Paul Batura: Lay off Tom Brady – Jumping off a cliff with my son taught me about being a better dad

Critics pounced on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady earlier this week for a vacation video he posted featuring the future Hall of Famer jumping with his 6-year-old daughter off a small cliff into a pool of natural water in Costa Rica.

With the post going viral and the reaction escalating, some even suggested child welfare services should intervene and charge Brady with endangering his daughter’s life and well-being.

In all due respect, and however well-intentioned, give me a break.

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As a Denver Bronco’s fan, I’m no Tom Brady sycophant, but the outpouring of criticism heaped upon the near 42-year-old baller suggests that to some, adventurous parenting isn’t what it used to be.

Once upon a time, fathers (and mothers) would introduce their sons and daughters to all kinds of hair-raising excitement. From camping to hunting and fishing – and a myriad of sports and high wire adventures like flying small planes, not to mention other hobbies like car mechanics and even sailing and scuba diving. Parents and kids regularly partook in all kinds of innocent fun – including jumping off cliffs into water.

As a matter of fact, my son and I just returned from a terrific time inside the Ansel Adams Wilderness area outside Yosemite National Park. For the past 36 years, my employer, Focus on the Family, has been hosting fathers along with their sons and daughters for an annual 4-day backpacking trip in this beautiful pristine area of the country.

Parenting is an adventure in and of itself, a marvelous and humbling calling that will not only try your patience but also test your mettle.

The trip is not for the faint of heart. Every attendee is responsible for carrying their own gear, including food and other equipment. The packs are heavy – 50 plus pounds each – and the terrain is steep and slippery. Summit Adventures, the outfitter that helps facilitate everything, requires participants to sign medical waivers. We camp out under the stars. Drinking water is filtered but comes from the melted snow runoff roaring down the streams.

But the highlights of the trip are the risky adventures, including rock climbing, rappelling off high cliffs – and jumping off rocks into the extremely cold lake water.

Full confession – I was anxious about rappelling off a mountain and the thought of our 13-year-old son doing the same made me a bit nervous. But Riley was eager to do it and his bravery emboldened me.

Courage is like that – it’s a contagious quality, really. Tom Brady’s daughter was clearly anxious – but she trusted her father and she caught his confidence.

A week ago Saturday, I nervously followed Riley up the granite peaks, not only trusting our harnesses and safety ropes, but also the men responsible for guiding us over the edge.

Paul and his son, Riley, rappel down the mountain.

Paul and his son, Riley, rappel down the mountain. (Courtesy of the author)

When it was our turn to rappel, we went for it, slowly descending down nearly 300 feet to a narrow ledge, and 700 feet above the stream, whose roar echoed off the canyon walls.

Riley on the mountain.

Riley on the mountain. (Courtesy of the author)

There’s something exhilarating about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, finding your limits by reaching just beyond your usual grasp.

“If you never take risks, you’ll never accomplish great things,” the English writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once observed. “Everybody dies, but not everyone has lived.”

There’s a balance between dumb and healthy risks, of course, and the line might be slightly different for different people.

Paul with his son, Riley.

Paul with his son, Riley. (Courtesy of the author)

For example, due to high snowpack, Colorado rivers are running fast and high this summer, a reality that has claimed 12 lives in numerous drowning accidents. Because our boys are inexperienced rafters, I’d never take them on a trip down the river this year as we have in other years – but when the waters slow down, you can be sure we’ll be back.

Parenting is an adventure in and of itself, a marvelous and humbling calling that will not only try your patience but also test your mettle.

As Riley and I descended down our ropes, my friend Dale, who was supporting us from below, kept hollering up, reminding me to slow down and enjoy the view.

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There’s a rich metaphor inside that advice, and I suspect Tom Brady will one day look back at this much-ballyhooed video and wish Vivian hadn’t grown up so fast.

In the end, our jump reminded me of the importance of “more” as a dad – to take more calculated risks, spend more time with my son in this fleeting season of life – and be more willing to step outside my comfort zone – even if it puts me high up on a rocky mountain ledge.

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