Dan Estrada Through the Eyes of a Father

“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Through the Eyes of a Father

The opportunity to “adventure” in the forest under the guidance of a friend who is an expert woodsman presented itself to me on a Silver platter. I wasn’t going to let this slip away without some serious consideration. My name is Dan, I’m 42 years old. I’m a husband, a father and a firefighter paramedic by trade. I consider myself a pretty regular guy, “Murican” if you will. Growing up I had a good childhood, again, I thought it was a pretty normal middle class upbringing, but it was missing a couple of the components that a little boy needs to grow up to be a successful man. For instance, I should have turned off the TV and spent more time outdoors. We lived at the foothills in the Niles Canyon in Fremont, California. I always wondered what was in the hills and would think about that every time our family drove through the canyon on our travels. It was the spirit of adventure that I had in me from the time that I could remember that was never encouraged. I played plenty of sports growing up and as a firefighter we do cool things to help those in need and get to use pretty specialized equipment, but something was still missing. My dad was a hardworking man; he worked a lot of overtime and served the public. I believe the combination of the two was the perfect environment for a kid with wonder and questions to easily get pushed to the side while our family chased the American Dream. My father passed away at a young age, and it was clear to me that the opportunities to build memories, chase dreams and do adventures while being encouraged by my dad were gone. We made plans to go on an ocean fishing trip, but those plans never materialized and they died with my dad.

Now I’m a dad. I have the authority and the means to design the “perfect childhood” for our kids, or at least what I would have wanted when I was a kid. We live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Many times I have looked out our windows thinking “I’m living in the forest but I’m not connected to her”, “how can I teach our kids, when I don’t know how myself?”

I have been free diving, but it wasn’t until I went deeper, is when I felt the connection. Going beneath the surface, I went to a place that many others won’t or can’t or take the time to go. I felt the power of the water, the temperature, the plants and animals, the silence, the fear and the unknown. I was humbled and at peace, forced to search myself for what matters most. One may never know the gratitude of a single breath, until the need for that breath is brought to your attention.

Fast forward to the afternoon Emily and I were enroute to our first session with Brian and the group at the “Essentials” class. Of course we aren’t ready, running late, fighting with each other and pretty much doing all the things that would make the devil smile while he tried to stop a father and daughter from bonding. Emily was not feeling “The spirit of adventure.” Once we made it to the group, my initial thought was “man”, these guys know what they are doing. I’m just a newbie from the city trying to learn how to camp with my kid. But thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were greeted by Brian and a group of very positive folks, the hospitality was genuine. We arrived a little later in the afternoon and were instructed to make a shelter based on the materials that were on the list. This was a cool chance for me to get to show Emily some of my owns skills that I know from the job, which is not something my family gets to see. We selected a camp site together, Brian watched from a distance, like the wise older brother who wants you to do well, and knows that you will learn better from your own mistakes, but won’t let you crash and burn. We felt empowered and in no time flat, and in our minds, we had successfully constructed a state of the art shelter from a couple of tarps and some 550 cord. We were on our way to conquering the mountain!

I immediately noticed the changes in Emily. She was relaxed. There were no chores but lots to do, no homework but tons to learn, no cell phone to steal her attention, no TV to tell her what to think, or anything else that would distract her from her mission. I had seen my little girl build Lego houses many times, and I have seen her help with chores and have seen her at her very best loving and taking care of smaller kids, but this brought out something new in her. She was ADVENTURING!!! This experience didn’t belong to anyone else, it belonged to her. Today Emily was building her house. She built it the exact way she thought it should be, with her own equipment that she packed. She was about to go and eat the food that she chose and rest in her shelter. My little girl took extreme ownership and was becoming a highly effective member of our father daughter team!

Later that evening we sat around the campfire with the group and enjoyed friendly conversation. Our eyes adjusted to the light from the moon and stars and our ears adjusted to the sounds of the forest. Not a single siren, no loud mufflers or blaring music, just the peace to hear your own thoughts. Living in the mountains does not compare to what we experienced. By removing ourselves from the rat race, we experienced the forest on a deeper level. The forest didn’t seem to be concerned with time, smart phones, and politics or the economy, she just watched over us and provided for us much like the Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree.” This was the “Reset Button” that we had been searching for. We as a family try to go on as many fun trips that we can afford, but this was different, less is more could never be more true!

The night was cold but we learned valuable lessons. We quickly learned to appreciation the little things in life, mostly because its what we needed at the time. These were things we tend to walk past every day and take for granted. For example, shelter, fire, a warm cozy bed, warm clothes in our closets and a full night’s sleep! Our selection of a camp site was less than ideal but it was excellent for teaching us important wilderness survival skills. In the morning we were tired but we survived. Brian listened to our story and with the grace and concern of a wise elder of a tribe. He walked us over to show us our shortcomings and took the time to equip us with knowledge to improve our skill set for next time. We learn about topography, weather, shelter building, equipment and fine tuning of skills for survival. We also gained a great deal of confidence in knowing what we were able to endure and exceed our own expectations!

Overall, I would highly recommend this training to anyone on their journey of getting to the next level, whatever that may be. Brian not only teaches survival skills, but you will also be in beautiful environments, find peace and make new friends. All done under the wing of a well-rounded educator who guides with kindness, experience and wisdom. Expect to walk away a changed person. The change is based entirely on what will bring you on this journey, whatever the prize is that you are seeking don’t be surprised when you find it. We were asked to share three things that we were grateful for. What immediately stood out in my mind, was the heritage that Brian was sharing with us. That I would one day be passing down to my family. One day she will look back at this experience and I hope it will bring a smile to her face and warm her heart wherever she may find herself on her own journey. Until then I’m going to keep raising the bar for the boy that one day she will choose to be her husband. And for that, I give my gratitude for this opportunity and look forward to many more adventures in the future!! From the heart of a father!


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