“Do you trust me?”
“Then let go.”
I was thirty feet in the air with my two feet planted on the rock face in front of me. I was in a seated position and my dad had just told me to let go of the rope. It was my first ever rappel, and with all the boys watching, I did what any proud tween girl would do: held back the tears scraping at my eyeballs, screamed in my head and trusted in my dad.
His lesson was to teach me to trust in the belay; that no matter if I slip or freak out he was there on the bottom, ready to pinch the rope as I slowly rappelled down to him. With both hands in the air and a grin growing across my face, I not only trusted the harness, the carabineer and the knots my brothers tied at the top; I now knew that no matter what, my dad was there for me.
He wasn’t going to let me fall, he wasn’t going to let me get hurt, but most importantly, he was willing to let me be a part of the adventure.
I was surrounded by brothers, two older, two younger, and because of the sheer numbers of the Steyskal clan (and the fact that my dad owned a truck), he served as a Scout Master for more than twenty-five years—and you better believe that his three daughters were going to get just as dirty, just as sweaty and experience everything that his sons would.
It all started with a campfire. Every year the family would camp out at Gerlie Creek along with the Boehme family and share a week of awesomeness. That was where I learned to paddle a canoe, fish, pitch a forty year old army surplus canvas tent (that still smelled of basic training) and yes: start a fire. With so many brothers fighting over whether to do a standard tee-pee or log cabin, I was often the one to find kindling and laugh when the teepee collapsed or the log cabin, well, didn’t “cabin.”
Then one day my dad put my brothers to kitchen duties while he taught me all about pyrotechnics camp fires. I did the tee-pee/cabin hybrid and the foil dinners turned out perfectly that night (that’s how I remember it, anyways). And so, a scout (though a bit unconventional) was born.
My brothers knew I was always going to be a part of the scouting program, if anything to keep me ahead of the pack and prepare me as a future den mother. I could have merit badges of foil dinners, hiking, whittling and astronomy. Archery was short lived as my hand-to-eye coordination proved more dangerous than steady, and even though I’ll never cliff dive into freezing glacial lakes again, it is nice to know I could do it in case of a dare or zombie apocalypse.
I know how to tie knots, how to use a compass (and not get lost) and how to throw a solid punch (not a specific badge for that but life lessons were part of the bag). I was always included, never left behind and I could hold my own.
I think at first my dad’s reasoning wasn’t so much as to keep me on the competitive playing field as the boys but more of a necessity to keep me out of trouble. Guys never asking me on dates was probably another perk for my dad, as many of them saw me as “off-limits” again, too many brothers and my dad was their Scout Master.
So now I have a resumé full of random out-door skills and self-confidence that can (and has) with-hold snowstorms. I’ll always be up for sleeping al fresco, and lighting objects within an arm’s reach on fire still makes me grin.
I miss the camp-outs, and I haven’t rappelled in years, but I know when my son is ready I’ll get to re-live all the adventures, misadventures and barely-made-it-out-of-there-alive experiences that made my childhood memorable.
So thanks, Dad, for letting me be your shadow, for always keeping me as a member of the pack, for teaching me to trust in others, but especially in myself.
If there’s an Invincibility Badge I’d have it in the bag. This seriously needs to be a thing.