Summer camp plans stir Dad’s inner action hero.
Published: February 26, 2020
By: Perry P. Perkins
I knew this day would come eventually, and still I was unprepared. So much fear, so much uncertainty.
My daughter stood before me, looking so small but so proud in her uniform, her duffel neatly packed and at her feet.
Where had the years gone?
I tried not to think about the possible dangers that lie ahead, about the long nights of worry, or that I’d be so far, too far away to keep her safe. For the first time in her life, her security would depend on others… on strangers.
I tried to remind myself that this was about HER dreams, not mine. That I had to let go, regardless of the cost, and allow her to be her own person, to do what she believed was right, to (shudder) grow up.
“Have you got your flak jacket?” I asked, trying to keep my inner terror from my face. “And all of your gear? How about your first-aid kit? Are you sure you’re not forgetting something? Are you really sure that you want to do this?”
My little girl sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Daddy, it’s just summer camp. It’s not like I’m going to war or something, geez!”
“I know, I just… honey… NEVER get off the boat!”
“Mom! He’s doing it again!”
From upstairs, I heard my wife. “Just put her in the car, you big wuss! The bus is going to leave in an hour!”
Summer Camp. My 10-year-old daughter’s FIRST summer camp. Are there any words that strike more fear in a dad’s heart?
Last night I’d lain awake, tormented by the horrors of bears, and lakes, and cliffs, and sunstroke, and (worst of all) boys.
Boys at summer camp! I mean… MY GOD!
(Don’t you try to fool me about boys at summer camp, either. I WAS a boy at summer camp. I know what lurks in the hearts of boys.)
My inner Liam Neeson rose up in righteous fury at the mere thought, reminding me that I needed to watch Taken again and take some notes.
(For those of you who don’t have children of the female persuasion, Taken is a movie about the lengths to which a father will go to protect his daughter, and in which the aforementioned Liam Neeson takes out approximately 472,000 bad guys in 24 hours to do so. It is, in my humble opinion, the single most important movie on fatherhood in the history of cinema.)
My wife, bless her, had tried to alleviate my fears about summer camp and show me the bright side, feigning unbridled excitement at the thought of two weeks child-free.
“Two WEEKS,” she’d whispered from her pillow. “Two weeks without My Little Pony or wet towels on the bathroom floor. Two weeks of quiet! We could rent a cabin, watch any movies we want, we could have sex… My God, we could SLEEP IN!”
I’ll admit she made a compelling argument, but nothing could overcome my evolutionary drive to protect my only daughter. It is in my dad genes to keep her safe. I’m pretty sure that the Great Wall of China was built by Chinese dads trying desperately to keep little Hun boys from riding past their houses on bikes.
But, alas, no argument of mine would be considered.
We arrived at the school parking lot, where I was disappointed to find the bus was still waiting.
I unloaded my daughter’s duffel bag from the trunk, trying not to remember that somewhere in that bag was an adorable little pink one-piece swim suit. I’d offered to buy her a full-length, child-size wetsuit, citing the dangers of hypothermia, water-born bacteria and giant lake-bound crocodiles. But as usual, my totally reasonable fatherly concerns for her safety were ignored.
My wife eyed the bag suspiciously.
“You took out the taser, right?”
“Of course, I did!”
“And the brass knuckles?”
“And the pepper spray?”
After I interviewed the driver and inspected the bus tires, it was time to depart.
The doors of the bus were crowded with little campers and their moms, fussing over them, telling them to be good, to have fun, to change their underwear every day (that was mostly for the boys). In the background were the other dads, chain-smoking and trying to look brave as they polished their imaginary shotguns.
Finally, the bus was filled with happy children, shouting and squealing at decibels that could be heard from the far side of Jupiter. As they pulled out, my lip trembled, and I looked to my wife for comfort. But there was none to be had. She was already sprinting for the car.
Two weeks passed in a sleepless, nail-biting blur, and before I knew it, we were back at the parking lot, waiting anxiously for the bus to return.
I could tell the stress of the past weeks had gotten to my wife.
“It’s six o’clock in the morning.”
“The bus doesn’t get here until noon.”
“I hate you.”
Finally, the bus rolled into the parking lot, opened its doors, and emitted a grubby knot of shouting and squealing children, many of whom (mostly the boys) had visible, cartoon-esque, stink squiggles rising from their unwashed bodies, and (I’m just guessing here) 13 pairs of pristine, un-touched underwear in their bags.
Giggling girls hugged one another passionately, swearing undying BFF-dom to one another and casting suspiciously covert side glances at the boys, whose mothers hovered around them in horror, spit-washing two weeks’ worth of dirt and s’more residue from their little faces.
Finally, my little angel unglued herself from the knot and ran to us, her hair in a frizzy, uncombed ponytail, bandages on her knees, and her sunburned nose peeling. (Had these people never heard of melanoma?)
One of the camp counselors approached my wife, handing her a prison-style sharpened spoon and eyeing me distrustfully. “Gracie found this in her bag, and we thought you might want it back.”
My wife shot me a look that communicated clearly that “a talk” was in our immediate future.
Gracie, who had apparently been fed either crystal meth or 700 Snickers bars for breakfast, was jumping up and down (and audibly humming) in excitement, while I inspected her extremities for broken bones, third-degree burns and possible gunshot wounds.
“Weswaminthelakeandroastedhotdogsandrodehorsesandtoldghoststoriesandstudiedowlpoopandhadacampfireeverynight!!!” (pause for air) “And I can’t wait to go again next year!”
Oh God … only 12 months of nightmares to go.
Of course, I exaggerate.
In honesty, she was fine. More than fine, she had made new friends, made some wonderful memories and gained a very important milestone in independence and self-reliance.
I wanted to tell her how much I’d missed her, how glad I was she’d enjoyed herself and how proud I was of her.
Unfortunately, it had to wait. I needed to get home and order Taken 2.