A Soldier and His Daughter
For army-dad Jim Downey having a baby daughter made him wonder how he is going to relate to a girl. But, being an outdoor ‘nut’ he just decided to take her along. This is how it went.
Becoming a parent was quite a shock for me, not because it wasn’t planned or anything, just that there was no substantial owners manual or instruction booklet. No amount of reading books or discussion at ante-natal classes or being harrassed by other parenting “experts ” really prepared me for what was to arrive.
And then it did arrive :6.13 lb beautiful amazing baby girl. Thoughts of how was I going to relate with a girl suddenly rushed through my mind. Being in the NZ Army had turned me into an outdoors pursuits nut participating in everything with a “ing” at the end . From abseiling through to yachting . Playing war games, building tree houses, tramping , hunting and going fishing seemed perfectly normal with a boy but initially seemed incongruous with a girl. This “thought “ didn’t go down too well with my wife either, sometimes it does pay to internalise your “thoughts” and keep things to yourself.
Due to a rough beginning with ailments like difficult pregnancy, lactose intolerance, non-breast feeding, continuous ear infections ( requiring crommets) post natal depression , very little family support and even being sent to Bosnia for four months made life a challenge. This load spread between two parents was tough enough- I truly question the wisdom of single people choosing to raise children on their own.( it does takes a village to raise a child)Good parenting is hard work and i believe that team work is crucial to its success .” It takes two baby”.
My wife and I quickly realised that babies are like a sponge and when they weren’t sleeping , they were learning. So our girl had read her first book by about three and a half. By six she had a reading age of 13. As mum is a teacher, obviously our girls brains came from her side of the family. As our daughter has grown I have always been proactive in her immersion into many outdoor experiences like abseiling, kayaking, tramping, bush craft, swimming and camping . I think its important to have a well rounded child, not purely academic or purely sporting. The idea of putting all of your eggs into one basket ( ie just sports) does not benefit the child or the community in the end.
My desire to get our girl into kayaking began at an early age when at 18 months we started taking her on small trips in our double sea kayak. She would sit in the rear hatch on a specially made seat so she could come along for the ride. And yes she was wearing a life jacket and I had assessed the risks. As a sea kayak instructor I consider safety paramount. In the years to follow she has done many small trips and now at 12 comes away with our kayak club to exotic destinations like Marlborough Sounds and local Wellington coastal areas. She loves the camping, fishing, night paddling, water fights and doesn’t seem to care if it gets a bit rough. Playing around in the surf also seems to appeal.
Our relationship is very strong and I think will continue through her teenage years when often children appear to require less contact with their parents, tending to be more independent.
My wife believes any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a daddy.
Kayaking has always been my Dad’s hobby and over the years, it became mine too. When I was little I would sit in the back hatch of the kayak while my dad was paddling, so kayaking came naturally to me. He always wanted me to be good at kayaking because he didn’t want me to be scared of the water.
When I was big enough to get my own kayak, I would tag along to some of the courses Dad ran and learn from what he was saying, just so I could improve my skills. My Dad and I get along really well together. We enjoy being with each other. Kayaking has created a bond between us – it has always been a thing that we do together. It gives us something in common.
At Easter we went kayak fishing at Titahi Bay and I caught the first good sized schnapper, much to Dads disappointment. Luckily for him he caught one 15 minutes later. So far I have kayaked around some really beautiful places like Marlborough Sounds, Coromandel, Lake Taupo, and Waikato River (up to Huka falls) and of course many great places around Wellington.
I’m looking forward to doing more paddling with Dad and when he gets too old – I just might stick him in the back hatch and paddle him around!
Next: 10 Years