Child Parenting Advice from Super Frenchie, the World’s Most Daring DadSeptember 23, 2021
Matthias Giraud, also known as Super Frenchie, is one of the most risk-averse dads you will ever meet. Do you hover over your kid? But not exactly. He encourages his seven year-old child Soren, to do the things that he loves without looking back. They enjoy indoor skydiving and surfing as well as skateboarding.
Giraud is honest about his parenting style: He puts his life at stake to be a ski-BASE jumper of distinction. Giraud says he doesn’t take any precautions when he skis off a cliff in Alps. He floats to the ground with his parachuute deployed, as an avalanche crashes off the slope behind him. Giraud argues that no one is more aware of the rewards and risks involved in life than he.
Giraud doesn’t want his child to be reckless. He wants him to learn to accept risk and to assess it. Giraud is a philosopher and risk-taker about parenting and life. Giraud knows that high-risk lifestyles are not for everyone. However, he would like parents to reconsider their fear-aversion at all times.
Are you allowing them to fly or holding them back? Giraud examines this in his new documentary, Super Frenchie. It’s equal parts heart-pounding and touching and thought-provoking and you can rent it-to-stream on YouTube, Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
Giraud was speaking to us months before his movie on risk-taking and fear. We asked him what advice he had for parents struggling with the right level of risk-taking for their children i.e. All parents.
How do you handle fear when you are BASE jumping?
It is something I feel every single time. People talk about not having fear, being fearless, or conquering fear all the time. It’s just nonsense. Fear will always be present. Fear is a normal response to dangerous or threatening environments. It’s okay to be afraid and to embrace it. This is how it empowers.
When I think about a project or plan for a route to the mountain, I feel fear. It’s because I don’t know all the variables. Uncertainty is the root of my fear. Once I have a better understanding of my environment, how we will do the jump or if it is possible, my fear decreases.
My fear was ignored when I was 24 years old, and I ski-BASE jumped. I let it go and just did the stunt. It is now something I embrace. It is all part of the journey. No matter how dangerous the adventure, the more fear you will have. Fear is a sign that something is wrong in my environment. It is dangerous to ignore fear because it can blind you. Accepting fear can make you more connected to your environment and help you be adaptable and alert.
Your approach allowing your child to take on his own risk?
He took a skateboard that had 9-10 foot overhanging walls and dropped a vert ramp. At six years old, he was already doing this. Because you don’t have the skills and I’m not a good skateboarder, it’s not in his blood. Every lesson I take, however, is a success.
He would often say to me, “Papa! I’m so scared right now!” My answer was, “I’m not going hide him from fear.” He always says, “Well that’s a great thing. It’s a good thing that you are scared. “The fear is telling your that you must pay attention.” I help him find calmness and sharpness in times of chaos and threatening situations.
Your primary focus is cognitive reframing, you have stated. What does that actually mean?
Cognitive reframing refers to turning a negative into something positive. As anyone, I have had ups and lows throughout my life. I have lost many friends in the mountains. In a period of four to five years, I lost 40 to 50 friends. It was like our friendships were falling apart like flies as it was like nearly one person per month. It leaves a lasting impression. I felt like there is something on my head.
I didn’t even know what it was. This episode was a cognitive reframing episode. It was about learning how to cope with the loss of a friend, and how to use it almost as a source for knowledge and empowerment to make yourself safer while still doing dangerous and daring things. I suffered a major crash in the middle of that period. I also had to accept my mortality and learn a way to manage risk so I could return home in one piece.
Did you ever consider quitting your job at any point?
After my crash, it was something that crossed my mind. Three weeks prior to the birth of my child, I was on a huge ski mountaineering descent through the Alps. There was a BASE jump at one end. I am now halfway across the globe in France, with a brain hemorhage and a double fractured left femur.
My brain bleeding prevented me from flying home. Six days after his birth, I was able to fly home. I was able, albeit on crutches and cross-eyed. It took me around a year and half to get to my normal self. It was slow. Six years later, I returned to the mountain and completed it. Two months later, I set a new world record by ski-BASE jumping at Mount Blanc’s top, achieving the highest altitude ski -BASE jump.
When I was in the hospital, I thought about stopping BASE jumping for a few days. Your brain functions normally even though you are in a coma. Although I was not awake, my brain still functions. My dreams all about ski powder and jumping cliffs were my memories. It was a guilt-based decision to stop.
I felt like I was letting my family down. After coming out of my coma, however, I felt clear again and realized that I couldn’t stop. While some would call it smart, I would see it as cowardice. It would be a betrayal of my self. I must keep going. This is the purpose of my life. It was a commitment that I made, and it meant having to persevere through difficult times.
How can you balance the risk of losing your child and the responsibility of being parent?
When I’m at home, I am deeply invested in my child’s education and life. They are very close. We have many common interests. It doesn’t matter if you introduce your child to something. We have been to many things together, including indoor skydiving and surfing, as well as death metal concerts. It’s a great thing to do so many things with him because he knows how much I love him.
He is my confidant. Naturally, I explain everything in terms he can understand as an infant. Sometimes a friend of mine who has died BASE jumping asks me, “What did they do?” and I reply, “Here’s how it happened.” He can see the rational side of it.
My commitment to him allows me to be selfish when I go. The jump begins as soon as I get in the plane. There is nothing that can block my vision from that point on. When you are about to BASE jump, the worst thing you can do is think about your family and look at your child. They can become a weakness as they can distract you from your thoughts and emotions. They can be a barrier to your ability to fully engage with your environment and connect with it.
My parents might criticize my actions, saying it’s selfish or immoral. They will say that you are a father and should be at home. It’s the exact opposite. It’s important to set an example. This not only makes me a better person, but it also shows my child how to live a full, authentic and fulfilling life. This is a very important ethos. I am not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t need the rush. It’s incredibly rewarding and I love it. It is something I love. It is something I chose to devote my life to.
Your child’s thought on BASE jumping
It’s a great idea. He jumped out of the shower while I was going to Mont Blanc. He wasn’t dry and was still wet. Then he came up naked and gave me a hug in my office. I ask him, “What’s the matter?” He replies, “I don’t want you to be hurt when you go up to Mont Blanc.” I know he was seriously injured. I replied, “I understand. But sometimes accidents do happen.” We did it flawlessly.
I was towed by a jet ski into a 30-foot wave along the Oregon coast last December. Although my child was very worried about the future, he is now learning to trust me and my judgement. As he gets older, he is more aware of the risks and the concept death. This is a difficult thing for him. However, this is part of human evolution.
What is the best way to reduce risk in your everyday life as a parent?
The best way to reduce risk is to empower your child as soon as possible. While we don’t give him the right to go to the lions immediately, we slowly increase his independence and autonomy. Skateboarding is a high-reward sport that has helped so many people, particularly skateboarding. It’s easy to get hurt. He has learned to accept the hurt and get up again, and to also evaluate the situation and the surrounding environment. This is something I believe can be applied to other situations.
At five years old I was not interested in having anyone walk me to ski school. I put on my skis and boots and walked all the way to the school. I checked in at the lift and took the ski school chair by myself. As a child, I valued independence and that is something I continue to practice with my child. Independence must be earned. I gradually increase it, and when he does things that are not allowed, I reel it back. I tell him, “I wish that you could do this. But you screwed up.”
Are you able to offer any suggestions for parents who fear that their children will run free in the neighborhood, climb the highest tree, or go skateboarding with their friends?
I am tempted to stop being a wimp. They’re being smart, protecting their child. Learn to trust your child. You can trust your child. Because they are always improving, a child is the definition for a superhero. Many parents believe that children are too small to be able to do certain things. A child is perfectly functional.
I don’t think you should put too much pressure on your kids. Parents need to be able to trust that their children can do amazing things. It’s up to you to show them and then let them trust that they can accomplish it. You don’t help them long-term if you shelter them too much.
You can rent a documentary about Giraud’s career and life now: