I was raised by an Adventurer. His nemesis is conformity. If there’s a standard way of doing something he will turn himself inside out to do it a different way. He is the ultimate rebel, still raging against the machine into his 60’s. The tattooed, Harley-riding Pastor who is my Dad. These words have been working their way out of me for a while now, because this year has spoken volumes about the benefits of being raised by an Adventurer. When the world shook from under our feet I constantly found myself thinking of my dad. “What would he do? What would he think? What would he tell me to do?”. Well, I know exactly what he would tell me to do. The same thing he told me age 16 when I informed him that my GCSE results were good enough for me to do A Levels. “What do you think dad?”. “Well”, he said, “I think if we gathered up enough money you could buy an old VW camper van and I could paint it army green and you could take off and travel the whole world in that thing.”
It turns out that not much can truly unnerve you after living with an Adventurer for your entire existence. If something does manage to shake you to your core, it doesn’t take you too long to get yourself back. Being raised by an Adventurer teaches you to go with the flow, to take the good from the bad, to see the humour in every situation, no matter how awful. To laugh heartily when things don’t go to plan. Because things never go to plan. To get over your tantrums as quickly as you started them. To never, ever care what civilised society thinks about you. To hell with civilised society! What do they know? They are all miserable, serving life sentences in jobs they hate! To offer forgiveness and love easily because there are Adventures to be had, and Adventures are life. Adventures are joy. Adventures are everything.
I was 7-years-old the first time my dad took me out on the back of his motorbike. I had been bugging him for as long as I could remember to take me on an adventure. He finally relented and padded me out with numerous layers topped with my mum’s leathers. He put her crash helmet on my head over the top of four wooly hats. He took me across Belfast to his long-suffering parent’s house for a cup of tea and my granny was almost as horrified as my own poor mum had been when we left our house. “Go easy Billy. Hold on tight Janine. DO NOT let go of your daddy’s waist! Don’t try and talk to him. Don’t point at stuff. Don’t wriggle.” That was the most amazing First Grand Adventure anyone has ever had. I remember every second of it.
I was 8-years-old when my dad finally gave in and let me watch a Hitchcock horror movie with him. I had been plaguing him for so long. It was actually one of the Friday night shorts that used to be on and my eyeballs almost popped clean out of my head when I watched it. I was so affected I can still remember every detail of it to this day. I asked him so many questions, I don’t know how he stayed patient with me…"Just watch it Janine…it’ll make sense if you watch it…’". Watching movies with my dad is still one of the greatest treats in life for me. It always takes me back to that first night when he surprised me and decreed that I was old enough and wise enough to understand the nuances of Hitchcock.
When my sisters and I were 13, 11 and 6 my dad told us he would take us on a Grand Bike Adventure. He had us giddy with excitement - his enthusiasm for rebellion and adventure is so contagious. We went the whole way from Portadown to our grandparent’s summer cottage in Islandmagee on our bikes - in and around 50 miles. My little sister Heather was 6-years-old and on a bike that didn’t even have gears. She was the female equivalent of Will Walker - the perfect combination of fierce and insane. We stopped at my granny Lilly’s house and she was again horrified and told us we would be dead by teatime. I’m quite sure my mum was imagining the exact same fate at home in Portadown. And you know, there were no mobile phones then so she just had to wait until we arrived home the next evening to hear if we were alive or dead. I have no recollection of any pain or exhaustion from our Grand Bike Adventure. When we finally arrived at the cottage it was without heat or electric. The four of us sat around a tiny gas stove in the dark, sharing a single tin of campbell’s tomato soup and laughing so much about what a truly Grand Adventure it had been.
It takes a bona fide Adventurer to conjure that kind of magic.
When I was a teenager my dad and I co-owned a pair of cherry red Dr Martins. We also ‘co-owned’ a vintage wrangler denim jacket (meaning, it was his and I frequently borrowed it!). On his 50th birthday I asked him what he would like and he said ‘a tattoo’. Ah, a challenge, I thought! “Dad, never in a million years will you be brave enough to get a tattoo and not pass out!”. Like a red rag to a bull he insisted that indeed he could handle getting a tattoo and I should book the appointment then and there. I did, he did, and 12 years later his entire body is impressively inked with his amazing life story. Funny side note: my dad worked on his tattoo collection for many years after his 50th birthday. But he always put off telling his congregation about his ink, lest they should take offence or worry that he had finally lost the plot. So we weren’t allowed to talk about the tattoos and he always wore a long sleeve t-shirt in public. Then, one fine summer day, he went swimming at the local YMCA and bumped into pretty much the entire elderly church population at the senior swim club. Well, he couldn’t hide it any longer! They had no choice to accept him and his big secret (though I do believe he liked his tattoos better when he thought no-one else knew about them!).
Why have a car that is guaranteed to get you to where you need to go when you could have a car that *might* break down at any moment, leaving your day open to Unlimited Adventure Potential! Many a broken down car adventure we have had! Hauling my entire life belongings across the Canadian Border when the ‘Stinkin’ Lincoln’ finally died a predictably dramatic death is just one of dozens. My dad prefers to live in the unknown. Where is the fun in predictable? Working motorbikes are equally dissatisfying to him. A few years ago he and some friends decided to try and drive 400 dollar motorbikes 400 miles across America. And no, he doesn’t own a mobile phone. My poor, poor mother. He just disappears on one of his hair brained adventures and we all have to hope that he will reappear just as quickly in one piece! The exhilaration he gets from breaking the rules is truly infectious. He giggles and laughs so hard when he tells his Adventure Stories that sometimes I think he will just keel over from a heart attack there and then.
I could tell you a bazillion stories about my Dad, the Adventurer. He taught me that rules are made to be broken. That being the same as everyone else SUCKS. That even the absolute worst thing you can go through can be turned into a wonderful and sometimes hilarious adventure. At 30 years of age my dad (a decidedly uneducated man at the time!) went to college in Liverpool to train to be a minister. At 40 years of age he took us on the Greatest Adventure of All Time and upped sticks and headed for Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, for a one-year stint as an assistant pastor. In typical Adventurer style, he never returned.
Now here I am, age (almost) 40, trying to comprehend the magnitude of that decision, leaving everything you know, with three kids in tow. How utterly wonderful that my hugest male role model in life has instilled in me a sense of flow. A great sense of fun. A true adoration for rebellion and sticking two fingers up at ‘the norm’. At ‘civilised’. At ‘proper’.
Let’s raise rebels. Let’s teach our kids to be brave and seek out adventure. To break the dumb rules sometimes. To give The Establishment the virtual bird. To allow them to believe that they are never too old to take off and live a different life. To never feel stuck. To not give a single toot what people think (because those old folks will love you regardless of your ink).
Let’s raise Adventurers.