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Chris Burkard Challenges His Kids to Explore the Unknown

The following was produced in partnership with GMC Sierra, which enables fathers everywhere to “Dad Like a Pro.” Together, we celebrate the dedication, discipline, and bold craftsmanship of parents whose achievements in business and at home help their children live full, healthy lives and change the world in the process.

Chris Burkard comes home. Sometimes he comes from shooting surfers in the Aleutian islands. Sometimes he comes home from capturing an Icelandic glacier. But he always comes home with pictures, stories, and a plan to get his boys outside. An adventure photographer by trade, Burkard is determined to raise his children to be ready and eager to explore the big, bad, beautiful world. How does he do this? By pushing them gently and loitering with them in moments of wonder.

Burkard’s boys don’t have to wait for their inheritance. It’s all around them and they know it. Burkard won’t let them forget.

Did you want to be a photographer or explorer as a kid? Have you fulfilled a lifelong ambition or followed a career path?

I grew up in a single parent home and never traveled, so I wanted to know the world outside the dinner table and the six o’clock news. I also grew up in a small town, and I was basically the only one who wanted to get out and explore. I wanted to know the world and form my own opinions. That was why I picked up a camera.

Were your parents encouraging when you decided to pursue a job as an adventure photographer?
My mom is my greatest hero. She sacrificed everything for me. She had me when she was 16, and my dad died before I was born. I knew she gave up so much for me, so I wanted to make something of myself. She didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, but she taught me the value of hard work along with the importance of family. I’m a dad and husband first and foremost. But I’m also a photographer and my work has taken me to the ends of the Earth.

You’re very successful in a very competitive field. What do you think sets your work apart?
At first, I just wanted to travel and see places. Then I started developing relationships with athletes and in action sports. I’ve always tried to infuse human subjects to the landscapes to make them more relatable and approachable.

What drives you personally to do what you do?

Without being too cliché, getting out of my comfort zone. Thrusting myself into situations where I’m forced to make decisions without being able to predict the outcome. My generation seeks out other people’s experiences — what they’ve done and created — and we judge success in the places we go on that. If we didn’t get to that place our trip wasn’t successful. That’s a hard thing to deal with. A hard way to live. I’ve always tried to embrace uncertainty because there’s a space that occurs when you do that where you can grow.

I hope my work would inspire people to get outside the safe, routine, familiar and known, whatever that is for them. For my kids, I don’t want to tell them how to live. I just want to inspire them to not be afraid of the unknown.

I could see you being a bit reluctant to push your kids to follow you given the obstacles and risks that entails.
I have a 3-year-old named Forrest and a 5-year-old named Jeremiah. Jeremiah is totally enthralled by bugs, animals, lizards, and snakes. I’m not a huge animal lover or reptile person, but my son is obsessed. I want to support that. All he wants to do is watch videos of animals.

My youngest son — all he wants to do is play and wrestle. He doesn’t have something he’s super into yet, but I’m biding my time to watch him develop.

My kids are three and five, so I’m basically trying to have them not go crazy and pick up that snake. At this point, they don’t need to be inspired to take on more challenges, because they’re natural risk takers. They’ve been exposed to the outside world since a really young age.

What’s most rewarding about being a father?

Being able to watch them become their own people. That’s been the most fulfilling. Understanding that regardless of who I am or my wife is they’re gonna be their own people. I love that.

Fatherhood has kind of shifted everything. You take different risks, think about things differently — your life is not your own.

What advice would you have for fellow working fathers or soon to be fathers out there?
The best advice would be to not put expectations on having kids and what it’s going to be like. I think the reality is that you have to learn to appreciate the small things — little tiny things that are really killer. That’s what I love.

What do your kids think about what you do?
I have no clue, but all I know is they miss me when I’m gone. That’s hard. I don’t want them to think work is this thing that takes me away from them. That’s a big fear for me. I want them to know that my end goal is to spend more time with them.

How do you find balance in your work and home life? Why’s that important?

It’s extremely important and hard to still go on the road. I’m always leaving something behind. I try my best to give enough time to both my family and my work, but something always suffers. You can’t do both perfectly. That’s where your partner comes in. That person needs to be actively engaged in the same end goal as you are.

My wife, Brea, and I are constantly talking about the best way to navigate the situation. You can have an idea and go to all the classes, but at some point, it all goes out the window. Education is great, but nothing beats just doing the hard work. And as kids grow, things change. What worked once doesn’t work now.

What do you hope your kids remember most from this time in your lives together?
I want them to know I love them, and that I do what I do because I love them and care about them. I just don’t want to make too many big plans because you never know how those will end up.