Lessons From Rainier
About the Guest
One challenging experience begets another. After climbing Pike's Peak, David Pierce and his teen daughter, Chera, needed a new challenge. So they took on Mt. Rainier. David talks about their attempt to scale it and what they learned about each other in the process.
David PierceDavid is an adjunct English professor at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the guest writer-in-resident at Taylor University in Ft. Wayne, IN in 2004 and again in 2007, where he taught a two-week course in crime writing. He also works as a writing mentor with the continuing education curriculum at MTSU known as The Writer’s Loft. Currently lives in Murfreesboro, TN with his wife Chonda. Their daughter Chera recently married and their son Zachary attends a nearby university.
One challenging experience begets another.
Lessons From Rainier
Bob: David Pierce has faced down some significant challenges in his life. He’s climbed mountains, he’s run in marathons. He says nothing prepared him for the challenge of being a dad.
David: My journey parallels the mountain climbing journey. I didn’t know how to climb a mountain. That’s what I bring out in the book. How, inept I was. My journey as a father was a lot like that. I didn’t know how to be a father. I didn’t have training. I didn’t have a role model. I stumbled into some things, swerved into others, made mistakes, and learned something. I’m doing that with my son now. I’m finding out what it is he likes.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday June 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. David Pierce joins us today to talk about the importance of being connected heart to heart, and soul to soul with your daughters and your sons.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. We’ve talked about the fact that you and your daughters used to go on daddy-daughter dates. But, you’re grateful, aren’t you, that none of them ever suggested anything as outlandish as our guest had to deal with.
Dennis: You know, none of them ever had the thought of climbing a mountain.
Bob: Yes? Do you remember anything that they wanted to do that was anything close to that?
Dennis: Shopping. You mentioned earlier Bob, that if you’re going to be the dad your kids need you to be, then it’s going to demand sacrifice. You’re going to have to deny yourself at some point and it doesn’t always mean that you’re going to have to go to Colorado Springs and go to the trailhead, climb up from 6,700 to 14,100… to be able to do it and spend time with your daughter. But our guest on today’s broadcast has written a book called Don’t Let Me Go. It’s all about the journeys he’s taken with his daughter. David Pierce joins us again on FamilyLife Today. David, welcome back.
David: Thank you, Dennis. You know, if your choice was to go shopping or not, I think I got off easy.
Bob: You think Pike’s Peak may be…?
David: I think I’d rather climb a mountain.
Bob: This all started when your daughter came and said, “I’d like to climb a mountain.” And you guys decided to go for it. You flew to Colorado Springs, went up Pike’s Peak, and if I were you, I’d have been thinking, “OK, that was fun. Now we’re done.” But both of you came down, and thought, “Let’s do another.”
Dennis: Yes, “What’s next?”
David: Right. We were in the cab on the way to the airport, and she said, “What will we do next?” I said, “Well, we’ll check the bags, get a boarding pass…”
“No, no, no. What’s our next adventure?”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. But, what happened is, over the next three years, we climbed four more mountains, wound up running a couple of marathons, and I got to watch her grow up. I got to watch her grow into a young woman from 15, up to 18, till it was time to take her to college.
Bob: Now, was outdoors and fitness, kind of her thing?
David: Yes. It was and still is. She tells us now, that the best Christmas present she ever got was a sleeping bag. She loves that. I like it, but…
Bob: Did you hear that? “I like it…”
David: I like it, it’s alright… I was never going to plan to climb a mountain, or ride a bull, nothing like that. But, she did open that door to me, and invited me to step into her world. And I said, “Yes.”
Dennis: One thing I’ve found interesting as I was going through your book, was the repeated references in various ways back to your own experience as a son with your father.
David: Right. I hadn’t planned on this being a book. We just had a great mountain climbing experience, and I write, and I write about everything. So, that’s what I did. I went back and I said, “I need to write this down, just so I can document it for me.” Then we did the marathon, so I said, “That was another cool experience, let me write that down.”
The stories began to intertwine, and I thought, I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know what I’m going to say in this book. I finally finished the whole book, we had all our adventures and everything, but it still didn’t feel right.
Until I found this quote that’s in the book, I think. It says, “The knowledge of God is a mountain steep, and difficult to climb.” I thought, I’ve had a climb like that a long time ago, with my father. He was an alcoholic and it wasn’t the greatest experience. But, he didn’t become an alcoholic till I was maybe ten or eleven years old.
When I was seven I found God. I had a great experience and I thought God was my best friend. It was just wonderful. When my father became an alcoholic, I asked God to fix that. God didn’t fix it. For years I kept asking God the same prayer over and over. “Please help him stop drinking.” God wouldn’t fix that. I thought I lost God.
Dennis: Before you move off of that, your dad would come home and get drunk. Was he a quiet drunk, or was he a rowdy drunk, or abusive?
David: No, he was very quiet. When he would get drunk, he would just sit there, mumble, and he would tell me how much he loved me, all the time. But I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.” I would try to strong-arm him, and say, “I’m not going to love you till you stop this.” That was my eleven or twelve-year-old mentality there. I couldn’t understand what God was waiting on. I thought, “I need some help. Where did you go?” So, that became my climb.
When I got to looking at this book that I had done, there were so many parallels. I thought, maybe this is what this book is about. I had this climb long before Chera ever came along. When I finished the book I thought, “As tough as the physical part of it was for Chera and me, I’m so glad she did not have to do that emotional climb like I did.” Eventually I did find God again.
Bob: Tell us. Finish the story. Because, if at age 14 you’re going, “God’s never fixed my dad, and I’ve been asking him to do it for seven years,” did you start to give up on God?
David: I probably did. Yes. I was just angry. That anger had built a wall between God and me. Years and years went by, and nothing would happen. But then one day he was living with me at the time, my parents had divorced. I came home and he didn’t wake up. I knew something wasn’t right. He was breathing really ragged. We had bunk beds. He was on the bottom bunk. I remember walking in and I just knew he wasn’t going to wake up. So, I crawled into the bunk with him, and had his head in my lap.
I began to stroke his face. His face was really hard and weathered. It looked like it was made of stone. But when I touched it, it was so soft and warm. I just touched his whole face all over. I kept telling him how much I loved him, over and over, and over. I just prayed he could hear me.
It was then I felt like this wall came down. I wasn’t sure what was going on at the time, but the moment that I loved my father just like he was, right where he was, this wall came down and there was God. I thought, “There’s God, there you are! Where have you been?”
It wasn’t God that went away, or that got lost. It was me. I couldn’t see God because I was so angry. That was my summit. That’s what I wrote in the book. That was my long climb to get back to God. Since that time, that’s the message I took down from my summit. To love people, just like they are. It doesn’t mean you condone what they do, but I’m never going to withhold love like that again.
Dennis: How old were you at the time?
David: I was 23. This was just a few months before my wife and I were married.
Dennis: I just want to underscore what you said there, because the fifth commandment in the Ten Commandments tell us to honor our parents, “…so that it may go well with you, and that you live a long life in the land that God gives you.” I think it’s more than just a physical settling of a country or of a piece of property. I think it’s a sense of well-being that you’re describing here.
When you do finally turn the corner and forgive, give up the right to punish, and find a way to return love, even if your dad didn’t love you in return. It’s at that point you as a man, I think grow up to the point where you can take a wife. You can say, “I do,” and you can become a father yourself. Then begin to love your children.
David: Yes. I think I even write in the book that it was about a year after that, a little over a year that Chera was born. Someone asked me in another interview, they said, “Was there an event, something that happened in your life where you just realized that you want to be in your daughter’s world?”
I said, “Yes, the day she was born,” from the very get-go. I think we learn from our parents. A lot of times we learn what we want to be. They teach us what it is that we want to be. Then there are times where we learn what we don’t want to be.
My father taught me some good things. He taught me a good work ethic, I took those things. But he showed me a lot of what I didn’t want to be. So, I knew that with my daughter and my kids, I want to be in their world. I want to understand their language, what it is they like and don’t like, and I want to be there to answer questions. All these things I didn’t get from my father, but I thought, this is the way I’m going to go. I didn’t know exactly where to go. But I knew where to stay away from, and that’s how I operated a lot.
I think my journey parallels the mountain climbing journey. I didn’t know how to climb a mountain, and that’s what I bring out in the book. How inept I was at training and climbing and what to expect, the pain. My journey as a father was a lot like that. I didn’t know how to be a father. I didn’t have training; I didn’t have a role model. I stumbled into some things, swerved into others, made mistakes, but what I wanted to do in the book was be vulnerable.
If I messed up, I was the first to say, “I messed up, I didn’t know this.” Because of that kind of attitude, I could turn it around really quickly and learn something. I’ll tell you what I learned from my daughter. We had a moment on the mountain where we were on Mount Rainier. To climb Mount Rainier you have to go through an evaluation that’s a one day training. Part of that training, is that you have to keep up with the guide. You hike about two miles up to the snow field, on a glacier, then you play with the ice axe all day, which is my idea of fun.
So, the guide puts on this big backpack and he says, “OK, keep up with me,” and he was a really tall wiry guy. We couldn’t keep up with a tall wiry guy. He just took off at a fast pace. They told us, on the way up there, one of the guides said, “You guys haven’t been able to keep up, so we’re not going to let you climb tomorrow.” I was devastated. I was rocked. I thought, “Wow! We came all the way out here. We’ve been planning and training for this.” So, I had to tell Chera. She was sitting on her backpack on the ice. I went up to her and said, “Chera, they’re not going to let us climb.”
She just nodded and said, “You know what, I didn’t think so. As I was walking up, I could see the summit.” And you could, Mount Rainier was just glorious. We could see it. She said, “I could see the summit, and I was praying to God. I said, ‘God, please either help me get to the top of this mountain, or teach me something.’”
Right then I thought, a lot of times kids want to be like their parents when they grow up. I thought at that moment, I want to be like my kid. I want that kind of attitude. I have claimed that over and over. Every time something wrong or bad happens, I remember that and say, “God, just teach me something here, because, I messed this up already. Now, let me learn something.” I learned that from her on the mountain. That’s what I brought down.
Dennis: You know, there are some lessons to be learned because you weren’t able to make it to the top of Mount Rainier, the first time. But you circled the wagons, and you and your daughter made another pass at it.
David: We did. We were down low, and my plan was, I had this image: we’re going to summit Mount Rainier and what a great ending to the story that we’re doing here. And we didn’t. Somebody came down and said, “I just hiked up to base camp, it was a lot of fun.” I said, “Really? Just by yourself?” “Yes.” So, I looked at Chera and she looked at me, and said, “Let’s do that.”
We were at 6,200 feet, base camp was at 10,000. So, the next morning, we got up and went back. The team we had failed on was headed out. So, our goal was to beat them to base camp. So, we took off.
Dennis: Now, we have to describe what you’re walking on here because this is not like Pike’s Peak.
David: No. The first couple of miles was a nice little trail, a lot of tourists were there. Then at about two miles, you hit what’s called the snow field. It’s really just a glacier. There are no switchbacks, so that’s a plus. The downside is, it’s just straight up. You’re on ice, and you have to wear these spiked shoes called, crampons so you don’t fall off the mountain. It’s just a matter of hour after hour just going straight up on this ice. Base camp, like I said is at 10,000 feet.
So we headed out, and hit the ice field, and we got our crampons on. It was rather warm that day so Chera had taken off her sweatshirt and her glacier glasses. You have to wear sunglasses. They call them glacier glasses because they have little side protectors on so the sun doesn’t get in. Because, the sun can hurt your eyes, like a welder’s torch.
She’d lost hers. We got to the snow field and she figured it was about a mile back. We don’t have enough time because we’ll miss the bus at the end of the day. So I told her, “We can’t do this then.” Chera said, “We have to Dad.” She was begging. I said, “We can’t risk your eyesight.”
She said, “OK, then I’ll blindfold myself.” So she took a bandana and tied it around her eyes and said, “OK, I’ll follow your voice, you just go ahead.” So, I…
Dennis: Well, now again, we have to paint the picture. We’re talking about a steep ice field where, if you started sliding, on this thing…
David: Well, if you fell you’d just roll a little ways, and then stop. It’s not as steep there. Now, at the upper mountain, yes, we wouldn’t do that. But on this we were just crunching along on the ice, packed down snow kind of stuff.
Bob: And she’s blindfolded.
David: She’s blindfolded. It looks like I’m leading a hostage up the side of this mountain.
David: So, we’re going along for about an hour. I said, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this?” She said, “Yes keep going, we’re going to make it to the base camp.” There was a gentleman coming down and he has his glacier glasses on, but I notice he has another pair hanging around his neck. So right away I decided I’m going to buy those glasses. Whatever they cost, I’m going to buy them.
So we stop and we talk with him. I asked him about the glasses. He keeps looking at Chera like, “Are you OK? Young lady are you alright?” I assured him that we lost her glasses. I said, “How much would you sell those for?” Immediately he takes them off, “No, you take these.”
So Chera puts them on and says, “Wow! This is beautiful!” So, we keep going. She said, “I’ll bet that was an angel.” At that moment we turned around and he’s gone. So, we thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me—an angel!” But, just then we see his head bob up. He’s gone down to a little dip in the ice. Chera turns to me and says, “Let’s still say he was an angel.”
I said, “All right. He was.”
Dennis: But you made it all the way to base camp with her.
David: We did.
Bob: Your first mountain adventure with your daughter was in 1999. She was 15 years old. So today she’s married?
David: Right. I write about what I call our last climb. It was the day that I gave her away. She got married in the backyard. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. It’s a brick walkway. Step number two wobbles a little bit. But, I know it wobbles. I tell people to watch out for the wobble, and everything is OK. Chonda told me to fix it, but I keep putting it off.
So we get to the top and I don’t know if I can make it. She’s got my arm, we’re stepping down, and everybody has bets on when I’m going to lose it. Usually it’s step one or two. “He’s not going to make it that far down. He’s going to lose it.” I get to step two and it wobbles, and I forgot it wobbles. It kind of throws me a little bit. But I correct, and Chera says something to me.
It was a mountain climbing thing. It was so simple, I can’t even remember now what it was. I couldn’t remember five minutes after she said it. I just know that it was a mountain climbing thing, and it calmed me so much, that I chuckled. Then she laughed, and the rest of the way we just laughed and talked all the way down to the end. I’m standing there, and I’m remembering the (rehearsal) ceremony from the night before, because, that’s when I really lost it.
My brother-in-law performed the ceremony. During the instruction time he said, “Craig, you’re over here, Chera, you’re over here, David you stand here. When I give the word, here’s what I want you to do.” He’s very matter-of-fact. He said, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take Chera’s hand, I want you to pass it over to Craig, and let go.”
I said, “Let go? That’s it? Just like that? Let go?” He said, “Yes, yes.” I don’t think he got the significance of that. But it just went all through me, and I thought, “This is going to be the hardest thing in the world.” But we got through it. (At the wedding) I passed her hand off to his, and I went down and sat next to her mother.
It was all I could do to keep from laughing. I wasn’t crying, I was just so happy for her. She even told me in a card that she gave me. “This is not our last adventure. I just have someone else to share it with now. Someone that can keep up with me,” is what she said.
Dennis: Well, it’s a great illustration of, really how a father’s heart ought to be knit to his daughter’s heart. There’s really not much to be said about that, Bob. Other than just saying: if you have a little girl, you don’t start when she’s fifteen. You start all the way back when she’s four, and you do the Pierce Family Show, like you did—or your version of it, obviously—but you pursue that little girl’s heart.
So, when you make that handoff—I didn’t laugh when I made the handoff. I was choking out the words, because I got a few words in. I thought, if I’m going to pay for this wedding, I’m going to make more than just a handoff here when I place my daughter’s hand in the man who would become her husband. I think being a little girl’s daddy has to be one of the great privileges in all of life.
David: I’ll tell you. The title of this book wasn’t my idea. The editor called one day and said, “We’ve got a new title.” I said, “OK, hit me.” He said, “It’s called, Don’t Let Me Go.” I thought, “That didn’t hit me. I don’t know about that.” So, I called Chera up. I said, “Here’s what they want. They want to call it, Don’t Let Me Go,” and she began to cry. I said, “What was that about?” She told me, “Dad, just because I’m grown, just because you gave me away in marriage, I don’t want you to stop being my father. I want you to call me, ask me about school, and ask me about life. I want you to mentor my husband.”
I had not had that mentality before. My thinking was like the country music songs. “She’s growing up, I’m giving her away, and I’ll never see her again.” But, that’s not true. I still get to be her father. And, I still call her every day. We have the best time. No matter how many times we get together, somebody has a mountain climbing story. Every time.
Dennis: Well David, I appreciate you coming and joining us and sharing these stories with us. I think there are going to be some dads that might go home tonight a little more purposeful and intentional as they think about their daughters.
Bob: There may be more dads and daughters along Pike’s Peak trail as a result of what we’ve heard.
Dennis: We may be talking to some daughters who are thinking, “I wonder if daddy would like to…” and they fill in the blank.
David: There you go.
Dennis: Young lady, just do it.
Bob: We’ve got copies of David’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can get in touch with us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY. 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. You can request a copy of the book when you call, or again go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s more information about David’s book available there.
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