Secrets of the Sherpa

sherpaFull-time daddies carry a heavy load.

This is not a metaphor.  I literally mean they have to carry a lot of stuff.  And packing up a bag full of mashed bananas and diapers while putting on your Baby Bjorn can make you feel pretty unmanly.

That’s why I want to share the secrets of the Sherpa.  Sherpas – a mountain people from Nepal – were indispensable to early mountaineering efforts, serving as hardy guides and porters.  You’ve probably hear of Sir Edmund Hillary – the first man to make a confirmed summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.  You may not have heard of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who summited with him – and doubtless lugged most of Edmund’s stuff.  For the first half of the twentieth century, behind nearly every western climber standing boldly astride a Himalayan summit with his hands on his hips, there was a Sherpa, eyes squinting knowingly, shoulders squared beneath a heavy backpack, calmly ready for avalanche or ascent.  For most Sherpas the climb is its own – and the only reward.

Yes, having a small child requires a ludicrous amount of stuff but, as you learn when climbing Mount Everest, your approach makes a big difference.  That difference is grit, gear, and gumption.  Are you just daddy, or will you be Sherpa, Intrepid Guide and Porter?

Here are the Secrets of the Sherpa as I have come to know them.

1. Every bit of stuff you lug around is “gear,” not kid stuff.  

No floral-print bags to hold your kid’s stuff.  You get a backpack.  Preferably a cool             one from a hiking store.  Why?  Because you should be able to traverse streams               and evade predators while wearing it, leaving your arms free, one to fight pursuing             cannibals, the other to cradle your child like a football.

Pants with pockets.  Even cargo pants.  You must be able to carry your gear.

Speaking of carrying, stash a Leatherman or similar multi-tool in your backpack or             cargo pants.  Not because you need it, but because you might.  Did Edmund Hillary           need to climb Mount Everest?  Men are made of compelling rationalizations.

2. Every trip out of the house is an expedition, not an errand.

You don’t go grocery shopping with a child; you hunt and gather.  You don’t take your kid to the zoo; you go on safari.  Every time you leave the house is a potential food, fecal, or fretful emergency.  Demonstrate preparedness when the messy exigencies of fatherhood in the field occur.

#1 applies to #2 and vice versa.  Stroller?  If you must.  Sometimes explorers need wheels.  But silly little plastic wheels are for sidewalks.  You need a sturdy, three-wheel job with big inflatable tires, an alloy frame, and ballistic nylon shell.  Because you don’t just stop where the sidewalk ends.

3. Every new task is a challenge, not a chore.

Remember that backpack?  Stow with precision.  Designate compartments for changing pad, diapers, baby powder, wipes, bottles, attention-management tools, etc.  (Yes, “attention-management tools”; remember, they are gear, not “toys.”).  Optimize weight distribution and access to critical items.

Those cargo pants?  When you reach into any of your myriad pockets to extract gear, it should be with casual confidence.  No rummaging or confusion.

When you change a diaper, it is an exercise in choreographed logistical planning.  You won’t be leaving a half-full cart in the grocery store just because your little one has a fit.  You will be ready to placate with parental precision.  Better still, you will already be through checkout, since you surveyed the aisle landscape when you walked in, planned an optimal route, and scavenged your food supplies with maximum efficiency.

Live off the land; when your child holds out their sticky last bite of half-chewed banana to share, slick with snot and encrusted with dirt and leaves, you grin and swallow.

4. You are not merely an attending parent, you are Sherpa, intrepid guide and porter.

Parenthood is fraught with exigency and peril.  Which is good, because you want surprises.  You are prepared for things to break ad go wrong, ready to bushwhack the steep and winding toddler trail.  Use all your gear, display your craft and cunning.  Perhaps you will be unsung, daddy, but never unprepared.