Saving Gracie

A few days ago, six hikers were buried in a tragic rockslide near Mount Princeton here in Colorado. Five died in the slide, but 13-year-old Gracie Johnson made it: Rescuers found her buried beneath the rocks, her hand sticking out of the pile. And when they pulled her free, she told them that she’d be dead, too—if it hadn’t been for her father.

“The true hero is her dad,” Nick Tolsma, a sheriff’s deputy from Chafee County, told ABC News. “She said her dad jumped on her to protect her at the last moment when the rocks were coming down. I think he saved her life.”

That sort of sacrifice is hard for me to imagine. Some of the rocks, we’re told, were the size of small cars—crashing down the mountain at incredible speed. The hikers must’ve known they were in serious trouble, and I have to wonder … if I was on that hillside, would I be thinking of other people? Would I be thinking at all?

As a dad, I hope I would. I hope I’d have the wherewithal to cover and protect my kids no matter what—that some secret dad instinct would kick in and I’d do whatever was needed. After all, we dads are supposed to protect our children. It’s part of the gig. It doesn’t matter if the danger comes from sharks or bandits or boulders, we’re supposed to stand in the breech and do what we can.

Sure, what we’d actually do in such a situation is anyone’s guess. But I think we’d all like to believe we’d do the right thing. We’d save our kids and, if necessary, become posthumous heroes.

We modern-day Dads don’t get a chance to do a lot of hardcore protecting these days: We don’t stand by the ranch door with a shotgun and defend the homestead from rustlers or bears. No, today’s dangers often aren’t so obvious. Our kids are far more likely to be bullied on Facebook than chased by lions. They’re more likely to be snared by drugs or porn than a physical trap. We can’t lock today’s insidious dangers out of our homes and schools. They’re there already—in backpacks and lockers and smartphone screens.

How can we protect our kids from so many dangers? How can we even know what they all are? We can stand in front of a boulder, but we can’t be everywhere. We can’t save our kids from every mean post or shield them from every temptation. How can we protect our kids from danger when almost everything is dangerous?

There are things we can do, of course. We can install software that blocks some of the Internet’s detritus and keep what computers we can in a public place. We can build strong relationships with our kids’ teachers, coaches and youth leaders, which’ll help ensure you’ll know if a problem does arise.

But you know what? Maybe in this world of sneaky, incremental danger, we as dads are called to make sneaky, incremental sacrifices: Spend time at a tea party when we’d rather watch football. Take our children to the park when we’d rather take a nap. Talk with your kids. Listen to them. Make sure they not only hear about, but see how important they are to you. How valued. How worthy of sacrifice. When they understand that they are worthy, that makes them less prone to temptation. More confident and less susceptible to bullying. It’s not a cure-all, of course. Bad things happen. But it can help.

Most of us will never be asked to stand in front of a boulder to save our children. Our dad instincts are rarely put to that ultimate test. No, our tests come in smaller doses—week by week, day by day. We sacrifice ourselves in increments. But these small sacrifices are, in some ways, no less important. We’re still saving our children. We’re just doing it an inch at a time.

Roy Baldwin More than 1 year ago

-- Paul...great words.  I love your "picture" of standing by the ranch door with a shotgun.  To your point we "figuratively" should be doing that with our kids hearts.  Well done...