Helping fathers connect with their children can be challenging, especially in an age of fractured families, omnipresent digital devices and year-round organized sports. But fostering those connections and nurturing deeper relationships between father and child is the goal of Family Lines, a ministry that organizes expeditions, hands-on workshops, field instruction and filmmaking for fathers and their children.
Begun in 2010 and based in Anacortes, Washington, Family Lines wants to fight absence in fatherhood, however that looks.
Founder and guide Jon Hagedorn, who has a degree in outdoor recreation and leadership from Western Washington University in Bellingham and has logged thousands of miles on rivers throughout the Northwest as both a whitewater and fishing guide and instructor, spoke about the ministry on a recent episode of “The Storied Outdoors” podcast.
Hagedorn shared about his experience as a father trying to faithfully raise teenage sons with podcast hosts Bryan Gill, director of university assessment and accreditation at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and Brad Hill, worship and missions pastor for Mars Hill Church in Mobile.
Hagedorn said while he spent time with boys on the river, he focused on asking about their “defining moments.”
“In the early 2000s I started working with a wilderness ministry,” he recalled. “We were primarily focused on the river, but would do backpacking and climbing. I had a lot of time beside the river with a lot of kids and heard a lot of stories.
“So many of those revolved around family, especially Dad,” he said. “And dads aren’t perfect. My dad didn’t do it perfect, but he was there and loved me unconditionally. I just grew up knowing there was never anything I would do or not do that would change my dad’s love for me.”
Hagedorn said he believes the role of fathers is to represent the Heavenly Father’s love to their children.
He joked that one of his greatest privileges is to be an awkward question asker on behalf of fathers, to bring them together with their children and promote healing in their family.
When asked by the podcast hosts how Family Lines came into existence, Hagedorn said fishing played a large part.
“Fishing is a great way to bring together multigenerational interactions. Grandpa can go with dad and grandchild. It’s quiet enough to invite conversations, but you’re also doing something. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder interaction.”
Family Lines focuses on helping fathers choose presence, and the ministry estimates it helped facilitate more than 23,000 hours of intentional presence between fathers and children in 2021.
“The biggest reach comes through our documentary work,” Hagedorn explained. “That’s one of the largest ways we involve people right now …. It’s the power of testimony.”
He noted how the ministry helped him make it through the death of his first wife, Erin.
“I was asking, ‘How are You going to walk me through this season?’ I was talking to my Heavenly Father and I wanted to know,” Hagedorn said.
God led him through that trying time of suddenly raising two boys as a single father.
“I assumed we were doing it a certain way, then it flips upside down,” Hagedorn explained. “The other side of the camera was a dramatic shift. I would hear that story from others, and all of a sudden the camera’s turned around to me and I don’t know what to say.”
One thing he didn’t want was Satan to steal what he still had, he said. He remembered thinking, “I don’t know much of anything right now other than I know I don’t want the enemy to steal what was a source of joy and ministry and life, and disconnect me from taking fathers out.”
Family Lines helped Hagedorn stay connected and focused.
“When you start something and you have no idea and you say, ‘All right, Lord. Let’s go for it,’ then you see Him take it places you couldn’t have imagined,” he said. “The grace of God becomes very real.
“We need relationship-building conversations, and we encourage dads to share their experiences and help their kids learn and feel loved,” Hagedorn added.
Each generation can impact the next, he said, like a child standing on a father’s shoulders to see farther.
Hagedorn concluded by stressing the importance of getting out into God’s creation where there is no distraction and being intentional within creating relationships.
“Taking people out of their routines can bring unpredictability, but [it also] can build memories and stories,” he said.
For more information on Family Lines and Jon Hagedorn visit familylines.org.
For more information about “The Storied Outdoors” podcast visit thestoriedoutdoors.com.