I arose early Wednesday morning to make the long drive down from Breckenridge, Colorado where Kristin and I had been for a few days. I gingerly packed the last remaining items in my suitcase, and tip-toed to the door, so not to wake her up. 9500 feet above sea level meant we needed sleep each night. After moving quietly down the hall of our hotel, the brisk mountain air met me like a concrete wall. Frost had developed overnight so it took me a moment to clear the sparkling layer of ice from my windshield. I saw my breath in the air for the first time since last winter. It was cold. But my heart was warm.
I was heading down the mountain to pick up 6 of my friends at Denver International Airport for the very first Road Trip. Road Trip is a 3-day experience designed exclusively for foster and adoptive dads. There’s nothing like it in the world. And after the experience we had this past week, there may never be. It was authentic, raw, unscripted, and transformational. I’m only able to put words to Road Trip because I’m a writer. If not for that, this post would simply not exist in it’s current form. Yes, it was that amazing.
For years I dreamed of something like Road Trip. An experience uniquely designed for foster and adoptive dads. A space where we could be together, in refuge and authenticity. For the past couple of years I saw many retreats and events for foster and adoptive moms come across my Facebook feed and wondered where the experience for dads was. When I met Jason Kovacs, Andrew Schneidler, and Jason Morriss, I had finally found others who shared the same dream, and wondered the same thing.
We quickly agreed on one big principle: we didn’t want to create another conference or retreat. We all were conferenced and retreated out. Not that they’re bad, they’re just….common, and we’ve all been to them…. a lot! If we really wanted to create something that reached the depth we dreamed of reaching, it couldn’t look like anything else. So we decided on a few things…
- Create space that was safe no matter what, and no matter who.
- Make our time together way more free and open than scheduled.
- Start and foster conversations instead of teach.
No worship leader, no keynote speaker, no theater-style seating, no conference booklet with advertisements for organizations none of us had heard of or would remember after our time together ended. We had no idea what would happen. But, something big did. Something greater than any of us could have imagined. I learned so much about us dads. And the lessons I’ve walked away with are way beyond what I expected…
- The heart of a dad is deeper than you think. We’re often labeled as closed off, shut down, or superficial. The world has labeled us this way, and even illustrated it in movies and TV shows. To some extent, it’s true. We can be hard nuts to crack. I’ll be the first to admit that, about myself. But boy oh boy, let me tell you…that in no way means we have shallow hearts. What I had a front row seat to over the past few days was depth. I encountered men with deep hearts to love their families, love their spouses, and love the precious children they have been called to parent.
- Being with guys who get it is refreshing. My friend Mark, who attended the trip, said it best about his ride up the mountain with a fellow adoptive father- “It was nice to not have to explain myself when I shared parts of my story.” We all need people who get us. Fact is, most of the world doesn’t. The hurts, and realities we shared with one another have often been met with shock, or judgement from the outside world. Road Trip was a refuge for guys like us.
- Camaraderie is healing. None of us left the mountain with any of our problems solved, solutions to parenting a difficult child, or a fool-proof plan on how to better encounter the twists and turns of this crazy journey. Nope. We left on a path toward healing. That healing? Knowing there are other foster and adoptive dads, just like us, with the same fears, the same wounds, the same frustrations, and the same failures. Being together with other men, on the same journey as you, is healing.
- There is hope in the wreckage. We all quickly learned, not long after beginning the foster or adoptive journey, that it was hard. Not just hard, but downright defeating. The life we originally dreamed of is not the life we are now living. The beautiful vision of life we had built in our minds suddenly became wreckage as we realized how hard life is when you’re parenting a child from trauma. Often times (and I speak to myself here), you start to wish for that some day, when your problems disappear, or your kid gets their act together. “That’s when I’ll find hope,” you think to yourself. But the truth is, we may never escape the wreckage. We may always be hands on with our children. We must realize that hope exists in the middle of the wreckage, not in-spite of it. Jesus willingly walks into the s**tstorm of our life and journey, loves us unconditionally, and our beautiful children. He doesn’t mind the messy one bit. That’s hope!
- Vulnerability changes us. Something powerful happens when you open up, share your heart, share your fears, and share your frustrations in a safe place. You’re infused with hope. A special kind of power takes over. Everything you’re afraid of, suddenly doesn’t seem so fearful. You’re ready to face your biggest challenges. Vulnerability happened this past week in the mountains. It was so sacred that I can barely put it into words beyond this post. But I know this: More than 70 foster and adoptive dads are charging down the mountain to better love and serve their families than before.
I drove away from Road Trip on Saturday morning with a full heart. I almost couldn’t look in my rear-vision mirror as the camp disappeared from sight. I would’ve had to stop and wipe away tears. What happened there was sacred, it was transformational, it was healing beyond measure. One dad, who attended Road Trip, summed it up best with a post on Facebook….
I don’t think there is really a word to describe it. It wasn’t a conference, there were no lectures or speeches or classes. It wasn’t a retreat, we met our demons head on. This was a lot of hard work, bearing our souls and vulnerabilities to other foster and adoptive dads. Unloading our frustrations and fears and crisis on each other…and being lifted up and supported by each other. Emotional upheaval eased by fellowship and freedom. Release from the outside world if even for a few days. Exhaustion soothed by a hike in one of the most beautiful settings in the world or fishing for trout of amazing colors or even just the opportunity to lay down and take a nap. An atmosphere to tell each other all of the crazy things our kids do and we do and also the wonderful things our children accomplish (including stories that are locked and loaded for the first date they bring home 😆). This event provided all of us a network for emotional support that has never existed for most of us. Support that can’t be provided by those who haven’t lived it. I can’t relay the relief and release I felt to bear open my situation to find that several other men had been through or are going through the same or similar situations. The realization that I am not alone has lifted the world from my shoulders. Knowing that there is nothing that I can’t get through with my band of brothers.
Did you attend Road Trip? Did your husband? What did you learn (or discover)?