Dads can make a difference
By Linda Freeman | June 15,2014
Photo courtesy of Quinn Campbell
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur, left, and his son Aidan Casner ride a jump trail at Highland Mountain Bike Park in New Hampshire last weekend.
The job description for fatherhood has certainly changed over the years. From the days of patriarchal rule, a dad’s role has transitioned from breadwinner and disciplinarian with unquestioned authority to one of caring and companionship; in many cases a full partnership with the mom, sharing child-rearing responsibilities equally.
Some dads become pals and playmates, treading carefully that line between parent and buddy. Others do as they say and function as role models for their sons and daughters.
It is no wonder, therefore, that a time has been designated to honor fathers. If moms could have their day, why not dads? Lyndon B Johnson was the first to proclaim the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day and, in 1972, Richard Nixon made it official by signing into law Father’s Day as a permanent national holiday.
The United States is not alone; there is a very long list of countries that honor dads. Dates and celebrations vary. Though the notion is rather grand, “to celebrate fatherhood, paternal bonds and the influence of fathers in society,” (web definition), the means of doing so ranges from somber to bawdy. In Germany, for example, it has been a time for fathers to spend the day getting drunk. In the United States, it has become the traditional backyard barbecue day.
But, let’s go back to the concept of dads (in reality both parents, but for today, we’re talking fathers) as role models. If a child grows up in a family where communication and shared activity are the norm, that child develops a lifestyle of his or her own in keeping with family daily life and values. That child does not need to be told to do something, he simply does it because it is what he is accustomed to seeing and experiencing.
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur, chief photographer for The Times Argus, had such a childhood. He and his three sisters grew up in Montpelier.
“Dad was an avid hiker,” he said. “He got me into hiking as a child. I had hiked the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire by age 10. Most summer weekends were spent hiking. I started about 5 or 6 years old, carrying my own little pack. My memories are all pretty good.”
Wallace-Brodeur’s memories, in fact, are the idyllic stuff child-rearing books are written about. “We hiked mostly in New Hampshire and stayed in the huts along the trails,” he said. “We were above the tree line, more interesting to kids than walking through the forest. My dad would bring along a magnetic chess set or he’d read to me from the Narnia books. And then there was the food. I loved the food.”
While hiking has remained a constant (now shared with wife Carolyn, a “convert from El Paso Texas; we hiked on our honeymoon”), there are other sports in Wallace-Brodeur’s life.
At Montpelier High School, he learned more than academics. Already comfortable on cross-country skis, he was introduced to Alpine skiing. As soon as he got his license, he became obsessed with downhill skiing and couldn’t get enough. Perhaps that was when Wallace-Brodeur realized that he was and is an adrenaline junkie.
An accomplished student, Wallace-Brodeur went on to Middlebury College where he majored in studio art and became part of a college community “tied to the place, people who felt strongly about Vermont.” At Middlebury he gained experience mountain biking.
“In high school, I was on a team every season, but always individual sports,” Wallace-Brodeur said. “Teams never held much appeal. I preferred to rely on myself. Whatever happens is my own doing.”
Now, fully immersed in his action-photography career, Wallace-Brodeur continues to include outdoor activity and competition in his daily life. Whether skiing, biking or hiking, it’s all still about adrenaline.
Aidan Casner, son of Wallace-Brodeur, is following in the family footsteps. As a baby he was backpacked. On skis at age 2, he was on his own by 3.
At 15, he has credentials to alarm his opponents. Although he, too, is a downhill skier and plays varsity ultimate at Montpelier High School, Casner would probably cite free skiing and downhill mountain bike racing as his two leading sports (for now).
He grew up trail riding for fun. Once introduced to downhill mountain biking and competing, however, he was captivated.
“Downhill mountain biking,” his father said, “is typically lift-serviced. Faster, steeper and with higher consequences, like a terrain park through the woods, it requires full-face helmets, body armor and bikes with more suspension. You get good by spending a lot of time in the saddle where it becomes mental; you build trust. It’s super scary and requires a leap of faith. You get more confident as the season goes on.”
The season, in fact, requires travel and weekends of competition that Wallace-Brodeur shares with his son. While Casner prepares and races, dad rides and photographs.
Last year was Casner’s first big year competing, winning three state championships in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. This year he’s moved up to Category 1 and has already won an enduro on June 1 in the Catskills.
Superimpose these successes on his free-skiing wins and it’s clear that adrenaline factors in here too.
“Free skiing,” Wallace-Brodeur said, “is done on a gnarly section of mountain and judged on line, aggression, big air and fluid style.” This past season, in addition to winning the Mad River Glen triple crown championship, Casner set a new record in the Vertical Challenge (most runs on the single chair in a day) and finished seventh overall in the Ski the East Free Ride Tour.
“It’s all about him,” Wallace-Brodeur said. “It’s been really fun. We go as a family for biking. Travel and equipment are expensive. It’s our family hobby. We’ve made good friends.”
Does Wallace-Brodeur interfere? “He’s independent,” Wallace-Brodeur said of his son. “I don’t have anything to show him. He’s showing me. I photograph not just him but everybody. They love to see me.”
When asked to choose one word to describe his dad, Casner said “fun.”
What about the times when Wallace-Brodeur joins Casner and his friends?
“Well, the only time that happens is if we’re riding Highland or something or skiing, so all my friends are like mine and appreciate how good he is for his age,” Casner said.
“Most of them like him more than me because he takes sick pictures of them a lot,” Casner added. “I’ll get to Mad River and people will immediately say, ‘Hey Aidan, your dad here?’ And he can also keep up with (and sometimes he’s better) than most of my friends so it’s fun.”
“Competing is fun,” Wallace-Brodeur said, “but I really enjoy being there with him. It’s a bond. It’s shared conversation and energy, the glue that keeps our relationship going. I like that he has a passion. He’s never twiddling his thumbs. My approach has been to lead by example. I don’t tell him, I show by my actions.”
It’s working. Later Casner said: “Yeah, I think the only reason I do the things I do and have the level of passion for my sports is because my dad got me into them and spent time teaching me instead of just throwing me in ski school or something. He skied his whole life but we got into riding downhill bikes together and have seen each other’s progression the whole way.”
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur’s work can be seen at flickr.com/photos/photojeb/ and at youtube.com/channel/UCYOWy5JS0-JicpUxVmsWbzQ.