Camp Dad

I grew up in the Midwest, but I’ve established my roots in New England, because I’m more comfortable here. I like the uppity people, and the good food, and the liberal politics. But I’m not a huge fan of the smells. Autumn in Michigan smelled better than autumn in New England. Same with Spring. And don’t get me started on that assault on the senses they call “Yankee Candle.” The entrance to hell is a Yankee Candle store, I presume. But one of the smells I like least is that of the New England coast.

The mix of fishing industry and seaweed and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam makes for a ripe stew that I’d rather be nowhere near. I’ll take the coast of Northern California or a Caribbean Island any day over the day-old tunafish sandwich smell of Gloucester or Portland.

Now, my wife’s cousin has a house up on an island off the coast of Maine, and he is very generous to share it with his extended family for free. So you can imagine that I get really excited when it’s time to take a family vacation up there. With the cold water, and not-at-all sandy beaches, fat Mainers in Speedos, and tunafish sandwich air.

I’m not joking. I really do get excited. Because I don’t go. The wife and kids go and leave me and the dog to fend for ourselves for a week. And that. Is. Awesome.

I’ll work from home that week, so I can maximize my solitude. The dog gets regular walks, and I get regular cocktails. And dinners out at the bar of my favorite restaurant on the planet. And it is a chance for personal growth. For example, it was during this week that I really threw myself into twitter for the first time. Being married with children is wonderful, but everyone needs a little break from that once in a while.

However, that kind of solitude and tranquility comes at a price. And that price is that after a week, I need to drive up to Maine, trade cars with my wife, and drive home with the kids. Then she gets her vacation. And the kids get Camp Dad!

Camp Dad is a devilishly clever invention I came up with. It achieves so many wonderful goals, it’s really quite remarkable. The kids get an experience to complain about all their lives. It keeps them incredibly busy all day, so they go right to sleep at night. There is absolutely no “I’m bored” to deal with. The kids get to see that, although I am not that sportsy, athletic dad from TV, I actually do know how to do those sportsy, athletic things (which, I hope, frees them to entertain the idea of not just being a cerebral couch potato like their old man). And, when my wife eventually comes home, the kids are so glad to have her back.

Camp Dad, like any good camp, starts with Reveille. At 6am sharp, I take out my Sax, stand in their hallway, and assault their ears. They have 15 minutes to get dressed, and then we head outside for calisthenics. Get the blood pumping. That’s it for being in the house. The rest of the day (except bathroom breaks) will be spent outside, or in a converted horse stable we call “The Cabana.” No electronics. No TV.

The Cabana

The Cabana

I serve cereal in the Cabana, and we then proceed to fill the day with activities. Four-person baseball (pitcher, catcher, hitter, fielder, rotating each play). Croquet. Frisbee. Swimming. Lots and lots of swimming. Badminton. Bocce. Cards. Board games. You name it. Non-stop, continuous family entertainment. Breaks for lunch and dinner that I prepare on the grill. We retire into the Cabana for reading and, eventually, sleeping.

Then the next day, we all wake up early and it starts all over again (except the Reveille is rendered on Harmonica, for the sake of the neighbors).

Two days of this is all the kids can take. So after dinner, I let them go back into the house and settle back into their routine of iThings and TV and awful pop music on the radio.

We’ve done this twice now. The schedule didn’t work out last summer, so we skipped it. And I think my oldest, who will be 12 by this summer, may use creative social imperatives to avoid it if we do manage to do it again this year. Sometimes we’ll do a mini Camp Dad when my wife is away in the summer. It has become part of our family lexicon. Someday, when my kids are home from college for the holidays, they are going to sit around and tell stories about Camp Dad. Horrible, awful, completely untrue stories. I look forward to that.

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