For the second year in a row, the boys are off to Dads’ camp. A week of no showers, hot dogs and last year Ben had enough sugar on the first night to induce vomiting.
I can’t drink a whole two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, he told me.
I gulped down my horror that he would be allowed to do such a thing but then, I didn’t have to clean up the mess. This year? I’m guessing no two-liter containers of Mountain Dew will be swilled down by a single boy.
Dads’ camp is at Donald’s house on the ocean in Down East Maine. It is a beautiful cabin on a peninsula where you can watch the lobster boats come and go from the deck. It is always cool. At night, you wrap in blankets and watch the sky become filled with stars, so many you realize the arrogance in believing we are the only life in the universe.
Donald removes his precious items, like the Tiffany lamp, and settles in for the onslaught of three boys and two dads. I believe Walter and Allan always bring him a giant size bottle of vodka.
Last year at Dads camp, they all learned how to shave (and moisturize). They tasted beer for the first time. They fished. Zachary had to be peeled out of the clothes he wore the entire week.
What did you like about Dads’ camp last year? I asked.
The beach Jake said, pointing out the picture above.
The beach Ben said.
(It’s a first. Jake said it without parroting someone. Good job, Jake.)
Junky cereal, says Zachary.
I roll my eyes. Anything else, Zachary?
Um… he grins, junky cereal.
There is no TV. No Imac with DVD’s. Lots of junk food. An old rope bed for sleeping. A hammock for swinging. Skinny dipping is allowed. Lots of climbing on rocks. Fresh lobster pulled from the water that day. Mussels picked at low tide. A couple deer heads and a stuffed Bobcat line the walls. Leather furniture. Wood paneling. A huge stone fireplace for nightly fires. Manly.
Okay, Donald is gay and just like we suburban lesbians have to have our Speedos, gym shorts and keens? The gay man living remotely who doesn’t want to end up with someone with no teeth needs some style. There is the before mentioned Tiffany lamp and lovely decorative touches, not to mention the man is a gourmet chef who makes a simple boiled lobster dinner something to tell your grandchildren about.
I don’t think my kids see that, though. I know they don’t see the Tiffany lamp for obvious reasons.
For three city kids, it s a chance to be away from traffic, noise, and the ever present glare from the streetlight outside their bedroom window. They hear the ocean not the commuter rail. It’s open and they are allowed to roam free. They get to see the stars I remember from my childhood.
And they get to be with their Dads. They get to identify with parents that look like them, who are adult versions of what they will be someday. I don’t think any kid has to have a man in their life to be well rounded. I had a father and the scars he left run deep. But there is something really precious about what they give my kids, something I can never give them. I don’t know what it is to be a brother, a father, or a husband. They are all roles I watch from outside. I feel lucky, sometimes, not having girls. My expectation, having been a sister, a mother and a wife would warp my view of any daughter I had. It’s the fodder of many a therapy session, not just for me, but for all mothers and daughters.
And yet, the one mom, one dad and two point five kids Madison Avenue image the Republican extremists are trying to sell us? Such bullshit. As important as it is to have role models in children’s lives, it is more important to have love, connection and presence. Sometimes your gender doesn’t matter at all. No one will win an election if they admit that.
There is a great essay in a book “Confessions of the Other Mother,” by Polly Pagenhart that talks about being a lesbian Dad. It’s beautiful. Unfortunately for my boys, while I may look the butch role, I’m really not. I’m never going to camp. I don’t like getting dirty. I’m great at sports but I find spitting really vulgar. I have been dubbed the “butch princess” at work because during an office move my boss discovered my inability to hold a tape measure.
Who we are and how we affect our kids sometimes is genderless. Walter and I had an intense talk the other day. He talked about having a distant father. The distance Jeanine had created in her life by being so focused on work was painfully similar to his own experience with his father. That was about parents, not gender lines. Kids. Relationships.
So my boys are off to Dads’ camp. They’ll stop at Ruth and Wimpy’s for haddock sandwiches on their way. The kids all have clean underwear and clothes for each day, which I’m pretty sure, will remain untouched. Mountain Dew will be consumed in disgusting amounts. Stars will be watched. Rocks thrown in the water. All the fears right wing extremists have that my boys won’t have a normal life can be confirmed.
They will have an exceptional life.
With two moms. And two dads.
Let Dads’ camp begin.