Last Updated on June 26, 2018 by OCF Communications

by LTC Philip R. Tilly, USA

Brian was 14, a high school freshman and was quickly growing into a young man. Freshman year was quickly passing. A lot of “stuff” filled our moments, leaving less and less time to talk, to laugh, to just be together.

Our family first heard about Father-Teen Adventure (FTA) during Leavenworth Week at Spring Canyon (SC) in 2001. A few years later I was looking for an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord, closer to my son, and to offer to Brian a special time for us to share.

We reserved two spots for the second summer session and coordinated ground transportation to SC through the OCF web site. (The packing list was very helpful, too!)

Father-Teen Adventure is not just for fathers and their sons. Daughters can come, too, and they have just as much fun and grow just as close to their dads. FTA is special. It is a journey with your child. It is physically challenging and fun, emotionally exhausting at times and yet refreshing, and it is a spiritual gift that you can share with your teen-and with the Lord.

I encourage you to think about it. Make the trip. Do it for your child. Find the way.

The following are excerpts from our trip.

  • Day 00
  • Day 01
  • Day 02
  • Day 03
  • Day 04
  • Day 05
  • Day 06
  • Day 07

Arrive at Denver airport. Spring Canyon staff arrives; young, wholesome, very upbeat. Meet other father-son pairs. Load truck, drive 2+ hours to SC. Nice tents, gravel floors, lighting. Double bunks.

One other father-son in our tent, room to spare. Shower building nearby: hot water, flush toilets, heat. Meet Rick (FTA coordinator). He already knows all our names! First dinner: pasta and chicken, peas, bread, and apple pie at the lodge! So good.

First group assembly: introductions and expectations. Nightly meeting after chow will be our fellowship routine. Fathers and sons from everywhere, some military and some civilians. Wonderful mix. More stars in the sky than you imagine! Ready for some sleep. Brian is fired up.

Wakeup 0525 with daylight + the birds outside. Slept well. Cleanup, shower is great! Brian moves slowly in the morning. Most of the dads are moving before their sons. Go figure. Biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Camp volunteers are wonderful. Dozens of hummingbirds outside the lodge at the feeders.

First activity is volleyball. Brian is pretty good. I didn’t realize he played that well. Much fun and laughter. Grilled cheese sandwiches and more for lunch, delicious.

Team building activities after lunch. We form two even groups. Competition! Very similar to field leadership reaction course (FLRC). Connect multiple picnic tables with 2X4s, cross your team from one table to the next. Too funny. Square rope drill (I’ll stop here so I don’t give it all away).

The ultimate: maneuvering/swimming lots of “stuff” across the pond, plus all your team. Cold water. Very cold water. Brian and I float across together. Boys are loving this. Dads are all smiling. This is good. Recovery time. Boys won’t rest, time to fish.

Brian caught his first trout, delicious at dinner (you clean it, the cooks prepare it). Make sack lunch for tomorrow (rappelling). So grateful for my son. He’s smiling, and he’s having fun. Watch “Field of Dreams” and “The Rookie” during fellowship in another building that evening. Boys are loving this; popcorn, sodas, just the men. The boys are good kids. Many friendships being built.

Rick leads us in fellowship. A journey into spiritual manhood. Reject social and spiritual passivity. Accept responsibility. Be a good leader.

Woke up early. Quiet. Wander over to the lodge for coffee. Breakfast is delicious. Off to rappelling site. The boys are psyched. Beautiful day, flawlessly clear skies, clean air! God is so great! Brian rappels well. Rick leads by example, and even does the Aussie. Much emphasis on safety. Reassuring. That’s my son doing that. Thank you, God.

Andy and Kristy Lathrop share their testimony with us atop the cliff. What a fine young couple, so much heart for this ministry. Ate our sack lunches. Getting warm, drinking lots of water. The boys are cutting up, getting cocky about rappelling, and now rock climbing. Good equipment. Safe.

We drive to Buena Vista (the nearby town about ten minutes down the road) and to “K’s” for ice cream. Brian got a shake, enjoying the other boys’ company. Beautiful park next to K’s. Frisbee, the boys naturally have to compete. Time to build a human pyramid. Rick is cracking me up. He fears nothing. We hang out. “Chillin” as the boys say. So relaxing.

Dinner is great. Good fellowship. Four faces of a man: Warrior, Friend, King, and Lover. All scripturally based. Fathers and sons together. Brian is really soaking this up. Brian and I are doing devotional in the morning. Brian got the chicken tonight! He’s really enjoying this. Sitting next to him, special time. I can’t remember when I’ve seen him laughing so much. Looking over the Scripture tonight for tomorrow’s devotional around the fire pit. The air is so clean.

0600, shave then coffee. Delicious. On the way to the lodge, the water down in the stream is so clean, so clear. Devotional went well. Brian read the scripture. Sweat-tops and hats all around the circle. You gotta love America.

Group activity today is a service project. Splitting wood, hauling brush. Tiring, enjoyable, good to sweat. Team building (but no one recognized it as that…not yet). Tacos for lunch: A+++++. Awesome food!

All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) driving this afternoon. Safety brief. Review past lessons learned with Gene, our guide. Polaris 4-WD, never done this before. Awesome. Boys are absolutely loving this. Father-son teams on the ATVs. Up into the mountains. Streams. Forests. Lions and tigers and Bears….oh my! The boys are spell bound. Dads are letting them steer from behind. You can almost watch them growing up here. They are handling responsibility well. Praise You, Lord, praise You!

We climb to the top of a crest. Snow on top of the crest. 13 July and we’re playing in snow. The entire world is laid out before us. Was this how the Lord saw the world when He was being tempted? He found His Father’s reassurance there. And we find Him here, too. Praise You, Father! Prayer atop the mountain. My son has the most beautiful smile. Why didn’t I realize this before. I did…I just…didn’t.

Brian steers most of the way down, he’s pretty good. We splash through a stream. The ATV floods out. Rick talks us through re-starting it. Everyone is laughing. No problems. So beautiful a location. Everyone is covered in dirt and dust. We look AWESOME! Picture time.

Tonight’s lesson: reject social and spiritual passivity. “Chicago” (John) gets the chicken! Later that night it rains and the tent sounds like a cathedral. I listen to my son’s snoring sounds. So grateful for this time.

Good breakfast, packed gear, drove to our camp site. Pitched tents, staff is fired up, everyone is fired up. The boys go exploring for a bit. Young warriors, fearing nothing. Later, the staff takes most of the group up into the mountains to a trail. Andy leads us on; beautiful country here. The trail parallels a small stream. Beaver dams near the headwaters. Incredible. Aspen trees, huge aspens.

Dinner is so good; hungry after hiking all day. Sharing tonight around the campfire. Humble moments of pride, things that need to be shared, easy to get choked up a bit. So proud of Brian. Thank you, Lord. So special is this place and time. He is here. I will not forget this moment with my son. Brian and I stay after and help put out the camp fire. Many trips to the stream to fetch the water. Camp fire smells good, even going out. So many stars in the sky.

Slept on a rock. I know better than that. Brian took up most of the tent. He claims I snore! Chilly morning, but not cold. Break camp, much laughter. Drove into town, had a hot breakfast at this mom-n-pop breakfast place, and we get a discount. We fill up most of one end of the restaurant. Delicious food. Hot coffee, good company.

Boys are talking about whose father snores the loudest. Brian has biscuits and gravy. Next we drive to a swim site / hot-springs location and enjoy the sunshine. Who can dunk their father? The boys are having a blast; dads, too. The sun feels good.

Later that day, Brian and his new friends hang out, fish, and enjoy their afternoon. They have made some friends with the SC volunteer staff. Steve, Audley (a grandfather there with his grandson), Doug, myself and Ryan (SC guide) take a quick trip and climb up to Ptarmigan Lake, which is about 13,000 feet or so.

We arrived at the top just as a storm blew in, temperatures dropped, and we witnessed some incredible cloud activity. Audley is inspiring, sets a fast pace. Awesome lake, crystal clear, cold water. Humbling to witness His work here.

Fellowship is special that night. Rick has a gift. A true gift. The boys build a camp fire in the pit, hang out that night. Thinking about our last night still to come.

Whitewater rafting today. Great breakfast, hummingbirds are incredible. Load the trucks and head out. Brian and I, Audley and Doug, George and Jonathan and Chase (our boat guide) make a crew. Poly-suits keep us warm-extremely cold water in the Arkansas River. Beautiful day. Noah’s Ark company. Good, clean staff. How much water CAN you splash onto your buddies? We tried to find out.

Brian is in his glory. This is great. Such a grand time, the river is incredible. Our guides are very professional and safe. Reassuring. Photographs are taken and are available at the lodge. What splendor. We drive to K’s for lunch. Prepare for the last evening fellowship.

Each father has a special message for his son that night. Each dad has spent a lot of time in preparation for this. Rick is doing such a fine job of leading us all along this path to arrive at this destination.

Powerful fellowship that evening. What a powerful way, a spiritual way, to culminate this week. Praise for Rick and the Lord working through him.

Last day, heading out. Brian does well in getting ready, packing his stuff. No hurry to rush, plenty of time. Great breakfast, wonderful prayer.

Brian and some of the boys have befriended some of the camp volunteers. Good kids, clean cut, wholesome, helpful, and cheerful. They are all hanging out, exchanging contact information, taking departure pictures.

I will miss this place. A few quiet moments near the spring to thank God for this time. Praise You for allowing us to be here, to know You better…to share. Telling Rick thanks. Words fall short. Hugging a new brother. “Chicago” peppers the gathering with humor, we all laugh. Goodbyes are tough.

Aaron drives us to Denver later that morning. T-Bar and Robinson (his son), Brian and Steve and me in the truck. Hugs goodbye at the airport. What a blessing. Brian and I pick up a rental and head to Colorado Springs and a visit to the AF Academy.

Later, we attend Mass in the Cadet Chapel, kneel and pray together. We spend some time just talking about things. Later, Brian and I talk about the week. “We need to do this again, Dad. This was fun, and it was……special. I really did enjoy this,” he tells me. Yes, we both did.


Lieutenant Colonel Phil Tilly, USA, is an OCF member. He leads the University of Cincinnati Army ROTC Battalion. He and his wife, Jeanne, also have a daughter, Alicia.