Tommy Caldwell: Rad Dad
January 8, 2019
In December I caught up with climber Tommy Caldwell and wrote a story for the Times about his historic free-climb of El Capitan's Dawn Wall, the new feature documentary about it, his role in the Alex Honnold doc "Free Solo" and his revealing memoir, "The Push," which he published last year and will discuss tonight at the Aspen Winter Words author series.
I also asked him about being a dad, though I had to cut that material from the story.
When I get the chance to interview extraordinary people like Tommy — who, like ordinary me, have young kids at home — I've developed the habit of asking about parenting in the hopes of learning a thing or two about this ever-mystifying, always-humbling experience. Tommy and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter, Ingrid, and a 5-year-old son, Fitz, that they're raising in Boulder. This is what Tommy had to say about parenthood:
AT: How do you integrate your kids into your life as a climber, adventurer and a speaker?
TC: We travel tons with them. For me, the most transformative things in my early childhood were traveling. Climbing was a big part of it — traveling around the western U.S. and then, as a young teenager, traveling internationally. My kids are going into public school next year, so until then we are traveling almost full time with them, living in our van a lot of the year and planning a two-and-a-half-month trip to Europe in March.
It's been amazing. It's cool to see how they have a sense of the world, and of other languages and a community that's pretty global.
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My worry about traveling with them so much was that it was going to take them away from their friends. But you realize that, as a climbing community, you have friends everywhere and there are kids to hang out with everywhere.
AT: How have the kids changed your relationship with the outdoors and climbing?
TC: Ingrid was born when I was writing "The Push." The book is really introspective and I think that's a reflection of where I was. I was trying to figure out how I lived, what were the good decisions I made, what were the bad decisions I made and all that was an effort to be a better father. You've got to understand yourself before you can pass that on.
So I think I live in a more joyful way, because if you want your kids to experience joy you've got to be an example of that.
And all of my climbing partners these days are dads. Because, I think, in your time in the mountains, you don't sweat the small things anymore (as a parent). You just feel lucky to be out there and living the life that you are. Having kids is pretty great for that.