A few weeks ago, Dave and I loaded up his VW Bus and hit the road for a stirring expedition into the untamed wilderness of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. On a mountain high above Colorado Springs, some top-notch men were putting on a non-conference, non-retreat specifically for foster and adoptive dads called Road Trip. Typically I wouldn’t be the type to attend an event like this, as I’m a former youth pastor and I have a severe case of Christian gathering fatigue. However, I had heard Mike Berry from Confessions of an Adoptive Parent insist that it’s not like your typical men’s retreat or Jesus conference, so my interest was piqued. At the very least, I figured I would get to spend a few days in the mountains away from my normal life and responsibilities.
So I suggested it to Dave, he thought it was a great idea, and off we went. The event started on Wednesday, but we decided to leave Tuesday and camp out on a mountain in his VW Bus. It snowed the day we arrived, so the scenery was mesmerizing, and that’s coming from a guy who hates snow! We drank beer, made silly jokes, ate dinners that were cooked on Dave’s muffler, and one of us may or may not have caught fire before we went to sleep in the heated Bus. The next day, after eating breakfast burritos and hiking, we arrived at Bear Trap Ranch, the host site for Road Trip, which was just a few miles down the mountain road from where we had camped the night before.
I’m not going to tell the whole story of what happened at Road Trip, because that would be a sprawling article and wouldn’t do justice to the event. I’ll share a few highlights in a bit, but first I’ll explain Road Trip for the unfamiliar.
From what I gather, the basic philosophy behind it is that if you put a bunch of men with similar experiences up on a mountain together for a few days, good things will happen. Thus, the schedule for Road Trip is very loose. There’s breakfast (and a short, but powerfully-punching talk), then free time (with options to hike, fish, hang out with others, hang out by yourself, go to a local attraction, sleep, or whatever you want to do), then lunch, then free time (with the same options as before, as well as visiting local breweries), then dinner (and another short, but powerfully-punching talk), then a campfire, then whatever you want to do, then sleep (which one can do as long as he’s not sharing a room with Dave, whose snores are reminiscent of a 747). And that’s basically it. Like I said, loose, but delightfully so.
Okay, now that I’ve given you a very brief description of Road Trip, I’ll now present the highlights of the event and why I think this is something you should make time for next year. Here we go!
Mountains. I’d been to Colorado several times prior to Road Trip, but not since I was a kid, and as a child I didn’t appreciate things like nature. As an adult, however, I suppose my reaction to being surrounded by mountains can be eloquently summed up like this: holy shit. I felt infinitesimally small, although not in a way that conjured feelings of insignificance, but rather in a way that revealed the looming bigness of a world where my tiny existence is still somehow of tremendous value. In spiritual verbiage, the God who fashioned these enormous mountain-brothers of mine with the ease of a single brushstroke across a canvas still finds my paltry life worth considering.
Unplugging. There’s no cell phone service or Wi-Fi at Bear Trap Ranch, which was both stressful and liberating. It was stressful because my wife was home alone with our son for a week and if there was some sort of emergency there would be no way of her contacting me quickly. It was liberating because I could truly escape from the constant accessibility to me that people have due to my cell phone. The ability to spend several days without worrying about text messages, phone calls, and emails was amazing, and thankfully there were no emergencies at home while I was gone.
Unconventional, yet relevant, parenting advice. During his first talk, Jason, the man who spoke at Road Trip, informed us that he wouldn’t be using typical evangelical Christian resources (such as the works of Dr. James Dobson) as his source material. While I managed to restrain myself, I wanted to leap to my feet and burst into uproarious applause when he said that. If you’re raising a child who is in foster care or or who is adopted, then odds are you’ve found that traditional methods of parenting just don’t work, and you’re sick of well-meaning asking if you’ve ever read The Strong-Willed Child or Parenting with Love and Logic. This wasn’t the case at Road Trip. Jason primarily used Jesus as our model for fatherhood, which, strangely, is a fresh, new, unheard-of paradigm for parenting in Christian circles. He also drew from sources that were decidedly not Christian, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, a student of Zen Buddhism. To protect the integrity of the event I won’t go into what Jason taught, but suffice it to say that the perspective he brought was a highly welcome divergence from the norm.
No John Eldredge references. Well, to be fair, I suppose there was one, but it was from Jason, who echoed what I and many other men believe about John Eldredge’s work on masculinity: that’s it’s myopic, prescriptive, un-Christlike, and incongruous with so many of our experiences. I mean, when your thesis is “there’s no one way to be a man, but all men are this way,” you know you’ve made a miscalculation along the way. So anyway, it was just nice to be at a men’s event where Wild at Heart wasn’t quoted ad nauseam.
Hiking. I’ve written a couple of times about my love for hiking, and Bear Trap Ranch is situated in an area surrounded by gorgeous and somewhat challenging hiking trails that lead to stunning views. We posted some pictures the other day, but those really can’t do justice to the experience of being there, on top of a mountain, above the clouds, staring out into the vastness of our world with the chilling awareness that a single misstep could result in a devastating fall.
People who get it. At Road Trip, I could talk about my son’s extreme behavior and not have people look at me like I had just admitted to being in a witches’ coven. The other guys I met there may not have dealt with the exact same things I’m dealing with, but they understood more than the average man on the street. Being foster/adoptive dads is so bizarre and it’s hard to find people who can hear our struggle, look us in the eye, and say, “I get it.” Road Trip was a crucial reminder that I may be crazy, but I’m not the only one. I’m not alone in this, even when it feels like there isn’t another human on the planet who understands.
Prepared meals. My wife does most of the meal preparation in our family so I feel a little silly even mentioning this, but one great thing about Road Trip is that all meals were provided by the Ranch, and so there was no need to worry about who was cooking or what to make or whether we can afford to grab something from out. You just show up when you’re told to and you eat.
Stories. I loved hearing the stories of other foster/adoptive dads, whether their stories were similar to mine or completely different. Even though I was meeting these men for the first time, the fact that we had mostly shared experiences, lifestyles, and vocabulary made the jump from “hello, my name is” to “this is my story” much more comfortable. And while men stereotypically struggle with vulnerability, the courage to open up and share our pains, fears, and weaknesses was nearly contagious. Maybe it was the mountain air. I’ve never been known for my vulnerability, but I still managed to get up in front of all eighty or so men there and share some of my own emotional (and profanity-laced) thoughts. It was incredibly difficult, but I’m so glad I did it because opening myself up like that allowed me to be loved by people who get it.
I assume that the brilliance of the preceding paragraphs was more than enough to convince you that Road Trip 2019 is an absolute must for you. Since that is invariably the case, you need to click here to find out information for next year’s dates, see a kickass promo video that was filmed at this year’s event*, and sign up for an email list to receive updates about when registration opens. Seriously, guys, missing Road Trip would be a terribly asinine thing to do, so just don’t miss it.
*At the 1:21 mark you can see me awkwardly holding a beer thinking that a picture was being taken when, in fact, it was a video.