The Outdoors and My Dad: An Adoption Story

Abi LaFleur Father's Day

In honor of Father’s Day, Teva Explorer Abigail LaFleur-Shaffer shares how her adopted father earned a place in her heart and nurtured her love for the outdoors. Photos by Abigail LaFleur and Brandon Tormanen

“Where’s your daddy?”

“I don’t have a daddy,” my mother overheard a freckled and curly-headed girl reply. I may have not known how to divide or drive a car yet, but I did know one thing—I didn’t have a dad.

Fast forward to the evening my mom was re-introduced to a past classmate at a high school reunion back in 2000; I was 9 years old. We started bumping into said person around town while on errand runs and bike rides. Then all-of-a-sudden, as I started hearing his name leave my mom’s lips more often, this little girl grew suspicious.

And there I had it, my biggest fears were confirmed: they started dating. While they grew closer, I grew distant. I hated him. I mean, the man had the audacity to take MY mother away from me—the consistent parent, my puzzle-making best friend, my eat-watermelon-for-every-meal partner in crime, my personal back scratcher, you get the idea. She was my world, and this man was flirting with a role in my life I was unfamiliar with: a male figure.

Hurricane XLT2

Abi wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Black.

Abi LaFleur goes fly fishing.

Abi wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Black. Abi’s dad, Tony Shaffer wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Boomerang Dark Olive.

Soon enough, my diary decorated with kittens napping in the shape of a heart was filled with pages of distaste for such a “cruel” character. “I hate Tony!” with the word “hate” quadruple underlined. YEP, that’s four lines, people. I clearly was NOT this guy’s biggest fan.

It’s nearly impossible for me to pinpoint the moment or what triggered the shift in my heart for this man. Maybe it was the snacks he’d make for mom and I; maybe it was that he had a dog I was obsessed with; maybe it was that I slowly realized how much fun I had with this new human who took mom and I to see new places. He took us to play in the outdoors (fishing, hiking, biking, you name it); maybe it’s a haystack of moments where his patience and understanding for me met my hesitation, resistance, and suspicions of him. What I do know is that this tough heart that once furiously scribbled “I hate Tony!” in a diary melted into a heart softly beginning to write that man into her life.

That man eventually married my mom. And today, over cards and cookies, they tell new friends (and old) about the days that I would snake my foot between their intertwined hands to put a stop to their hand-holding. We laugh now because let’s be real, what was I thinking? That it could actually put an end to his infringement on the comfortable life with my mom that I once knew?!

Abi LaFleur

Another father-daughter project in the books: building out the storage in the back of Abi’s Subaru together.

But then that man goes on to say to our friends, “She (my mom) would cry about how Abi would never let us be together.” Through chuckles, he would reply to my mom, “It will happen, just be patient with her.”

I look back and see myself, a scared and unsure little girl who had to share her mom for the first time ever. A little girl who didn’t have a dad. That space in my life was unexplored terrain.

In 2003 (I was 12-years-old), I left science class early and walked into a courtroom without knowing the impact that day would have on my life to come. That day that man legally adopted me and became my dad. Tears come to me as I write those five words: “that man legally adopted me” because someone chose to explore the unfamiliar terrain of my heart and become a father-figure.

Over the years, we have bonded through shared memories, sacrifice and investment, pain and joy, laughter and tears, taught and learned skills, our shared love for outdoor activities, and the choice to love one another.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

Abi LaFleur-Shaffer goes fishing.

“My Teva sandals made changing in and out of our waders faster, easier, and comfier.”

This man gave me my first backpacking pack, my first rock climbing harness, my first fishing pole, and now he is teaching me how to fly-fish.

This man excitedly shared stories of adventures in surfing the coastline of Huntington Beach and stories of radical voyages over his mountain bike handle-bars while riding downhill. Every weekend, I watched him dart off to his happiest slice of the world: fishing on the Arkansas River. Little did he know he has always been sparking intrigue and a go-get-it attitude for my own adventures.

He’s lived by example and has challenged me to climb my own mountains (both literally and figuratively); he’s taught me how to properly tie a lure on the end of my fishing rod; he taught me how to open myself up to new experiences, whether it be a new mountain bike trail or having a dad; and he did it all with JOY and a willingness to share his life with me and my mom. He taught me the excitement of welcoming others and sharing the experience of the outdoors with those around me.

Abi and her dad.

“This man gave me my first backpacking pack, my first rock climbing harness, my first fishing pole, and now he is teaching me how to fly-fish.”

Hurricane XLT2

I trust that the power and beauty of the outdoors would have eventually drawn me in and I’d have discovered the path I’m currently on. But I know that through the relationship with my father—the man who chose me, chose to invest knowledge, love and time into my life—I have come to possess a deeper appreciation for the outdoors.

That has left me with the question: what is blood compared to the selfless sacrifice and the investment of someone who chose to be my father? He was never obligated, it was his choice, and who I am today has been influenced by that for the better.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you loving fathers out there, biological or not, as well as to the mothers that have stepped into that role for their children themselves. Because of you, we know what love can be, should be, and is.

Abi and her dad.

Abi and her dad.

Abi wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Black. Abi’s dad, Tony wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Boomerang Dark Olive.

Happy Father's Day.

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