Why the Wilderness?

 

Philip Fortenberry is the founder of Fatherhood Revolution where he creates second chances for dads with their sons.  Philip is a fatherless child who became a Green Beret and has led hundreds on wilderness treks.  Philip also served over 15 years as the Director of Reconciliation at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX under the leadership of Pastor John Hagee.

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“Forty yards,” I whispered as I ranged the buck over my fifteen year old son’s shoulder.  The ten inches of melting snow enabled us to track the young buck through the juniper trees in the high desert of central New Mexico.  We caught up to the buck as the sun was sinking below the horizon and the light was fading fast on the final day of our great father-son adventure.

 

The arrow sliced through the 20 mph crosswind and hit the Mule Deer perfectly.  After a very short and easy tracking job Ryan had his trophy.  Kneeling in the wet snow beside his Mule Deer Ryan looked up at me and said, “I’m glad I didn’t quit.”

 

“That was a great shot in a stiff cross-wind,” I complimented him.

 

The smile on Ryan’s face held no trace of the discouragement and doubt it bore just a few hours earlier.   Chiseled across Ryan’s face at lunch was the concern of going home without a buck. “What would you do?” Ryan had asked me.

 

I have seen this doubt many times on young men’s faces on the wilderness treks that I have led since 1998.  Young men are wired for adventure, but the eagerness for the adventure will fade when a major challenge arises.  The challenge may come in the form of rain, an overturned canoe or a steep pitch the young men are climbing in the thin mountain air heading towards a summit.

 

At those moments doubt and fear are revealed.  But, it is not the fear of the obstacle.  It is the fear that they don’t have what it takes.  Just like Ryan the young men will look to me and ask, “What should we do?”

 

It is a natural response for a young man to look to a man for guidance through the turbulence in his life.  But, for so many young men there is no man to which he can turn.  Many dads are gone and many dads don’t believe in themselves and are therefore incapable of giving to their sons what they do not possess.  Other fathers lack manly skills and find it difficult to connect with their own sons.

 

That is why I lead young men, and men to the wilderness.  I believe the wilderness is the greatest classroom for men to discover the very nature that God placed within them.  It is a place to be tested and to overcome and to know they have what it takes.

 

When the young men overcome the obstacles and successfully navigate huge distances across a wilderness area their doubts in self will disappear.  I have seen young men who doubted in the midst of the wilderness stick their hands over their heads and shout, “We did it,” when they successfully crossed the wilderness area and came out to our vehicle.

 

After the trek they walk with a renewed belief in self.  They have what it takes.