Last weekend, nearly 5 miles above the earth, Luke Aikins jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. His mission - land safely in an obscure net below him about a third the size of a football field. To fully grasp that, think of the last time you were on an airplane. Could you even see a football field? And what on earth would have compelled you to get up out of your seat, find the nearest exit door - and jump.
When I first read about Aikins' nationally televised stunt, the jump itself was the craziest sounding part of the event. Then I read an additional detail that changed my mind. There was something far more insane about his attempt at flying out of a five mile high tree without wings into an oversized nest. Standing just yards away from that nest, looking on, wondering if his dad would hit his mark, was Aikins' 4 year old son.
What kind of an idiot dad brings his son to watch him torpedo himself 125 miles per hour out of the sky deep into the California sand? Hold the shovels, I'll drill my own grave.
That's the question that popped out of my mouth when I first heard Aikins had his son in attendance.
Then I got to thinking about it. (One of my greatest character flaws is I'm usually judgmental long before I'm wise). But I realized the kind of dad that jumps out of an airplane into a net with his son watching the entire free fall is a dad who knows he's hitting nothing but net. Swish. Nothing in the photo above suggests Aikins loves his son any less than I love my two boys. There's nothing to suggest he'd want his kid to be one of the eye witnesses to his gruesome entrance into the afterlife any more than I'd want mine saddled forever with that nightmare. Quite the opposite, I imagine. This dad was as thrilled to know his kid was standing beside that net as I was knowing my boys were standing at the finish line of the half marathon I ran in Missoula, Montana last year.
For any of you thinking it's a bit of a stretch to compare jumping out of an airplane into a net to running 13.1 miles, well you just hold that thought until you've tried to navigate a 230 pound stockpile of pizzas and cheeseburgers in running shoes that far without dying! I promise you, it's death defying.
No, after some thought, I came to appreciate Aikins having his son there. This was a dad determined to skip the part where he passes on the tired dad cliche: you can do anything you put your mind to son. He fast forwarded right to demonstrating it.
I admire him especially as I've recently watched our two boys tiptoe into the I can do anything world.
A couple of weekends ago we were at the local swimming pool. I watched our 7 year old Ian become captivated by a few older boys doing front flips off the diving board. He hung onto the edge of the pool observing flip after flip. Then I watched him climb out of the pool, stand on the edge, and awkwardly roll frontwards into the water. Never once looking to see who was watching. He was in his own world. He repeated this roll several times until it resembled a flip. Then came the Ian look I've seen many times. Determination. He walked confidently toward the diving board. Watched patiently as the kids in front of him took their turns diving. Or plopping in many cases. He walked the length of the board and stood on the edge. He sprung ever so slightly into the air, rolled into a flip, and landed flat on his back in the water.
When he came up out of the water, there was nothing but smile on his face. No signs of pain other than a bright red back. By the time we left the pool that day, and after 100 or so more dives, Ian's flips were flips. 360 degrees worth.
Later that week we were driving home from somewhere and our 9 year old Elliott asked me, "dad, how do people learn to ride a bike without holding on to the handle bars?" Trust me, I wanted to tell him, smart people don't! But Elliott is often a bit more cautious than our Ian, so I allowed him to pursue his inner daredevil, if only in his imagination. I explained it's all about speed and balance. That once you get the bike going holding on to the handlebars is really optional unless you need to make a sudden turn.
He didn't say anything else about it - until last night. I came home from a long day on the road. Elliott asked if I had time to come outside so he could show me something. He's always big on getting me outside to throw the football, but rarely to show me something. I was happy to be his audience. And this was my show:
I don't believe everything is possible, but I believe there's value in our kids chasing life as if it is. When they believe it they take risks and expand the world of truly possible around them. Maybe it will lead them to places they and I both once thought were impossible. Maybe it will lead them to jump out of an airplane 5 miles above the earth into a net. If so, please don't call me outside to "watch this dad." And I'd really prefer you leave that particular stunt to Mr. Aikins.
Mr. Aikins. Well done sir. Your son is a lucky boy. I can't imagine the world of possibilities you've opened up for him.