Tough Love

Outside's best writers share their thoughts on fatherhood and nature-bonding with Dad.

May 9, 2011
Outside Magazine
Outside's Guide to Fatherhood

Six steps to instill a passion for the outdoors in your next generation

The Active Family Guide

Make travel, adventure, and fitness a part of your family's everyday life

Steven Rinella and family

Rinella (with salmon), his brother Matt, and their father on Lake Michigan

I became a father in May 2010 with the birth of my son, Jim. Like many fathers before me, holding my boy in my arms brought back memories of my own dad. When my father decided to instill in my two brothers and me his love for the outdoors—a love that he developed during a two-year camping trip in Europe known as World War II—he did so with an intract­ability that you might get from cross-breeding a drill sergeant with Timothy Treadwell.

He made me prove I could swim by throwing me off a dock. If we went camping and used a tarp to get out of the rain, the next morning would bring an hours-long seminar on drying and folding tarps in the precise fashion normally associated with flag ceremonies. One time, we built an ice-fishing shanty on the lake in front of our house. When it got stuck in the snow and ice, my brothers and I weren't allowed to come inside until we freed it up. By then I had frostnipped fingers. I was six years old.

My father died in 2002, and since then my brothers and I have hashed out over dozens of campfires how he affected us. My feelings have ranged from anger that he could never just let us enjoy the outdoors to incomprehension about why he did what he did. Now that I've brought my own son into the world, I'm beginning to at least understand his motivations. He didn't want to raise a thin-skinned softy who couldn't handle hardship and who didn't respect the value of his equipment.

In the end, my father's approach worked. My brothers and I can survive in Alaska's backcountry for extended periods; we know how to fix things; we can handle the cold. But I'm hoping to find a way to impart that knowledge to Jim with more patience and less danger, and to create a future that we can remember with fondness. Plus, a little hot chocolate never hurt anyone when frostbite is about to set in.

Correspondent Steven Rinella is an author and the host of the Travel Channel series The Wild Within.

Filed To: Outdoor Skills