Why fathers like Benedict Allen willingly risk their lives

Within hours of the news breaking that British explorer Benedict Allen had gone missing after searching for a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, critics were already calling him out for being selfish.

The father-of-three had gone into the jungle to find the "last people on the planet" who have no contact with the outside world. The fact that he had failed to take a phone or GPS tracking device with him meant it was three days before his family knew if he was alive or dead.

To everyone's relief, he was tracked down on Thursday to Mount Hagen, one of the most remote mountains in the world, where he was said to be in a hut suffering from a fever. As the rescue effort was under way, however, debate continued to rage over whether he was right to put his wife and children, aged between 10 and two, through such an ordeal.

The lure of the unknown

I know Benedict. In my 20s, I would watch his self-shot television shows with wonder and admiration. Old-school, solitary and resourceful, he would head off into the unknown with just a camera to record his escapades. He got tribal markings, battled through hostile jungles and once nearly died when his sled dogs escaped on the Bering Sea, which was probably just as well for them as he famously ate his dog in the Amazon when he ran out of food.

Benedict's adventures were visceral, honest and seductive. A decade later I worked with him on a BBC show in which I took everyday folk on life-changing adventures. One of these would take me into the wilds of Papua New Guinea. It was unlike anywhere I had ever been before. We spent two weeks trekking along the infamous Black Cat Trail, sister to the famous Kokoda Trail that saw bloody battles during the Second World War. PNG, as it is known, has an allure. That of the unknown. Uncontacted tribes. Unrecorded flora and fauna. It is like the last frontier of geographical exploration and a seductive canvas for old-school explorers.

It is that heady excitement of the unknown that drives the likes of Benedict and myself. I'd like to think it's in our DNA. Scott, Shackleton, Cook, Fawcett, Livingstone, Mallory... the list is long. As I write this, Ben Saunders, Leo Houlding and Major Sears are all in Antarctica trekking across the great wilderness on their own expeditions that they hope will inspire and enthuse new generations to the polar regions. Is it our nature or nurture that drives our passion to explore? As a father I think it's probably a little of both. I am driven by a thirst for knowledge and understanding. If there is one character trait I wish to instil in my children, it is to be curious. To take an interest in the world around us.

Complex humans

I love my children more than life itself. They are more precious to me than anything. I stare wondrously at these beautiful creations and want to weep with love. My wife and children are everything. Everything.

The problem is that I am also a nomad. A journeyman. A traveller. An adventurer. Call me what you will. As a boy, I never thought my life would come to anything. I failed all my exams. There was a point when life looked pretty hopeless but travel and adventure changed all that.

I have spent 20 years perfecting the art of adventure. I'm one of the lucky few who has made a career out of it. My passion is my job. So should I now simply stop and sacrifice this passion for my family?

Advertisement

As all parents know, there are no rules. Military folk continue heroically in the line of defence. Police officers continue in the line of protection and aid workers in the line of despair. We all make our own decisions but most of us are constrained by our jobs.

Sharing a bigger love

Tim Peake will still visit the space station. The military dad will still go to the front line. The oil rig worker will still head off to the North Sea. Ultimately, I want my children to understand what a beautiful world we live in.

You only need to watch Blue Planet II to realise the power of sharing an otherwise invisible world with us. It inspires us to protect it and marvel at the planet we live on. But how many mothers and fathers sacrificed time with their family to direct and film those extraordinary sequences? How many narrow escapes did they experience? Are they selfish? I don't think so.

Some argue that the world has been explored. After all, many of those heroic early explorers sacrificed their lives to sail the oceans, cross poles and summit mountains, but there will always be a place for more people to inspire us.

Someone your children can admire

I want my children to be led by role models who are curious, brave and dedicated. In this age of instant gratification where we elevate X Factor hopefuls to the pinnacle of aspiration, I want more. I want to help motivate a generation to engage with nature and the wilderness.

Of course, being a "Dangerous Dad" comes with its own hazards. I understand that I have dependents who rely on me. My wife doesn't suffer fools and she doesn't like to suffer, which is why decision-making is a collective family thing. I need their support as much as they need me, so I am now much more careful in my preparation. I always have a GPS and a satellite phone. I leave an itinerary with contact details. The devil is in the detail.

The dad who does

Dads today are much more hands-on than previous generations; more tactile and involved, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We share responsibilities and collectively juggle work, family, health and social lives. It can be tough to be all things to all people but ultimately I want to be role model for my children.

I don't want to be the daddy that did those things, living off tales from the past. I want to be the daddy who does those things, living in the now.

I can imagine Benedict will have a pretty "lively" conversation with his wife Lenka once he finally gets out, and rightly so, but what a tale he'll have to tell.

My advice? Next time, please just take a bloody satellite phone.

The Telegraph, London