A good adventure will always bring a family closer, and perhaps no one knows this better than Charles Scott, father of two and author of Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan. It all began two years ago when Scott took three months off from his corporate job at Intel to bike across Japan…with his 8-year-old son, Sho. Since then, he and his children have made trips in Iceland and Europe. In Rising Son, Scott chronicles the inaugural adventure in Asia, sharing stories of weathering storms, sleeping in tents, eating fresh sea urchins and other native foods, as well as Sho’s search for the “Best Game Room Ever.”
Not only is it a compelling read about a father and son becoming a team, it’s a story filled with astute parenting insights. We get to see a glimpse of Scott’s beautiful family life with his Japanese wife and joyous children as he talks about his adventures handling temper tantrums, building his children’s confidence, and making all of this possible by giving them the precious gift of time.
Did you have expectations for the kind of father you’d be? How much time did you imagine you’d be able to spend with your kids?
My father is a professor so growing up, I actually I had spent at lot of time with him, because in the summer he would often have time off to write. One summer we even built a cabin together. So I was spoiled as a child by the amount of time I was able to spend with both of my parents. It was normal to me growing up; [I thought] of course you have a lot of access to your father, and then as an adult I just realized how rare that was. So when I became an adult and started working at Intel and living a much more typical corporate existence, and then I had children, I realized, in a pretty stark way how I couldn’t be available to my kids the way my parents were for me. And I really didn’t like it.
At age 13, you asked your father for permission to run a marathon. Did his parenting style inspire your philosophy that “kids are able to do more than adults think”?
My father played a very important role. When I asked for permission, he did hesitate, but said, “Yes.” In saying, “Yes,” he was giving me the benefit of the doubt, showing confidence in my ability to do this race. In the end, it really was too much for me, I mean I did it, but I didn’t train properly for it and it was a very hard experience, but what really mattered was that he had the confidence in my ability to set this difficult goal and achieve it…and also that he desired to share that experience with me. One of the most important things a parent can give a child, in addition to unconditional love, is that they have confidence in their child.
Why was it important for you to make the trip with your own son happen?
The book starts out with my experience of being away on a three-week business trip and coming back to my family when my son is only six months old, realizing that this is not the father I wanted it be. And this is a tension I think many people start to feel: How do you pursue your professional ambitions and also be the parent that you want to be? I struggled with that. So this trip was my attempt to be more present, to prioritize spending time with my kids when they’re still young.
What was the most surprising thing you learned from the trip?
I was surprised by how many temper tantrums Sho threw early on and the depth of his emotions. It was always when his expectations weren’t met. For example, on the first day, my wife and daughter were still with us on the trip, and we had planned to meet with them in the next town. But I couldn’t ride as quickly as I thought I would be able to. When we realized that we wouldn’t make it to meet my wife (we ended up staying in a tent on a farm) and Sho was extremely upset. I realized it was critical for me to carefully manage his expectations.
The other surprise was how quickly the temper tantrums went away! So what you have do is just bear it; don’t give up. He gave me plenty of reasons early on to give up and say “this is a mistake”—but after a few days, after having a few conversations about why he was having temper tantrums, what things we could change to prevent them, and the fact that he should think of himself as a team member, took away the temper tantrums immediately. It was remarkable. I think that early message about having confidence in your child and helping them to do something difficult, that’s a powerful experience and children will rise to the occasion.
You mention in the book many encounters with wildlife, from watching Planet Earth as family to sighting of bears and the great grey heron. Was that intentional?
Thanks for asking that question, because in talking about the parent-child reasons for these trips, an equally important part in my mind is exposing my children to wild nature. I believe that the more time that a child spends out in nature, the more they’ll want to protect it. One of our challenges as a species right now is that we’re increasingly urbanized, and increasingly disconnected from nature, I certainly feel that way living in New York City. You have to make a conscious effort to be deeply connected to the rhythms of nature, and I wanted to give my children that gift. So that was an explicit goal of this trip, not simply to raise money for the tree planting campaign for the United Nations, but being out in nature. We often slept in a tent. When you sleep in a tent, when the sun goes down, you often fall asleep right away, even if it’s 8pm, and wake up with the sun. Your body begins to shift with the rise and fall of the sun. That connection is powerful. In addition to seeing all these incredible creatures! When we were in Iceland, at one point, my daughter said, “I’m in love with horses and arctic terns.” That was her declaration. And I was thinking about it, and if you feel love for horse and arctic terns and then you start to see that they are threatened, you actually want to take action. So I hope that one of things my children internalize from these trips is a strong desire to protect the natural environment, and that’s part of our responsibilities as humans.
We read all about your personal Yoga Extravaganza. Do you and kids have a particular way of brainstorming adventurous ideas?
Basically, the yoga experience was to see what happens when you push yourself in physical endurance challenges. As for coming up with adventurous ideas, because my kids are so young, their ideas can be so ridiculous…
But their ideas can’t be that ridiculous, because you make them happen!
That’s true! I guess I shouldn’t judge them; I just tell them to throw out ideas. What sounds crazy? Some of them are not doable. For example; one of Sho’s idea was to swim from New York to Japan. But it’s really fun, sometimes we just take the atlas out, start looking at different countries and ask ourselves: Where would be a good place to go and do interesting things? It’s a great exercise. It encourages them to be imaginative and it also shows them that the world in an amazing place that you can explore. And if at a young age you look at the world as place where different cultures are accessible, and the differences are there, but there are also commonalities… All of these experiences make the world feel like an amazing place to experience, instead of just staying home and connecting with your small group of friends.
Scott and his children will follow the Lewis & Clark Trail by bike this summer, collecting data for a project with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. National Geographic Traveler will publish Scott’s essays from the trip. Learn more about Rising Son.