There’s a story, told by the man himself, that when Richard Branson (he of Virgin airlines) was a kid, his mother used to push him out of the car and make him, as he says, “find his own way to granny’s” on foot, which was some five miles away. It made a man of him, apparently. Here is walking neither to, nor with, his granny.
This is at least somewhat similar to a walking experience that some of Osama bin Laden’s children must have had. In an interview with New York Times magazine Julie Sasson, author of Growing Up bin Laden, said, “Osama (she was apparently on first name terms) had these kicks where he would take the boys out into the desert and have them march long distances and not give them water … Omar (bin Laden’s son) said his father just loved walking over those mountains (the Tora Bora). He told me: ‘Once I tumbled off the mountain and thought I was going to be killed. My father remained completely calm. He just stood there, watching me. When I finally got my footing, I looked at him and said, ‘My father, what would you have done if I had been killed?’ And he just said, ‘Well, I would’ve buried you, my son.’ ”
Indeed. What else would a father say?
Growing up in Sheffield, when we wanted to go out walking on a Sunday afternoon my dad would take us to the Peak District (Britain’s first National Park) – rugged terrain but walking rather than climbing country, and certainly less rugged than Tora Bora. The issue was always that you’d start at the bottom of what seemed to be the highest peak. You’d climb it, but when you got to the top you’d see there was another, higher peak just a little way ahead that had been hidden by the first one. You’d climb that second one and see another beyond it too. And so on. You can pick the metaphors out of that till you’re blue in the face. My dad, of course would always egg me on, one more peak, and then just one more, then another. What else would a father do? I suppose that’s a father’s role.
I was friends with the Evans family in Sheffield. Their dad was a city architect, the kids were all smart and driven and they’ve all done very well for themselves. Was it their dad’s influence? The Peak District’s? Well, their dad certainly insisted that the kids went walking in the Peak District on Sunday afternoons. But there was a catch. Dad had only one leg, and obviously couldn’t go hiking over rough hill and vale, so he would drive the kids to some spot outside Castleton or Hathersage, then drive to a spot some miles down the road, to which the kids had to walk. I suppose there was always the possibility that they wouldn’t arrive, but evidently they always did. And, as I say, they’ve done pretty well for themselves; doctor, hospital administrator, senior civil servant, all perfectly content as far as an outsider can tell.
As for Omar, that’s him above, if his memoir is to be believed, he was at least man enough to stand up to his dad. Osama bin Laden tried to persuade him to become a suicide bomber. Omar preferred to keep walking.