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Robert Saxton is a stay-at-home dad to his three children, but also volunteers at their schools and also finds time to host a show on KAXE/KBXE radio. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

Living on Purpose: Appetite for adventure drives ‘stay-at-home’ dad

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Editor's note: "Living on purpose" is a monthly feature about Bemidji area residents who actively seek to create meaningful and fulfilling lives. It is inspired by the belief that each person has valuable wisdom to contribute, and by sharing and learning from one another, we can improve the quality of our own lives and our community.

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Saying that Robert Saxton has a zest for life might be a bit of an understatement. If you know him, you know he approaches life with a sense of adventure. I first met him through Schoolcraft Learning Community, and was impressed by the passion and enthusiasm that he brought to parenting and daily life.

Saxton is a stay-at-home dad to his three children and clearly relishes the opportunities this role gives him. In addition to regularly volunteering at their schools, he actively seeks out opportunities to create epic and unusual experiences for his kids, like waterskiing across Turtle River Lake to classes in the morning.

Recently, Saxton's carpe diem attitude has led him to take leading roles in two locally produced plays, become a regular host for KAXE/KBXE radio, enroll in an Ojibwe language course, take guitar lessons and write a young adult novel called "Tales from Gitchegumee," which he plans to release this fall. Just a few weeks ago, he traveled to Ghana with his wife, Dr. Suzy Human, where she provided medical assistance.

So where does his sense of adventure come from? While he acknowledges his life circumstances "afford me much more time than the average Joe," he says thinking about the future drives him to make the most of the present. "My brain always works in terms of history. What are we going to remember? What is going to be our past?" As he likes to say to others: "I'm working on future memories."

He is also very intentional about making the most of his kids' short childhood. "I always feel that clock ticking over my shoulder," he says. "I know that as soon as I blink, my kids are going to be gone; so one of the best gifts I can give them is good memories. That inspires me all the time."

He may have inherited some of his spirit from his grandfather, whom he calls a "master at finding adventure" and a major influence on his own approach to life. "He had five kids and was as poor as dirt, so he had to invent adventures all the time -- and he was pretty good at it. So maybe I got some of that from him."

Friends with similar values also help him stay motivated and inspired to do things that are out of the ordinary. Saxton admits that adventures take energy, and that energy can sometimes be hard to find. "The kids aren't always up for (an adventure)," he acknowledges. "Sometimes they need a kick in the butt to go do that; but at the end of the day they're like, 'I'm glad we did that.' We all need a little prompt like that. I'm no different; I need it as much as anybody."

Saxton says he gets some of this "kick" from his good friend Mark Morrissey, whom he affectionately calls his "partner in crime."

Mark says that Robert provides the same kind of motivation and inspiration for him. "He's always cooking up some plan for fun stuff to do with the kids," said Morrissey. "Our kids are young just once, and we have that common ground -- we both want to make sure our kids have some pretty cool memories. So we try to think up these crazy things we can do that will make them look back and have these great memories."

He fondly recalls one such adventure last fall where they got together with their kids to hike and climb. "That, to us, is the perfect day: getting up early, playing music, eating a great breakfast and then doing some kind of big adventure so our kids are like, 'that was awesome.'"

Sometimes the adventures turn out great, other times they don't — but it doesn't really matter; they're worth doing as long as they'll be memorable. "Whether they're great, strange, or even, sometimes, unpleasant," Saxton says, "it's about creating good strong memories of childhood."

He applies that same wisdom to his own life, taking risks and actively seeking out opportunities to learn, grow, and experience new things. "Robert reminds me that it's important to also be kid yourself and find ways to play," said Morrissey. "We still do a lot of playing ourselves." This "playing" includes spontaneous winter camping, exploring the outdoors, and an expedition to climb Mount Rainier.

When asked what's the greatest piece of advice he could give to others, Saxton's answer is simple: "Don't take yourself too seriously."

The paradox is that by not taking himself too seriously and having a sense of adventure, Robert has serious impact. He stays aware of what is going on around him, and is willing to let go of plans in order to spontaneously engage with the moment.

This is perhaps no more apparent than in his volunteer work as a first responder. Keeping a pager and a bag of medical supplies by his side, he's willing to drop everything and assist local squads when needed. "If there's a 911 call that goes out that I can respond to, I do that," he said. "It just feels good to be able to help out." Even in non-emergency situations, if he sees a situation where someone needs a hand, he'll often stop whatever he's doing to help out. "My kids know that if we're driving down the road and someone's on the side of the road, there's no doubt about what's going to happen next: we're going pull over and help out. That's just the way it goes."

Embracing so many opportunities and experiences leads to Saxton having a very full plate in life, which he seems to enjoy. "There's just so many things that I like, and so many things I want to do," he said. "I wish I had a thousand lifetimes to do a thousand different careers. So I end up dipping my toes into 50 different waters at once, just because there are so many things that are fun."

Brooke's tips for applying Robert Saxton's wisdom to your own life:

• Consider the future impact: When making a decision, consider what you want your life to look like down the road. What's easiest or most comfortable might not help you get where you really want to be, and vice-versa.

• Focus on the learning: Nothing kills the spirit of adventure quicker than a fear of failure. When given the opportunity to try something new, instead of worrying about success or failure, focus on how you can learn and grow from it. That way, regardless of the outcome, you'll have more wisdom and experience under your belt.

• Find an adventure buddy: Find a good friend and set the intention to challenge each other. Push yourselves to do things that are adventurous or out of the ordinary.

Brooke Wichmann of Bemidji is a certified life coach and has a master's degree in peace education. She owns Connectivity Coaching, and is co-director of Inner Compass Consulting. You can read more on her blog at livingonpurpose.areavoices.com. She can be contacted at brooke@connectivity-coaching.com.

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