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Project Guys and Building Relationships

by Phil Downer

In my experience, men have a tendency to fall into two categories: people guys or project guys. Either we like people and don't care much for projects, or we love working on projects and find people to be somewhat of an interruption of our goals.

People guys often have an easier time keeping the focus on building relationships with their children. But we project guys all too frequently disappear into the garage on Saturday morning and don’t show up again until Sunday night, leaving little or no time for building relationships and memories with our children.

Focus on the Kids

So I decided many years ago that I needed to find a way to make my projects more focused on my kids, not just my goals. One of the best ways I ever discovered for accomplishing this over a weekend was taking them on a camping trip.

After my Vietnam days, digging holes every night, fighting in the jungles, and sleeping in the dirt of South Vietnam, the last thing I ever want to do is go camping. However, in raising kids, if we Dads don't sometimes go beyond our comfort zone and do things we do not want to do, we are going to lose them to television and the neighborhood activities which, frankly, are more exciting than comfort-loving Dad. It was my goal to be a part of their lives, and I knew it would require something where we were all together. So I decided to take it like a man and go camping.

The day I first raised the idea with my wife, Susy, she had her own reservations. At the time, the twins were two and we had a four-, six-, and eight-year-old. On top of that, one of the neighborhood boys was spending the night with us. She said, "Are you sure you want to take six little kids camping?" I might have been biting off more than I could chew, but I was going to go for it anyway.

Bring Them Back Alive

I got home, packed the car, and we went off to the campsite with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to have food. My goal was not to have clean food, or even healthy food, but just to have food. Second, I just wanted to bring them all back alive. One thing I've learned is that if I have too many goals with kids, I take my eyes off the relationship and start focusing on performance. So I simply told them I wanted to have fun and not let anybody die or be left behind. They seemed to think those were reasonable goals.

Besides the two goals, I had my own inner goal: not to lose my temper. It would be easy for me to get mad about something going wrong, and I really wanted this first camping experience to be great. So the pancakes burned when I flipped them on the side of the stove and they caught on fire, but I just blew it off. When we tipped over the drinking water, I didn't worry about it.

However, things really heated up the first night when Josh tripped and fell headlong into a log, severely bruising his lips against his teeth. Because of the blood, I reached in and counted his teeth with my fingers. Although I didn’t exactly know how many teeth two-year-olds are supposed to have, it felt like they were probably all there. And I didn't get upset, either. Although his upper and lower lips were swelling up like balloons, there were no serious gashes. As I looked around at all the equipment I had carried to the campsite, I decided we were not going home.

Home in One Piece

It turned out we had an amazing time. We cooked and ate until we could not eat any more. The kids helped cook, and we burned most of the stuff. We spent a day and two nights camping, and ultimately, we got home in one piece.

I almost blew it at the end, though. I had gotten through the two days pretty well, until we were at the campsite toilet. Joshua, who was two, walked in behind me. I turned my back on him just long enough for him to wash his hands in what he thought was the bathroom sink. Actually, it was a commode hanging on the wall, full of urine. I almost lost it. Some words quickly came to my lips, but I shut them off and suggested Joshua wash his hands using the non-yellow water before digging in the bag for more gummy worms.

His only other mishap was getting poison ivy behind both ears, which caused them to swell up and turn red. They were sticking out from his head at 90-degree angles when we pulled into the driveway. I can't imagine what Susy must have thought when she got her first look at us. There we were, tired, dirty, and with Joshua's lips swollen nearly to the size of hot dogs and his ears sticking straight out from his little head. Susy looked down and exclaimed, "What happened to Joshua?"

Mission Accomplished

I said, "Look, he's back alive and in one piece. That was the deal. I say let’s celebrate a mission accomplished!" In the end, not only had the camping trip been a success, but I—a project guy—had shared a fun-packed, relationship-building weekend with my children that none of us would ever forget.

The above article was adapted from the book, A Father’s Reward, published by Eternal Impact Publishing, nd can be ordered online at

Phil DownerPhil and his wife have led the Discipleship Network of America (DNA Ministries) since 2001. DNA is a nationwide network of people committed to reaching and discipling others, serving pastors, church and denominational leaders, men's ministries, the homeschool community, and individuals ministering in their homes and at work.


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