ON BECOMING A NATURE-SMART DAD: A New Father Reflects on Life Outside

About the Author

Ray Rivera has over thirteen years of leadership experience in political campaign management, policy advocacy, coalition building, development and grassroots organizing. He served in President Obama’s Administration at the Obama-Biden Transition, Department of the Interior and at the White House. Ray is a member of the Children & Nature Network Board of Directors.

This will be my first Father’s Day.

I want to ask the experienced fathers out there, what should I do for my first Father’s Day? A long hike, bike ride with the family? Considering my son, Mateo, is only five months old, the answer I am really looking for is sleep!

But of course any father knows that isn’t a real option, even on Father’s Day. Right now we are lucky if my son Mateo sleeps through the night. Every worn out late night of trying to put him to bed, or early morning groggy diaper change, I think — how did my dad, Jim, find the energy to raise three kids?

Maybe it was because he was a fairly young father at only 22, but he always had the energy to throw the baseball with us after work or to take us camping on weekends around the National Forests in New Mexico.

heres to the dads
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In my memory, I recall this happening all the time, but in reality my dad was pretty worn out from working construction all day. And he sometimes missed Little League games or cancelled long weekend trips because he had to take work when he could get it. In fact, just last week he had to cancel a trip to see his grandson Mateo here in Denver because he picked up a much-needed summer job.

So on my first Father’s Day I am going to start it as I have all the rest, with a call to my dad saying thanks for working so hard and still finding the commitment to get us outside and active. Then I’m going to take my own son on the third hike of his life.

Fortunately, Mateo takes after his mom and gets very fussy when cooped up inside. He dislikes car rides and is happiest outside when he can stare at the trees, birds, people, and feel the wind on his face. So my wife and I always take him on walks or runs along the Platte River or we strap him into his Baby Bjorn and visit any outdoor festivity we can find around Denver. I am entertained by his curiosity as he follows every activity with open-eyed wonder.

Even at five months, he is more comfortable and entertained when we are active and outside.

And when we get home at the end of the Father’s Day I will do my best to keep his wandering eyes away from all the electronic screen. I don’t have the discipline to remove them from where he can see them. We work on our laptops, check iPhone text messages, and (I’ll reluctantly admit) still enjoy a serious marathon video-on-demand session when we can fit it in.

While my dad was good at keeping us active, he also didn’t have to contest with the attraction of video games and cable TV, which were barely coming online when I was little. But we couldn’t afford them anyway.

This also reminds me that I should spend a few moments on Father’s Day reflecting on the privilege afforded to me because of my father’s hard work and sacrifice to make it possible for me be first in my family to go to college and serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

As Mateo grows, I hope I can teach him empathy and service, the same characteristics that we try to foster through the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Network.

We meet young people where they are and help them get outside connecting with their environment and learning how to be leaders in their communities.

As the number of my own Father’s Day increases, I hope I can be the type of father who foster the love of nature in many children in my neighborhood and beyond. I am looking forward to updating this blog when Mateo is seven or eight with pictures of all the kids running around the park laughing and playing.

Admittedly, as a new father, the chaotic scene of kids screaming and throwing picnic food around is something that just became appealing in the last five months, thanks to Mateo.


More Reading

The Natural Father by Richard Louv


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  1. Ray,

    Congrats on your first father’s day as a dad. I honor your commitment to spending these precious moments with Mateo exploring the great, big, exciting world around us. What’s most inspiring to me is that you are being so mindful, intentionally focusing on teaching him such important life skills that will benefit not only him but the world in which he will live. I hope you have a wonderful day and take at least a few seconds to consider Mateo with your full attention, close your eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and imprint the memory forever.

  2. Ray, on Fathers Day, take your son where you like to go with the hope that as he grows up, he’ll share your interest. And with a 5-month be realistic and remember his needs (sun protection, changing station, etc.). Make it something he’ll enjoy also so that you’ll both look forward to future, more adventurous outings.


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