The Trail to Fatherhood

It's good to get your bearings.

Pssst — please google connect with me. Surely there are more than 8 of you out here. I’m gonna have to take that damn thing down unless a few more of your help a brother out.

Just because I spent the first weekend of October away from my family doesn’t mean that they weren’t on my mind. For I was on my annual Appalachian Trail trip. And whenever I’m backpacking, my thoughts are frequently with them.

In many ways, my time on “the Trail” serves as an excellent parenting metaphor. After all, it’s difficult. It takes lots of preparation. There are many ups and downs. It can often be thankless. Yet it’s also impossibly rewarding. And, at times, it seems never-ending.

On Sunday, as we inched closer to our awaiting car, I finally acknowledged what I hadn’t dared to in the previous two days — our trip was an utter success. Never before had one gone so smoothly. I think it had to do with our preparation. We were more organized than ever.

Take, for example, my “bag” system. There were five of them. The green one was my “utility” bag — rope, batteries, GPS, Flip video, fire-starters, lighter, duct tape, cell phone, and head lamp. The blue one was my “water bag” — water purification tablets, toothpaste, toothbrush, camping soap, aspirin, wipes, hand sanitizer, vaseline, aspirin, and first aid kit. I stuffed both of those bags inside a larger gray bag which also contained a towel, a backpack cover, and an ankle brace (just in case).

This important gray bag was at the very top of my pack which allowed me to access it in an instant’s notice. Beneath it lay my two other bags. Well, one of them was not a bag at all, but rather all of my clothing which was bundled up neatly by my light-weight Arcteryx wind/water shell. The other bag contained my food as well as my camping stove and fuel. Aside from my 20 degree Mountain Hardware sleeping bag (housed in the lower compartment of my backpack) and tent (strapped to the outside of my backpack), those highly compartmentalized bags were all I needed.

A mile or so from the car, it dawned on me. If only I could organize the tools I need as a parent as well as I had organized my backpacking tools, surely parenting would go smoother than ever before, too. This thought filled me with great hope, if not pride, as I imagined a day in the not-so-distant future when temper tantrums would cease to exist.

Why? Because I’d simply take off my backpack of fatherhood and pull out the gray bag. Inside it, my blue bag would be readily available. And inside it would lay reason, empathy and compassion. I’d pull out equal amounts of all three and intercept the would-be tantrum by communicating with my child like never before. He or she would look at me with a perfect mixture of awe and love before happily skipping off toward a pocket of unparalleled and serene happiness made possible only by my sage-like wisdom. Well, that and my sick-ass parent-tool organization, I suppose.

On the drive back home, I smiled from ear to ear as I envisioned the reception I was sure to receive. Lovie, Pookie, and the triplets would welcome home their virile Viking — the one who had summoned up the preposterous amounts of fortitude needed to brave the elements and conquer the wild — the one who had returned home not only in tact, but also armed with indispensable parenting knowledge he was astute enough to glean along the rugged way.

Honestly? I was half expecting a trophy.

And I got one. For as soon as I broke the threshold Lovie handed me a vertical figurine.

My trophy.

“What the hell is this?” I asked loudly to compete with the meltdown my arrival had interrupted

“A plunger,” answered Lovie equally as loud. “The triplets’ toilet is clogged. I need you to unclog it.”

None too pleased, I made my way up yet another incline — the stairs — my right hand ahold of the trophy. (If only it were my hiking stick.) Hey, not a problem, I thought. I’ll just open the gray bag, and then pull out the green one. For in it, I’m sure to find the patience I’ll need to get through this.

As ripe as I was from having been in the woods for three days, I was no match for the deplorable situation that awaited. The water in the bowl of the toilet was littered with an epic amount of toilet paper and was, for lack of a better description, a light shade of soupy brown. I would later find out that it had been, um, incubating for two days.

After 30 seconds of what can best be described as extreme plunging, I.. dry heaved (literally). But that was all I had accomplished. The clog remained. By this time, Monster had scurried up and was overseeing my plunging efforts. Unbeknownst to me, he must have engaged in one of his favorite pastimes — flushing. Or so I gathered when he ran out of the bathroom giggling just as the soupy brown mess began to rise.

Lucky for me, I pulled out some quick thinking (I keep it in the blue bag — which, after all, is my water bag) and immediately reached down to turn off the toilet’s water source so it wouldn’t overflow.

The handle broke off in my hand.

Undeterred, I lifted up the porcelain lid to the back of the commode and jimmied the ball upright so as to trick the tank into thinking it was full, thus stopping the flow of water. (See? Quick thinking.) But it was too late. For by then, the bathroom was covered in a quarter inch of the foulest of water that not even a year’s supply of my purification tablets could remedy.

It was at this time when Monster decided to come check on me again, heading my way via his signature hobbly, bouncy-hop, running deal, his eyes wide with excitement, his mouth slightly agape. “Monster, No!” I yelled as he drew closer, but it was to no avail. Into the bathroom he came, and as he did, he lost his footing on the slimy sludge and quickly resembled a cartoon character after a banana-peel-encounter — his body slipping out from under him, at one point a full twelve inches above the ground, perfectly parallel, mind you, before descending and ultimately landing with a splat on his back in the murky fecal water.

Sadly, my friends, I have nothing inside any of my parenting bags for such a scenario. And what’s more, no amount of organization could ever change that.

The next day, the plumber found the original cause of the problem. The triplets had flushed a pair of Peanut’s shorts down the toilet. They were pink.

We think.

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About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • Anonymous

    Uh, EEEW?

    And, BTW, there are NINE of us out here.
    (Did you just put that up? Because I think you did, otherwise I would’ve clicked it already.)

    • Anonymous

      yes, my dear. i did just put that up. hope you’re surviving the wind. we had a tornado touch down in the center part of the state.

  • Kevin M. Roy

    Pink shorts flushed down the toilet: that’s priceless. Great Post!

  • Juli Westgate

    You’re up to 11! I liked the old blog format much more(sorry). This new one makes me feel like I am reading an online news paper and kind of takes that “personal-ness” away (yes, I just invented that word). Did you have a lot of followers then and they all were erased? I do find the “I HAVE LIKE ZERO FRIENDS” a bit off-putting. But I do enjoy your writing and will continue to follow.

    • Anonymous

      juli — while this blog format is light-years better than the old one in most ways, i do understand your point, and, in fact, have even been considering tweaking it a bit. i’ve not been posting as often as i once did, in part due to other writing commitments. but, from a numbers standpoint, i actually have the same amount of hits now as i did w/ the old format. in fact, i actually average way more per post (since i’m posting less). BUT, i am getting fewer comments, and i think part of the reason might be in whatever it is that sorta turns you off about the new look.

      w/ regard to your google follower question — the answer is no. the old blog format would not permit such widgets (just one of the may examples of why this template is actually a much better one), so i’ve never had it, which is a shame b/c usually things like “google friend connect” gets populated as you build a readership. (or at least that’s my understanding).

      I HAVE LIKE ZERO FRIENDS, off-putting, huh? well guess what? i’ll change it!

      i really, really appreciate your feedback, juli!

      • Juli Westgate

        Thanks for shedding light on the blog formatting issues. I really am not very tech savvy when it comes to setting up a blog (mine looks like the handiwork of a 7 year old with ADD…please, no one take offense if you are reading this. I sincerely have adult ADD and if I can joke about it…), so I look forward to the tweaking and the posts which time allow. And thanks for getting rid of the IHLZF. I could not imagine you not having loads of friends in your personal life as well as the many you clearly have in front of their computers.

  • Stephanie Byerly

    One word – UGH!!! (Wait, is that even a word or just a sound!?!?) Either way…UGH!

    • Anonymous

      Stephanie — it is MOST CERTAINLY a word. it was truly awful. i’m surprised i didn’t hurl.

  • beta dad

    Great post, buddy! I honestly ell-oh-elled. Sorry your quick thinking on the plumbing emergency was to no avail. Those damn supply valves are so cheap they only work for about a year.

    First off, I’m envious of your AT trip. I’ve hiked many sections of it when I lived in VA, but never got a chance to do multi-day trips. I have friends who have hiked the whole damn thing. So cool.

    Secondly, I loved the backpack metaphor. I’ve thought about using my toolbelt (“nailbags” in carpenter speak) for parenting, but not even in a metaphorical sense. Just stuffing the pouches and loops with bottles, diapers, wipes, snacks, etc. etc. When I’m building stuff, I never have to think about where my tools are. I can find them instantly, even in total darkness if necessary. Hmm…sounds like a metaphor emerging after all. I might just rip off your idea for a post of my own. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      @BD — i love the trail. this was a short trip — just 30 miles in 3 days. last year was 80 or so in 5. and i also love metaphors. one of my favorite posts that i’ve written was just put up on GMP and it was called the trail. it was essentially a long metaphor, only revealing itself, however, at the end.

      and the tool belt / parent tool belt is an outstanding idea.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    That’s hilarious. There is no amount of preparation, organization, or even prayer that can get you ready for parenting. I guess the best you can do is take your patience and sense of humor with you everywhere.

    • Anonymous

      reminds me of something i’ve always said about my extreme case of “baptism by fire” fatherhood (e.g. going from bachelor to father of four in a span of 13 months) — through it all, all i wanted to maintain was my sense of self and sense of humor. so i’m with you, my fellow SEC brother. hope y’all have a great halloween.

  • The JackB

    And now you remind me of why I am happy to have memories of toddlers but none living with me. They were great and yes I could do it all again. But it is much more fun to read your stories than to live some of them. 😉

    • Anonymous

      ah, toddlerhood. it’s not for the faint of heart, is it? (or the weak of stomach, i might add)

  • Didactic Pirate

    This just go to show…. something. I’m just not sure what. Something gross. Something about how impossible it is to leave fatherhood behind. And fatherhood will always, always involve a plunger.

    This was a great post.

    • Anonymous

      @DP — it does, indeed, show something gross, my friend. thanks for swinging by. and keep up the great work at your blog.

  • Box of Chocolates

    Ahhhh! I would have had a few choice words if that happened in mi casa!

    • Anonymous

      @HT — a few choice words, were, indeed, handed out, my friend. trying (perhaps in vain?) to prevent that whole “tail that wags the dog thing” from happening over here…

  • Tara R.

    Whoa! Welcome home intrepid woodsman!