjoy doing and they come along. And because of who we are we tend to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. I think the children have picked up a lot of that, and I think by default we’ve ended up having quite similar experiences. And sometimes I think ‘Ooh I remember doing this with Dad.’ I’ve become more aware of that in the last year. I’d say that there’s a duplication, a bit of an echo actually. That’s probably a good word for it- an echo to my own experiences. It feels like there’s a daily relevance to Dad.”

Feeding the animals at campsite in New Zealand

Create time and space to bond…and feed goats on father son trips

A golden circle

Gareth and his son Orin do a lot of wildlife photography together. “He’s really into it and that’s quite a nice circle because Dad was also a very keen photographer. It seems Orin is combining a part of me with a part of my dad who he never met. We are out a lot with the cameras, looking for trails where we can set up trail cameras and nest box cameras.”

Now Orin is 11 Gareth hopes to increase one on one time with his son. “We’re about to do three days cycling together just he and I. But that’s rare actually; usually it’s the four of us. I think as he’s getting a bit older it feels like we are going to start doing more of that, having slightly harder slightly tougher adventures that my daughter isn’t really up for. Because he is quite physical and he likes the challenge. We are often just in the woods, there’s a lot of exploring goes on really.”

One easy way to increase bonds and familiarity is to book onto the kind of courses Charles and Gareth run, where you are taught skills and challenged together in a controlled and safe environment. Gareth says fathers and sons often book onto his family camps together and have a positive experience. “They’ll be mixed in with other family groups. It gives space for fathers and sons to bond a wee bit and get time together without distractions. They are all in the same pot, having to make a shelter, eat around the campfire, explore the same woodlands and make their own stuff.” He says adults and children enjoy the level playing field of being equally out of their comfort zone.

Glacier Boys with Ice Axes

Boy, glacier and ice axe. An ideal father son activity.

Time out from lists and screens

Families often value the absence of ‘to do’ lists and screens when they adventure together on an outdoor course, says Gareth, who teaches an intriguing mix of Scandinavian shrink pot carving, spoon carving, shave horse making, bench stool and bowl carving as well as bushcraft family camps. It is pure time out, which many families don’t often get.

“Sometimes you have to got to make an effort to ring fence that time to make it happen. You can go day to day and week to week and before you know it months have gone by and actually you’ve just followed the same routine. But if you say “Right we are going to put a date to it, and give up a weekend or holiday or whatever to do something a bit different” then it happens.”

Setting up camp while cycle touring with toddlers

If you do it right, adventures in the outdoors will grow your boys into men

A shared memory bank

Both Charles and Gareth agree that a booking onto an outdoor course or simply spending time together in nature creates memories; shared family memories that everyone can relate to at different points in life’s journey. “Families have that in all sorts of ways,” says Gareth, “but we help families experience the natural world together. On the camps they talk about this idea of being in a bubble. They are only in the woods for two days and feel a bit shocked at coming out.”

Father and son adventures on Vancouver Island

Father and son adventures having fun and making memories on Vancouver Island

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

8 Comments

  • Why wasn’t this available when I was raising my three sons, 15 years ago? Ha! Great, great experience for father’s and sons! Thank you kindly for sharing this tremendous post!
    Mike (Nomadic Texan)

  • I am already in love with the Lady of Avenel. But my son is only seven… But I also have objections: One, I also have a daughter, and I do not strive for an exclusive relationship with either of them, I try my hardest to avoid that. Two, I find those gendered role models ancient, my daughter has a Swiss army knife, too. Three, I find twelve a bit late for a strategy to not let problems get into the way in the first place, while I also admit that I didn’t get closer to my father before that age either.Altogether: Yes, if I had an only child, I might think differently about it, but as it is, the idea doesn’t work for me.

    • You make a fair point and I too speak as the father of a son and a daughter. I love them both dearly and like you, I don’t want an exclusive relationship with either of them, but the relationship with each is special and different. The purpose of this project isn’t to exclude girls, it is designed to offer something particular for boys which is missing for many. Boys and girls do develop differently and this is increasingly recognised in a fully modern sense in education and in writing on child development and parenting. I was determined that my daughter would have every opportunity and encouragement to learn skills and gain interests which in former times were seen as a male preserve (and she has) but I have also had to accept that she and her brother are startlingly and delightfully different and not impose on them my own notions of how they should be.

      We are offering this programme because we percieve a need and because it is something we can do, just as others are skilled in providing womens’ courses. The age range is chosen partly because of what is known about stages of development and partly because this is an adventure too demanding for young children. We are encouraged by the fact that we have typically had an enthusiastic response from mothers. We hope to be offering programmes for adult sons and their fathers next year and also men’s programmes in the future. I don’t know whether you have read Biddulph’s books ‘Raising Boys’ and ‘Raising Girls’ but I strongly recommend them both.

  • So great!!! I’d love my husband to try this experience with our little toddler who is, actually 3… We’re lucky, as my husband is very close and strictly engaged in Federico’s growth and education, and we’d love to promote this kind of activity as well here in Italy, as generally speaking men are less involved…
    well done!

  • This a great article and a great adventure. I’m looking forward to taking this voyage with my son Daniel and hoping to find lots more father and son oriented adventures to publish through my little club. You can google for us at the Lads and Dads Club 🙂

    Good luck Charles

  • What a fantastic idea… (makes note of it for a few years time for my husband and son)… Love the images too, they are truly glorious!

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