This past weekend I visited my son at his camp for Dad’s Weekend. Two and a half days of fishing, singing, building, running, sock wars, and thunderstorms.
It was my 5th Dad’s Weekend. Each time I drive away amazed how connected my son and I can get in only 2.5 days, and wish that it was as easy the rest of the year. It is hard to describe how this camp, Becket YMCA in the Berkshires, creates a culture where boys and men are able to share feelings and experiences in very real ways. Being able to learn more about how my son thinks (through discussions with him and his counselors), sharing my experiences with him, and having a moment to relax together are the best parts of the experience.
Here are some lingering thoughts about the experience and fatherhood in general from this past weekend:
- It is amazing how a sacred space can be created with nothing more than a candle. Each night the cabins end their day with a cabin chat. The boys get into their bunks, the counselors bring in a candle to the center of the cabin when all is quiet, and they provide a prompt for the night that begins a sharing of thoughts. We do this during Dad’s Weekend as well.
On the second night the prompt was, “What was a time that you needed your dad or that you needed your son?”
My son described his camp session last year, when his mother ended up in the hospital and couldn’t visit him during visiting day. I had stayed longer as a result to be with him. My son is very reluctant to share his feelings normally, especially when he is sad or scared. It opened a door for me to tell him, with my response to the prompt, that I need him all the time to tell me when he is scared, sad, or worried. I need to be able to help him through those feelings.
- It is ok when your son outfishes you. Over the 2.5 days there are 6 different opportunities to take a boat out on the lake. During Dad’s Weekend I typically end up rowing across the lake 12 times to get to a cove that has proven to be especially prolific in spitting up fish. This weekend, for various reasons, I only had to row the lake 4 times. Yet, in those trips my son managed to catch 6 largemouth bass, the largest being in the 3 to 4 lb range. Dad only caught one, in the 0.25 – 0.5 lb range.
But it’s ok as at some point I overheard my son tell a younger camper on the dock, as he helped the younger boy with his gear, that “I learned everything about fishing from my dad.”
- Dads don’t need to know everything. My son signed up for a specialty cabin this summer that has him learning construction as the boys build a new cabin on the camp’s property. My grandfathers built their homes. My great uncles did as well. My dad taught himself carpentry and has performed many a home improvement project over the years. I have escaped my home improvement projects with my digits intact, barely.
At the cabin construction site I stood back and enjoyed watching my son measure, cut and hammer, as I stood back and admired the work. The mentors, mostly college-aged young men, take on the role of teacher. What a wonderful thing when our kids have access to mentors that are not us. We don’t need to know everything, and that is an important lesson for our kids.
- There is something to the gendered aspect of Dad’s Weekend…and I don’t quite know what it is. I have been talking up the camp to my girlfriend, so when her son is old enough it could be an option for him. One of the reactions she has had to Dad’s Weekend was, “That’s not fair.” That is a theme I have heard over the years as well. My ex has expressed the same thoughts. And this weekend the Camp Director told us that the Board has approved a process to rename the weekend to make it more inclusive, as 20% of the men who attend are not dads.
It is true that families come in all forms, and women, in particular, are not part of the experience so where does that leave families with two moms, for example? The sister camp has a Mom’s Weekend for the girls, so this discussion is important for boys and girls. Is there a benefit to having a gendered experience, where kids have a space to interact only with men if they are boys, and women if they are girls? A mom absolutely can take a son fishing, or play ultimate frisbee, or have a cabin chat, or play sock wars, but what is the benefit to boys of having a male mentor do it?
I don’t have a good answer to the question, but I do think there is a benefit. What are your thoughts?
- My son’s counselor got him writing poetry. The camp counselors at my son’s camp are amazing! That is one place that I see a benefit to the gendered experience. In chatting with my son’s counselor (the camp creates two snack times in the the dining hall at 10 pm, where the counselors are present to discuss one-on-one how the kids have been doing at camp) it was clear how much importance, care and thought these young men put into being positive role models to the campers.
My son struggles with impulsivity, which makes it difficult for him to make friends and have positive interactions with his peers. My son’s counselor worked with my son to help him begin journaling his thoughts about interactions he had at camp. This activity in self-reflection led my son to start writing poems, which he then shared with his counselor and the boys in his cabin.
When I drive home from Dad’s Weekend (my suggestion for a new name was Wise Guys Weekend) I am usually exhausted from running around, but also full of questions about my role as a dad. Ultimately I think about, “What does it mean to be a man and how do we pass that on to our sons?” What do you think?