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Editor's note: This is a continuation of a column printed July 27.

After the Strumbellas concert resulted in cancellation, my son and I fled Hamilton, Ontario, for Toronto, a relatively short drive northeast. Lake Ontario shimmered in the sunlight, seemingly reflecting the golden NBA championship trophy the city had just won. Buildings made of glass stood on every corner. With three million people, Toronto is the New York City of Canada.

"You want to stay here tonight?" I asked my son over sandwiches on the lakeshore. Music bumped in the background and couples meandered near the ferry stop.

My son drank deeply from his water glass. "You know, I think you and Mom would really enjoy spending the night here."

My wife was a thousand miles away. I caught on slowly. "Okay, let's head to Niagara Falls." We finished lunch and climbed back into the car. The funny road-trip smell had returned.

We had to skirt Hamilton again en route to the waterfalls, and entered the beautiful Canadian wine country. Directions on the iPhone brought us to a stop in the middle of a sleepy town on a hill. It was Sunday. A few people lounged on porch rails, and traffic was light.

"I don't see any waterfalls. I think Siri is messing with us," I muttered.

Finally, we saw a sign that indicated the falls were down a long hill. Riding the brakes, we followed a small highway to an empty parking lot at the Travelodge and started walking. Turning a corner, the most powerful cataracts in North America appeared amid a veil of mist.

My son and I sent a selfie to the family. "We're looking for a barrel."

"Not funny," came the response.

After a lengthy tour, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge back into the United States. The American border agent checked our car tags. "Buy anything of value in Canada?" he asked.

I looked at the case of Moosehead beer perched atop the camping equipment. He followed my gaze. "I'll take that as 'no.'"

The U.S. side of Niagara Falls is more state park than tourist trap. A spray of water covered us as we stood between the Bridal Veil and American Falls. We walked every path, every trail, sensing the majesty of natural wonder. Finally, it was time to leave.

Just down the road we set up camp near some woods on the eastern edge of the Niagara River. We cooked hamburgers over an open fire and listened to bugs, fireworks over the waterfalls, and the Strumbellas late into the night.

I was thinking of that campsite after reading an article in The New York Times about a Danish rite known as dropping. Parents blindfold their kids--ages 12-15--take them to a remote forest, and drop them off with only a crude map or basic GPS. The kids have to find their way back. It's designed to teach kids the value of problem-solving and to help develop self-confidence.

I wondered, could I have dropped my son in those Niagara woods and have him find his way out? It didn't matter. Child services would be at my doorstep by morning. There are some obvious dangers to abandoning kids in U.S. forests. But the idea of learning self-reliance has strong attraction and theoretical "droppings" can happen every day.

Think about it. Parenting is a long path. We start with sequential parenting. That's when our kids are younger and we lay out each step for solving any problem. This is what you do: Step 1. Step 2. Step 3. Boom. Problem solved.

Later, hopefully, there's a turn from sequential parenting to Socratic parenting. You believe your English teacher graded your test wrong. What do you think you should say to him? You want more playing time. How would you approach the coach? These parents open the door to problem-solving, to allowing their kids the great benefit of experience. Sequential parents tick off steps and fill in the lines on a road map. Socratic parents hand over the map and willingly discuss all options.

The latest college admissions scandal caused head shakes, chuckles, and gasps when the news broke that some folks had taken sequential parenting to great extreme. The term "helicopter" didn't begin to describe what we saw. It was appalling because we would never do that. We would never do that because we know that false success does more damage than real failure.

But would we allow ourselves to leave the comfort of planning every step for our children in favor of the growth they receive from solving their own problems? Could we become guides instead of sherpas carrying the load ourselves?

The new school year starts in a matter of days. Another great opportunity to take the youth of Arkansas down the path of knowledge begins. Will our children march along heavily drawn lines? Or will they be given the opportunity to explore the switchbacks of life?

My son and I awoke to a chill. I lit the Jetboil and made coffee. We ate bowls of cereal in silence, listening to the awakened wildlife so far from home. Dew dripped from our tent as we rolled it up and packed our campsite to start the drive south. I took a long look at my youngest son, remembering his days as a baby, as a child. As he loaded gear into our car, I recognized the young man he had become.


Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at

Editorial on 08/10/2019


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