Friday, August 6, 2010

Selfish adrenaline

Boys and girls are different. It's an inescapable biological fact. How on earth the massive social experiment of the '70's attempting to prove exactly the opposite got underway is beyond me, but I digress....

One of the many facets of gender includes fundamental differences in aversion/attraction to risk, and subsequent "adrenaline addiction" (no prizes for guessing of whom I speak). If motion and possible danger are on offer, boys will jostle for their turn.

Joseph Kittinger (wiki page) was in all likelihood an adrenaline junkie. He flew some of the earliest jet fighters in service, took part in the pre-rocket high altitude flight program, once lost consciousness nearly 15 miles above the Earth's surface and survived a fall involving g-forces 22 times that of normal gravity (a record), was the first to cross the Atlantic ocean in a balloon, and for good measure, was shot down over Vietnam. But 50 years ago this month on Aug 16th 1960, for sheer unadulterated adrenaline of historical proportions, Joe did this:

This image captures the moment when Joe jumped out of the gondola of a helium balloon on the very edge of space, more than 100,000 feet above the Earth. Cruising altitude for commercial flights is 30,000 ft. Yes, I said jumped. His free-fall was the longest in history, and he still retains the record for the fastest human in the atmosphere, at 614 mph.

Now, take a look at this clip featuring nine other certified adrenaline junkies.

Seriously cool stuff.

But, then again, how do you view it when you ask yourself the following question: What's the point dude? 

We live in an era that glorifies adrenaline addiction for the drug high that it delivers. Unfortunately, many of these feats are entirely self-serving, and don't actually accomplish anything. 

Historically, boyhood risk-taking morphed into courageous manhood. And that, think about it, was fundamental to society: crossing the equator, mapping new continents, answering the call to arms, blazing the pioneer trails, descending into the oceans trenches, blasting off the launchpad.....

Adrenaline addiction can be a birthright of many boys. If you are raising a danger-magnet, it's your job to guide and shape their need diligently. The objective should be to not to direct them into danger (or even worse: try to tame them), but to make them dangerous. Not to themselves or society, but to a bigger problem that only their breed will tackle. Don't be the dad that just settles for putting them in sports. While a small fraction of those boys will reach the big leagues of endorsement plastered fame, many will be left purposeless once the glory days are gone.

Joe Kittinger was the first human to see the whole curvature of Earth from space. Your son could be the first firefighter into the burning house where kids are missing, the point man on the SWAT team that ends the hostage situation, the first to rappel over the cliff edge to the fallen climber, the helicopter crewman winching flooded evacuees off their rooftop while the hurricane still rages, or the first doctor into the earthquake zone. Do not stand by and watch passively as your boy excels at dangerous purposelessness.

Dad U


  1. What are your thoughts on the Dangerous books for boys/ girls? I agree there are definite biobased differences, but I think that the interest in different activities is partly social and reinforced by genderized books.

  2. My boys lap it up, but I haven't had time to time to read it myself. Of course there is a huge range in "attraction to thrill" (more like a bell curve, where boys curve is just further out on the scale). My post was to comment on directing a hard-wired thrill seeker toward a purpose, as opposed to todays version of highlight reel meaninglessness.