To say Bob Goff did poorly on his law-school entrance exam is an understatement. Without an acceptance letter, Bob walked into the school of his choice a week before classes started and introduced himself to the dean. He acknowledged his poor LSAT score, but explained that he needed to become a lawyer to make a difference in the world. The dean politely turned him away, but Bob was persistent. He sat on the bench outside the dean’s office—and waited.
“You have the power to let me in,” Bob told the dean when the man passed by the bench. “All you have to tell me is, ‘Go buy your books.’” For two weeks Bob waited for a chance. Finally, the dean stopped in front of the bench and said, “Go buy your books.”
Bob’s start in law school certainly wasn’t typical. He took a risk, hoping to be given the chance for a new adventure. Today, that same risk-taking, adventurous spirit has led Bob all around the world. He has come to the legal defense of children trapped in sex trafficking, taught tribal witch doctors in Uganda to read, traveled with food supplies to remote African villages and encouraged millions to live an extraordinary life through his book Love Does.
Perhaps Bob’s greatest adventure, though, has been the daring and uncertain journey of parenting. As he has guided his kids through adolescence and into adulthood, he trained them to embrace healthy risks and fearlessly pursue their own life adventures.
When the Goff children turned 10, they each got to choose an adventure with their dad. The oldest, Lindsey, chose to have high tea in London. Richard wanted to hike the back of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The youngest, Adam, wanted to ride motorcycles across the Mojave desert, which included 700-foot-tall sand dunes.
His wife, Maria, thought this final trip was too risky.
“We’ll be fine!” Bob laughed, filling the truck with camping gear and two motorcycles. Taking risks was a good thing, though he appreciated his wife’s concern for him and their son.
Once out riding, father and son topped a few sand dunes together. As he lost track of Adam for a moment, he heard an engine at full throttle. Bob motored his bike over the next dune to find the source. There, he saw Adam intending to jump from one sand dune to another.
“No!” Bob yelled, as his son, now a yellow blur, launched himself from the dune’s peak. In mid-air, Adam lost his grip on the handlebars and fell 120 feet before landing near the wreckage of his motorcycle.
Bob raced to his son, expecting the worst.
But when he arrived, Adam grinned beneath a dirt-smudged face. “That was awesome.”
Later, as Bob thought about this adventure, he agreed that it was indeed an awesome experience. Although the trip with Adam didn’t go as planned, his son left the desert a wiser young man. This was Adam’s first step toward appreciating the difference between healthy, calculated risks and impulsive, life-threatening ones. And the opportunity to test his limits—to try the impossible and to greet epic failure with delight rather than despair—gave him a confidence that he could gain no other way.
Independence with oversight
Sometimes going the extra mile to be fully engaged with your children can be literal. The Goffs’ daughter, Lindsey, and her eighth-grade class were set to tour Washington, D.C., in November, two months after 9/11.
Bob and Maria worried about their daughter’s safety, yet they waved goodbye at the airport. Then Bob booked a flight to D.C. The whole trip, he followed the group at a distance, without being intrusive or getting in the way. As Lindsey grew in independence, Bob remained near, in case he was needed.
The Goffs believe the purpose of parenting is to work your way out of a job by allowing kids to take responsibility and learn lessons for themselves—with parental oversight. Maria says, “I grew up seeing adventure and responsibility as two ideas that were in disagreement with each other. I’ve come to realize that they don’t just coexist, they actually complement one another.”
The cost of adventure
After the tragic events of Sep. 11, Bob and his kids talked about what questions they would ask if they had five minutes with foreign leaders to discuss what was happening in the world. After sharing a number of ideas, their children compiled a letter requesting a face-to-face meeting with dozens of world leaders. Bob and Maria promised that if any leaders responded, they would find a way for the kids to meet with them. As expected, they received many polite rejections—until the State House in Bulgaria accepted their request.
The invitations kept arriving. Bob had not expected any acceptances, and certainly not 29 of them. He and Maria decided to keep their commitment to their children, even if it meant selling off one of their vehicles. Among the leaders they met with were the prime ministers of Bulgaria and Israel and the president of Switzerland.
At one meeting, they were in a building across from the former Communist Party Headquarters. Walking past grim soldiers, they entered a stately room. Soon a stout man came into the room. One of the first things he said in Russian, which was translated, was that he was nervous to meet them. And when he was nervous, he got hungry. He clapped his hands, and the room filled with wonderful foods by waiting servants. After the feast, they talked about what it means to be a good friend.
At the end of each meeting, the children gave the leader a simple red box. Inside was a key to their home, extending an invitation to visit.
Bob’s sense of adventure filled the lives of the Goff family as his children grew to adulthood, but Maria says this lifestyle worked for them because that is who Bob is. She encourages others to boldly engage in life in ways that work for them. “Be your family,” she says, “not someone else’s.” The adventurous life is about being fully engaging in your world and with your family, and that looks different for each family.
“I want to be engaged to life and with life,” Bob says. This intentionality allows him to love others, especially his family, with Jesus’ love, which continues to find ways to express itself in a world ripe for adventure.