Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Get out and play

The Wood River Valley offers bountiful father/offspring bonding activities


Dean Hernandez has been teaching his daughter Audrey, 6, to tie flies–she likes to make them pink.
Expross photos by David N. Seelig

We uncles usually have diplomatic immunity when it comes to domestic policy. It's always fun to bend a few rules because, for one, it makes us popular with the next generation. But fathers have their work cut out for them when it comes to bonding with their children. Their role, no matter how loose the structure, is still stricter than for uncles. Regardless of house rules, this writer has learned that good game time makes for stronger connection between fathers and their kids.

"It's good to have something in common—something you can do easily together," said Charles Dawson, 15, a student in Washington, D.C., whose parents, Anne and Michael, are building a new home in Ketchum to replace their old vacation haunt here. Charles and his brother, Henry, have shared the sport of cycling with their dad since they were very young. In fact, Henry began his cycling career along the Thames River at about 4 years old when the Dawsons lived in London.

"Dad got me started," Henry said, explaining that he first rode along the Thames, one side paved and the other side gravel, on a scooter-like bicycle. His father would guide him and catch him if he started to fall. Soon Henry graduated to a yellow and red bike with training wheels, and last summer, he and Charles began training on mountain bikes with their dad on 29ers, regularly riding Corral Creek east of Sun Valley. The boys also joined Billy Olson's Sun Valley Road and Dirt Camps for further instruction and tapped into the new Sun Valley Trekking mountain biking permit for some guided riding on the vast public lands that surround Sun Valley.

Charles said he's looking forward to the family's return to Sun Valley, and a chance to tackle some new trails with Dad.

"It's a good way to be on common ground," he said.

The same could be said for Dean and Audrey Hernandez, who have enjoyed father-daughter camping trips since Audrey, 6, was an infant.

"We do it all," Dean said, explaining that he and Audrey overnight in a tent, car or camper about twice a month, and fly-fishing is their new go-to father-daughter activity.

"It's a lot of fun to spend time with you fishing—it's quality bonding time," Dean said to Audrey as she took a break from helping Dad wrap, tie and cut a new fly.

They're planning to do some backpacking this summer with Audrey carrying a pack herself for the first time. They will carry food, a tent and sleeping bags together.

"Somebody is big enough to carry a little backpack," Dean said with Audrey all smiles. "And we will fish more because she likes it so much.

"Today she caught her first fish on one of the flies that we tied."

"And I got to touch it," Audrey said, a look of amazement still on her face.

Audrey caught a rainbow trout when she and Dad made a run to Penny Lake on Sunday with the fly rod she got for Christmas. Audrey also likes to sport her accessories, including a fishing vest tailored for a 6-year-old.

"I like fishing because Daddy comes with me," she said.

Joe St. Onge and his daughter, Neve, have been spending a lot of time biking together since new baby sister Soleil arrived.

"We'll have to figure out what we can catch with the pink flies," Dean added.

Jim Keating, executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District and father of Jack, 11, and Meg, who is almost 8, said, "Kids are pulled in all directions. With kids, in the valley there is so much to do, both indoors and outdoors."

The Keatings frequently begin and end the day shooting some hoops in the driveway, but it's not uncommon to pile into the car with gear for several sports on the same day. Mom (Courtney Gilbert) grew up Nordic skiing and Jim became indoctrinated in the sport when he and Gilbert met at Dartmouth College nearly 20 years ago. There is a love of games that is prescient in the Keating kids, which gives them plenty in common with Dad.

"They do love ball sports," Jim said.

Meg is constantly dribbling and kicking, and Jack travels regularly to play soccer with Sawtooth United. Dad is often along for the ride if not peddling, poling or paddling himself in concert with his kids.

"We go to Galena Lodge just about every Sunday," Gilbert said. "The one thing I underestimated when we moved here is how much of our income goes to gear."

Much of the gear they gather at various swaps in the valley, and they rent skiing gear each year. Despite the cost, Gilbert said, some of the best family memories in the valley have been taking hikes together, skiing on Dollar and going to Galena on Sundays even if the kids choose not to ski.

"Meg hiked to the top of Carbonate, right up the spine, and she didn't complain once," Gilbert said, explaining that sports really do take all forms in their family. "It's how we bond."

Meg said that if she had to choose one sport (and that's a big if—she's fond of dozens) it would be Nordic skiing.

"Because of the movement of it," she said. "You use your arms and legs at the same time."

Jack chooses differently.

"Definitely tennis," he said. "I think it's really fun, and if you lose, you don't have anyone to blame but yourself, unless you're playing doubles."

Why do the Keating kids like to play sports with their dad?

"He's very good at them," Meg said.

"He's OK," Jack parried, and Jim and Meg laughed.

"A little intensity," Jim said. "We're all type-A personalities when it comes to sports. We definitely like a little friendly competition."

Keating is grateful for the regular opportunity to go 2 on 1 with Meg and Jack or challenge them to a game of horse or pig in the driveway. After all, advocating for the recreational opportunities of the people of the Wood River Valley is usually a long day of work, so a little family rivalry can be good medicine.

Often, father-and-child bonding is escalated when a new sibling arrives and Mom is otherwise engaged. Such is the case for Joe St. Onge and his daughter, Neve, who recently welcomed sister Soleil into their world, which for the St. Onge clan, immersed in the work of their outfitting company Sun Valley Trekking, is skiing in the winter and hiking and biking in the summer. The former mama's girl is now attached to daddy's hip as Francie St. Onge takes care of the new baby.

When Neve heads to and from school on a WeeRide trailer that Joe pulls behind his old mountain bike, her legs aren't quite long enough to do more than stand on the pedals, so far. But at home she races around the neighborhood on a training wheel bicycle tooting her horn, which recently got a call-and-response from a neighbor with a garage full of various horns.

"It makes riding around town and going to school an adventure," Joe said.

The division of labor will be more equitable when Neve's legs grow a little longer. In the meantime, her sister can ride along since Neve still also fits in a child's bucket seat mounted on the handlebars of another cruiser in the St. Onge garage. The cruiser tows a Chariot trailer for Soleil.

Neve says riding around in circles is fun, but sometimes it does have a slight dizzying effect when she banks turns behind Daddy.

"It's interesting, sometimes she rides goofy," Joe said. "It's really good time together and biking has all kinds of benefits, as you can imagine."

Jim Keating and daughter Meg watch Jack, 11, shoot a hoop.

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