The Challenges of Parenthood: A new Father’s perspective

When I first told people I was going to be a father, most people’s initial reaction was to tell me how “you’re life is going to change.”  Some people even told me that my old life was “over.” For a climber and professional mountain guide this is a tough notion to grasp.  I won’t lie, I loved my life prior to parenthood, and the thought of it going away was so disheartening that I denied my wife’s pregnancy for quite some time.  Denial is an incredibly effective strategy and despite watching my wife’s tummy grow for nine months, I sat in the delivery room, amidst the chaos, still not totally convinced that I was going to leave the room as a new Dad and then, Olivia arrived.One thing I remember vividly from the birth was the look of bliss on my wife’s face, and the thought in my mind: okay, what now!?

Well, after two months, I may not be an authority on parenting, but I
will tell you that climbing and dealing with a new baby are more compatible than one may think…  In fact, after
extensive research, I will even say that climbers and skiers have a distinct advantage over other parents in handling the challenges of a new baby.  The three biggest complaints I heard from new parents was: the lack of sleep, changing diapers and dealing with the crying.  These are things that climbers and skiers are well trained to handle and it is just a matter of adjusting to a new context.

Every parent I have talked to complains about the lack of sleep, but when was the last time your climbing buddy returned from their Alpine trip and whined about getting up at 2am?  In the climbing world, this is simply known as is the “Alpine start.” While most people are in bed sleeping peacefully, many of us are up with our headlamps, downing espressos and setting off for the day’s adventure.  That may be heading to Long’s peak, Rainier, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn or you name it, but year round, mountain enthusiasts are up well before the general public, doing what they love.  The name “dawn patrol” didn’t come about from people leaving the car at 9am.  So, when your newborn starts crying at 2am for a little snack, make sure to have that
headlamp handy (we use it to have dim light in the room) and think about that trip up the Diamond later in the summer, leaving from the car at two has never sounded so easy!

The second biggest complaint I heard about parenting was about changing diapers.  Here, the skiing crowd has a distinct advantage, particularly the randonnee folks. Rather than dread the diaper change, it should be embraced more like a competition.  Think about a transition… you just broke trail up some slope to get fresh tracks and then some split-boarder just burned up your track planning to poach your descent.  Now you can sit there and fold your skins neatly, have a sip of hot tea and watch someone else reap the rewards of all your hard work trail breaking… I don’t think so, you rip those skins, stuff them down your jacket and light it up?  That’s the way to approach the diaper change: strip, fold and dispose!  When babies are going through 10-12 diapers a day think about how much free time this new approach will add up to…

Lastly, everyone hates crying.  Indeed it is a horrible feeling when your newborn continues to cry despite your best attempts at soothing them.  But no matter how easy your baby may be or how great a parent you are, accepting some amount of crying is simply part of the game.  Here again, climbers, particularly rock climbers, have an advantage.  If you’re not convinced just visit your local sport crag for an afternoon and you will witness: screaming, yelling, crying, shrieking, pouting and if you’re lucky, grunting!  Every belayer out there has dealt with a difficult leader at one time or another and dealing with a crying infant
is very similar.  First, do your best to sooth, to help, voice encouragement, shout beta, but at some point you just have to  ignore.  Luckily, after a nice crying fit, most newborns seem to fall asleep as if nothing happened unlike your climbing partner who will whine the whole ride home justifying why they couldn’t send.

There is no question that having children is full of challenges and maybe it should be approached like doing a big climb.You leave the trailhead before dawn full of optimism, but you can never be entirely sure what the outcome will be.It is easy to get stressed over all the uncertainties and the dangers, but you’ll enjoy the experience much more if you just take things step by step.  It’s not worth worrying about the summit only to miss the sunrise over the ridge. Over the past 18 years, I have stood on top of a lot of summits around the world, done some amazing climbs and skied some incredible snow, but little has compared to watching Olivia smile for the first time or stare back into my eyes.  So while I adjust to the changes of this new life I will continue just as I have with my mountain pursuits: with enthusiasm and excitement for the adventures that lie ahead.