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Building a Legacy: A Father’s Quest to Inspire Others through Adventurous Pursuits With Mike Stout

On this episode of Dads with Daughters, our guest Mike Stout, known as the Northland Adventurer, shares his journey of fatherhood and his remarkable experiences kayaking the Great Lakes.

In this episode of the “Dads with Daughters” podcast, host Christopher Lewis talks with Mike Stout, a father of two daughters known as the Northland Adventurer. Mike shares his incredible journey of kayaking across the Great Lakes and how it has shaped his perspective on fatherhood.

Christopher begins by highlighting the show’s mission to help dads be the best fathers they can be. He introduces Mike Stout as a guest who has had remarkable experiences kayaking the Great Lakes and raising two daughters. Mike expresses his excitement to be on the show.

Mike shares his journey as a father, starting with his deep desire to have two daughters, which he had envisioned since college. When he found out he was going to be a father to daughters, he was ecstatic and felt blessed. He reflects on the joy and anticipation he felt during that time.

Christopher asks about Mike’s fears in raising his daughters, and Mike responds that he had no fears initially, as he was committed to being a great father. He had even planned to write a book about exceptional fatherhood. However, he later felt like he failed during a challenging period when he became a full-time single parent during his daughters’ fourth and sixth grade.

Mike shares that he regrets not being able to protect his daughters from the traumatic experiences they went through during that time. His daughters have since reassured him that he did not fail as a father, which has provided some relief but also lingering guilt.

Christopher delves into Mike’s relationships with his daughters. Mike discusses how he created unique bonds with each of his daughters based on their individual needs and strengths, emphasizing the importance of spending quality time with each child.

The conversation then shifts to Mike’s transformation from a corporate executive to the Northland Adventurer. Mike explains that he made this change when he became a full-time single parent. He started kayaking, fell in love with the sport, and began pursuing increasingly challenging adventures, including crossing Lake Michigan multiple times. His adventures were driven by his desire to live without regrets and set an example for his daughters.

Christopher asks how these adventures have changed Mike’s perspective on life. Mike shares that they have made him truly treasure life and appreciate every moment. He describes the different phases and emotions he experiences during his long kayak journeys, highlighting the profound sense of gratitude he feels for his life and the opportunity to watch his children and granddaughter grow.

Mike discusses his future goals, primarily focusing on his affinity for Lake Michigan and the possibility of doing more kayaking trips across it. He also mentions his desire to give back, create nonprofits, and help businesses.

The episode concludes with Christopher’s “Fatherhood Five” questions:

  1. In one word, what is fatherhood? Mike answers, “A gift.”
  2. When did you feel you succeeded as a father to a daughter? Mike recalls feeling successful when his daughters told him they were proud of him and when they told him to forgive himself.
  3. How would your daughters describe you as a dad? Mike hopes they would describe him as affectionate, supportive, driven, and adventurous.
  4. What inspires you to be a better dad? Mike is inspired every day by the legacy he wants to leave for his daughters and granddaughter.
  5. What one piece of advice would you give to every dad? Mike advises dads to celebrate the good times and seek support from friends and family during challenging times.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode of the Dads With Daughters podcast, we invite you to check out the Fatherhood Insider. The Fatherhood Insider is the essential resource for any dad that wants to be the best dad that he can be. We know that no child comes with an instruction manual, and most are figuring it out as they go along. The Fatherhood Insider is full of valuable resources and information that will up your game on fatherhood. Through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step-by-step roadmaps, and more you will engage and learn with experts but more importantly with dads like you. So check it out today!


Christopher Lewis [00:00:06]:

Welcome to dads with daughters. In this show, we spotlight dads resources and more to help you be the best dad you can be.

Christopher Lewis [00:00:16]:

Hey, everyone, this is Chris. And welcome back to the Dads with Daughters podcast, where we bring you guests to be active participants in your daughter’s lives, raising them to be strong, independent women. Really excited to have you back again this week. As always, every week, I love being able to sit down and talk to you about the journey that you’re on in being a father to a daughter. And every dad’s journey is just a little bit different. And that’s why it’s so important for us to talk to other dads, to listen to other dads, to learn from other dads. And that’s why every week I love being able to bring you different people, different guests, different dads that have done this fatherhood journey in a little bit different way and that are still doing their fatherhood journey in a little bit different way. And this week, we got another great guest with us. Mike Stout is with us. And Mike is a father of two daughters. Be talking about that, but he’s also known as the Northland Adventurer. He has had some really remarkable experiences kayaking the Great Lakes and doing some other really unique things. And we’re going to talk about that as well. And I’m really excited to have him here today. Mike, thanks so much for being here.

Mike Stout [00:01:28]:

Thank you, Mike.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:31]:

I said that you are a father of two daughters, and one of the things that I love to do is learn a little bit more about you as a dad. So what I would love to do is turn the clock back in time and all the way back to that first moment when you found out that you were going to be a dad to a daughter, what was going through your head?

Mike Stout [00:01:50]:

Wow. Yeah, it was a blessing. It was a miracle that came true. I’ll go back further. When I was in college, at the age of maybe 20 years old, I began looking forward, looking envisioning what would my life be like? And the only thing I thought of and could think of was, I’m going to have two daughters. I envision holding their hands, taking them shopping, spending time, and that was my singular vision, was going to be the father of two girls. So I never envisioned playing baseball or football or tennis or golf. But the son, it was always two girls. And I’ve been blessed with two girls. So when I first heard that I was going to be a father, I was ecstatic, of course. Couldn’t wait. And then when we discovered it was going to be a girl, it was Islam, a blessing, a miracle that came true. I was just ecstatic.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:54]:

I talked to a lot of dads, and many dads talk about that. There’s definitely a fear of being a father, just in general, but especially with dads, with daughters, that sometimes there’s that additional fear of raising daughters. Talk to me about what was your biggest fear in raising your daughters.

Mike Stout [00:03:13]:

I had such high anticipation. I had no fear. I was just excited. I knew if I had the opportunity, I was going to be a great father. And I was so committed, so confident and so sure I was going to be a great father. And being also a corporate executive, I was going to write a book about being exceptional father. I wanted to make sure that every father knew how important it is for them to be active in their children’s lives, but in particular their daughters. Unfortunately, things happen in life and we went through some terrible times and I felt that I failed horribly. And it was about when they were in the fourth and 6th grade, I became a full time single parent, so legal and so physical. And what they went through during that time was so traumatic. I felt I failed because I could protect them against those unimaginable difficult times they went through. So it may be my single greatest regret that I can protect them. And being a father, that’s our role, to protect our children, in particular our daughters. So it’s still tough.

Christopher Lewis [00:04:34]:

Let’s talk a little bit about that because I know that, like you said, it was a tough time. And for you, I guess now your daughters are adults, you raise them and they’re out on their own. As they reflect back now and I don’t know, have you had those conversations with them about what you had hoped to be as a father, what you tried to be as a father, and what they reflect back to you about? Of course, for you it was a traumatic time and you know, it was a traumatic time for them. But as you talk to them now and they reflect back, do they give you feedback that eases your mind at all?

Mike Stout [00:05:10]:

In fact, they have during that time when they’re young teenagers or preteens, it was tough, it was confusing for them, for all of us. We’re all going through it for the first time together. And being a single father, you get the good, the bad and the ugly. Being a single father, you get mostly the bad and the ugly because they have their girlfriends to give the good to. But I don’t mind that I was there. That’s my role. I’ll take it all. But now that they’re adults in their mid 20s often talk to them, one in particular, and they reassure me that I did not fail. That they often say it was because of maybe my being always there and being that pillar that they needed to lean into. That they’re proud of what I did. And they were proud that I was there for them, as many other fathers perhaps wouldn’t. So having them tell me that it’s a great relief feel reassured, but I still feel guilty for not having done more and that’s just the reality. But having said that, we also have a granddaughter, which is when you have your children, it’s amazing, but when you have a grandchild, it’s unimaginable. And I feel that despite all the things that we’ve gone through, we have come all, you know, full circle and we are better off than I could have ever imagined. So there’s hope. There’s hope for all of us, even those during those most difficult dark times. And hope people hang out of that and believe that.

Christopher Lewis [00:06:46]:

Appreciate you sharing that, because that was one of the things I was just going to say, is that it sounds more hopeful than not that for all dads that are going through those dark times and there are going to be some dark times for some dads as they go through that experience, there’s going to be high and low points. That may not be as catastrophic as I can tell, that the experience that you went through, but there are still going to be highs and lows and that even if you feel like you failed, you may not have failed, but it may take a little bit of time to work your way back. And that’s okay. You just keep working your way back. And we have to never give up on our kids. And as I can tell, you never give up on your kids. And that’s one of the things and one of the roles that a father has to do.

Mike Stout [00:07:31]:

Exactly. Never give up.

Christopher Lewis [00:07:33]:

Now, as you look back at the relationship that you have with your daughters and you think about each of them, I mean, when you have two kids, you have to do different things because they’re different people. You have to build unique relationships with each child. As you think back to both of your kids, how did you create those special bonds with each of your children?

Mike Stout [00:07:58]:

Uniquely, I was lucky because of the age difference. They were typically in different schools, they were in different competitive teams, had different friends. So I could give them the individual time as they were growing up. But they required more of time, more of my time obviously, to tend to both of them. But I had individual relations and experiences with both of them based on their strengths and weaknesses and moments of need. So because of the age difference, it worked out really well.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:28]:

That definitely helps. And for some dads you have that larger age difference. Other times they might be right on top of one another and then you have to deal with that as well. But it is so important to be able to create that time, create those moments and have those special moments with each of your children because they will remember that. Now, I did mention that you are also known as the Northland Adventurer. And I know that there was a point in time where you made a big change. You said you were in the corporate world, and as you transitioned out of the corporate world, you made some changes to your life to look at things that you enjoyed doing, and you did some new things. So talk to me about this transition and what it means to be the Northland adventurer.

Mike Stout [00:09:14]:

Yes, it’s been quite the journey. The transition was when I became a full time single parent. I did choose between corporate America and being a full time parent. Unfortunately, I had the means and the opportunity. I thought it was an easy decision. Like I mentioned before, when I was in college, that was my single goal vision, to be the best father. So I was dedicated to that. So when I pivoted, I began consulting. And as our children get older, they become stronger and more independent. And then when they have keys to the car, the dad seemed to be less important than ever before. So as it became, young adults became into their own. It was time for me to rediscover myself. What can I do that I will enjoy personally? Help me from a mental, physical and a spiritual perspective. For some reason, living in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, with the lakes and rivers around, the idea of kayaking came to mind. And I picked up the sport of kayaking, and it touched me. I was fortunate to have, not too far where I live, the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River, the St. Croix, the Namicagan, some incredibly large scenic rivers, and being somewhat competitive and always pushing to be better, I picked up the sport and just fell in love with it. It provided the exercise, the serenity, outdoors, water, adventure, all those things that I love. And immediately I began looking for greater challenges, greater distances, more challenging rivers, greater speed. And very early on, I had the idea of crossing Lake Michigan just after I began the sport. And being from West Michigan, having an affinity for the Great Lakes, I’ve always felt very comfortable, felt there’s been a tug back to the lakes. So I didn’t tell my daughters that immediately, and I told a few others, and nobody thought that was a good idea. Paddling 50, 60 miles across the great lake as a beginner, kayaker, it’s risky, but I was confident in my skills and my enthusiasm. And the first trip was extraordinary. I paddled from the middle of the afternoon, all night long, early morning, under the stars. Just an amazing experience. But being the first time, it was kind of scary and at times overwhelming. Like anything for the first time was an amazing accomplishment. So the next challenge, I thought, well, I’ll cross Lake Superior. Knowing how a few thought Lake Michigan was a good idea, I kept that idea to myself. Make a long story short, the next year I journeyed across Lake Superior. It took me 27 and a half hours it was a treacherous paddle. I was lucky to have gotten off alive. I vowed to never return to Lake Superior again if I got off alive. I made it and I’ve not gone back to Lake Superior. Then the next challenge was to cross Lake Michigan for the second time, then a third time, then three times in a year, and then for a 6th time. So I’m lucky and excited and proud to say I’m the first person to cross Lake Michigan solo unassisted. Not just once, but a record six times. So the Northland adventure has stuck with me because of over the six years I paddled 6000 miles across the upper Midwest, some of the most scenic rivers and lakes, the Great Lakes, and it’s been in this amazing journey. Another factor I chose to do this is because my dad died at an early age and he had regrets that he didn’t do those things he wished he had. My brother died when he was 55 and I was 51 at the time. And he had great regrets that he didn’t do things that he wished he had when he had the health and opportunity. So that was perhaps a driving force that I wanted to do things when I could. I would have no regrets and also perhaps proved to be a role model for others, but also to give my daughter something to boast about. They say, my dad did this, let’s talk about that.

Christopher Lewis [00:13:46]:

So you did these feats. I’m going to say you had these opportunities, you went and crossed these large, vast areas and you did it alone and by yourself. And you did prevail, you did get through, even through Superior. But let me know, as you started to do this, as you continued to do this, what kind of feedback are you getting from your daughters?

Mike Stout [00:14:11]:

They’ve been asked that a number of times by reporters and others, and they simply say, well, that’s what my dad does. So at first they thought was maybe a little bit aspirational foolish, perhaps they use different adjectives to describe my thoughts, but now it’s simply what their dad does. So I’m glad to be able to instill upon them the sense of independence, confidence, to challenge yourself, pursue new goals. And in that, they have both moved to California on their own, never having a job. So we want to go up there and pioneer and create our own path. We feel that we can do this on our own. And hopefully that my example of pioneering and being adventurous has given them a new venue and a new view on life.

Christopher Lewis [00:14:59]:

Let’s talk a little bit about what you’ve learned along the way. So as you go across these vast distances by yourself, I’m sure there’s definitely time not only to reflect and to think and to ponder, but at the same time, when you’re going across a place like Lake Superior that is going to challenge you in other ways and threaten your life. You definitely have to reflect in different ways. But as you’ve done these different things and as you have been challenged in different ways, how has it made you look at life differently?

Mike Stout [00:15:39]:

Good question. It makes you truly treasure it and fully appreciate every moment. Especially value those times with your family and close to your friends. Crossing Lake Superior, that was all about survival. I just wanted to get off alive and to be able to watch my children grow and my granddaughter grow as well. In crossing Lake Michigan, I’ve got that down to a pretty fast pace of just over 13 hours. I’ve become much more strategic in my approach, choosing good windows of opportunity. But when you cross Lake Michigan, there’s four distinct quarters. The first quarter is all about the enthusiasm, the excitement of being able to do this again. Get out there in the middle of the lake where all you see for hundreds of square miles, just a sea of blue. The lake takes on the colors of the sky. It’s just an incredible, peaceful, tranquil moment. The second quarter, you start getting into the routine, the effort, the exercise, pacing yourself on the time, the energy, the meals, hydration. It becomes a workout. The third quarter, you begin doubting your wisdom. You’re getting fatigued and tired, and even though you’re enjoying it, you know you’re only halfway through. But it’s somewhere near the end of the third quarter, the beginning of the fourth, just before you can see the lighthouse on Lake Michigan, you look up and you really begin thinking and thanking God for such a remarkable life. You think about what you’ve done and what you haven’t done, what you wish you could have done differently. But it all goes back to just how much I appreciate the life that I’ve had. My two daughters and of course, my granddaughter. So when I look up in the sky and look up in the heaven, I begin envisioning. And actually, I can see the faces of my grandparents, my parents. I imagine my mother rolling her eyes and my dad nodding affirmatively, my brother encouraging me. I see the face of my best friend, Jack Hoyle, who just died a few days ago. The close mentor. Pamela kaspari. And they’re all cheering exciting, except for mom. Mom’s a little bit apprehensive and wonder what I’m doing. You get this amazing closeness with God. I literally envision speaking to and looking at my brother and my parents, grandparents making my way to Pamela, then Jack, and Jack’s next to God. And I just want to take another look down that line and take a picture of God. But of course, the picture of the vision disappears when you’re out that lake. And that what drives me back to the lake. To do it that 4th, 5th, 6th time and likely a 7th time, is that closeness that I get there and nowhere else. That closeness with family of past friends and family who passed on before. And I just hope others can truly appreciate how lucky we are to have the life that we have and the opportunities, and most importantly, just embrace your friends and family and of course our daughters and our children and grandchildren. You really appreciate what you have through alone. It’s all you have is simply yourself and your thoughts at the time.

Christopher Lewis [00:19:18]:

You’ve done some things that other people might have only dreamt of or they may have only thought of doing, or maybe never have even thought of doing, have no interest at all in doing. As you think about the future and other goals, other things that you might want to do. Are there white whales out there for you to slay? Are there other lakes that you want to cross? Do you want to do Ontario and Erie as well? Do you want to do other things as you look at the future?

Mike Stout [00:19:51]:

Well, I really have an affinity for Lake Michigan. I grew up on West Michigan and I’m always being pulled back to that great lake. So I envision doing a 7th paddle. Maybe there’ll be more, but it’s just because of that closeness I get with my family and friends and god, I don’t envision going anywhere else besides Lake Michigan. I could do others, but that’d be more for. Simply the accomplishment saying I’ve done this, I’ve done that, but that close I get. The family on Lake Michigan is extraordinarily special. That draws me back. But I do see doing other things of perhaps giving back. And also before I close, my chapter is to create other nonprofits and help build other businesses and leverage my skills in marketing, business development, and entrepreneurialism. So I have plenty to do, plenty to yet to accomplish.

Christopher Lewis [00:20:56]:

We always finish our interviews with what I like to call our Fatherhood Five, where I ask you five more questions to delve deeper into you as a dad. Are you ready?

Mike Stout [00:21:03]:

I’m ready.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:04]:

In one word, what is fatherhood?

Mike Stout [00:21:07]:

It’s a gift.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:08]:

When was the time that you finally felt like you succeeded at being a father to a daughter?

Mike Stout [00:21:12]:

When they tell you that they’re proud of you, that affirmation is amazing. And when they tell me to forgive myself?

Christopher Lewis [00:21:22]:

Now, if I was to talk to your daughters, how would they describe you as a dad?

Mike Stout [00:21:26]:

Hopefully, and I think they would, they would describe me as being affectionate, supportive, there for them, driven, adventurous, and hopefully proud.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:37]:

What inspires you to be a better dad?

Mike Stout [00:21:39]:

I’m driven every day to be a better dad. Like I said, when I was in college, that was my goal. My vision was to have two daughters. And whatever I do, whatever I accomplish, be it in business, adventure, sports, my legacy is my two daughters and granddaughter and doing the best that they can for them.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:02]:

Now, you’ve given a number of pieces of advice you’ve talked about your own experience, but what’s one piece of advice you’d want to give to every dad?

Mike Stout [00:22:10]:

Just celebrate those good times as there are many and during those times of doubt, of worry, to know that you’re not alone. You too will get through this and seek those friends that are closest to you because they too have gone through difficult times. We are not alone.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:30]:

If people want to find out more about you, where’s the best place for them to go?

Mike Stout [00:22:33]:

They can go to my website, the Northland Adventurer, and send me an email there. I’ve got a nonprofit called Michigan Waterways Stewards. They could go there. It’s wwwaterwaystwards.org or maybe contact you.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:54]:

Mike, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your story today. Thank you for getting out there and living that adventurous life. And I can live vicariously through your experiences as well as everyone else can as well. But I truly appreciate you sharing your journey today and I wish you all the best.

Mike Stout [00:23:11]:

Thank you.

Christopher Lewis [00:23:12]:

We know that no child comes with an instruction manual and most dads are figuring it out as they go along. And the Fatherhood Insider is full of resources and information that will up your game on Fatherhood. Through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step by step roadmaps and more, you will engage and learn with experts, but more importantly, dads like you. So check it out@fatheringtogether.org. If you are a father of a daughter and have not yet joined the Dads withdaughters Facebook community, there’s a link in the notes. Today Dads withdaughters is a program of fathering together. Find out more@fatheringtogether.org. We look forward to having you back for another great guest next week. All geared to helping you raise strong, empowered daughters and be the best dad that you can be.

Christopher Lewis [00:24:01]:

We’re all in the same boat and it’s full of tiny screaming passengers. We spend the time we give the lessons we make the meals we buy them present. Bring your AC because those kids are growing fast. The time. Goes by just like a dynamite glass calling astronauts and firemen carpenters and muscle men get out and be the one to now be the best that you can be be the best that you can be you.

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Christopher Lewis

Christopher is the co-founder of Fathering Together and the Chief Information Officer. He is the father of 2 daughters that are now in their tweens and teens. He started Dad of Divas, a blog to share his own personal experiences in being a father in 2007 and in 2018 started the Dads With Daughters Facebook Group to allow dads to connect, learn and grow together. He works in Digital Media on a daily basis, but also has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration.

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