When I was in my thirties, I had a conversation with an old friend from high school. We were talking about our respective kids, and all of their activities when she said, “You know, my dad was a successful lawyer and my brother and I had everything we needed, and most of what we wanted. Your parents managed to do the same for you and your siblings, but they were always there.”
A bit confused I turned and asked, “I always thought of your parents being there for you, what do you mean?”
She continued, “Yes they were, emotionally and financially, but what I meant was… I don’t remember a cross-country, meet or a track meet where your parents weren’t there, cheering you on from the sidelines. I was well provided for, but my parents were rarely there.”
She was absolutely right about the first part. My parents made a supreme effort to come to all of our events. When my brother played Little League, many years before the advent of cell phones, my Dad (who was a busy pediatrician) would come to the games even when he was on-call. Every hour he would walk down to the payphone at the concession stand with his roll of dimes.
Surrounded by the sound of the Sno Kone machine and the smell of the hamburger grill, he would check-in with the answering service, and call the patients who needed him. Whenever he would leave the game for the phone, he would whisper in my ear, “come get me if something good happens.”
I don’t ever remember running down the hill to interrupt his work, but the whisper in my ear let me know, of all the important things in that moment, my brother’s game was the most important.
In middle and high school, cross-country and track meets were typically on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays. Because they worked crazy weekend and evening times, my Dad, and each of his partners, took one afternoon off each week. My Dad’s day just happened to be Tuesdays. When we were little, Tuesday afternoons were time to get into little projects, or go on adventures with my parents. In fact, the infamous “Rooster-Roaster” incident (Chapter 39 in my book The Penny Collector) most certainly took place on a Tuesday afternoon.
Once my brother, sister and I were competing on Tuesdays, my parents shifted to screaming from the stands. Even on Saturdays when he was on-call, my Dad would be there with his roll of (now) quarters. If you ever need to find an athletic facility payphone in Upstate NY, ask my Dad – he knows them all.
Fast-forward a quarter century.
My wife and I are currently the proud parents of four teenagers, but in this scenario, she is the pediatrician with the crazy schedule. Lucky for us we now have cell phones. Last spring when my boys were signing up for Boy Scout Camp, I put my name down as being a parent interested in attending for part of the week.
I put my name on the sheet and promptly forgot all about it.
This summer, my job has been very demanding, and as the time for camp grew closer, nobody had reached out to me with specifics so I figured I was off the hook. Work hadn’t slowed down one bit, and I really couldn’t afford to be out of the office for 2-3 days. It isn’t that I didn’t want to go spend time in the woods with my three boys and their troopmates.
The resistance came from this idea in society that our jobs are the most important thing, and when forced to choose, we must defer to “providing for our families,” right?
The week before camp came, and I got a curious email asking me for the details of the vehicle I would be bringing to camp. Uh-oh! It turns out there had been an attachment to an email sent out weeks before that confirmed my commitment to come to camp on Wednesday, and stay through Saturday. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to swing it, but I figured I could make it work.
So, last Wednesday after my workday was done, I loaded my ancient backpack into our Suburban and headed out to Camp Barton on the shores of Cayuga Lake, just north of Ithaca, NY.
I arrived in camp just in time for evening retreat. I walked from my car towards the giant parade field. Framed by the lake, hundreds of scouts in uniform saluted the flag as it was lowered to the patriotic playing of the band.
I instantly forgot all about work.
After a raucous dinner in the dining hall, I attended a twilight nature hike with my sons Lewis and Lawrence. It went on so long that in the end, we were walking in complete darkness – I could not see two feet in front of me. If you’ve never been surrounded by nature with nothing by your ears and nose to guide you, I highly recommend the experience.
After a sweaty night’s sleep, I rose early the next morning to go on a birding walk, again with Lewis and Lawrence. They both had about twenty birds to identify and log for their merit badge and they both had it done before breakfast.
Over the next two days, I helped out with the other scouts, attended all kinds of camp activities and watched while my three sons literally grew-up before my eyes.
The food was marginal, the sleeping arrangements were hot and buggy, and the “comfort facilities” were in a word… nasty. But none of that mattered.
At breakfast Friday morning, they announced that there would be a contest for the best Troop Plaque. The dining hall is plastered with plaques commemorating decades of Troop visits to the camp.
My son Lawrence and I agreed to take on the job for our troop. We worked together to get a piece of wood, and fashion a frame out of Japanese knotweed (which grows all over camp). Then Lawrence took the plaque down to the handicraft lodge and painted it. Here is the result:
Friday afternoon I went down to the Rifle Range with my son Oliver. Having achieved the highest score of the week for a scout (an 88/100), he wanted to check and make sure his top target hadn’t been surpassed. When we inquired, the counselor in charge of the range said, “You’re still in the lead by a good margin. The range closes for the week in an hour and none of these kids here are going to beat you.”
I turned to leave, but Oliver grabbed my arm and said, “Dad, you want to see something?” Not waiting for an answer he started walking down a trail I hadn’t noticed… I dutifully followed. After walking maybe a half-mile we arrived here:
Oliver and I skipped stones in the water for twenty minutes just talking about the events of the week and other father/son stuff. When another group came down the trail, we headed back. Later that night at the closing campfire, Lewis and Oliver performed a skit to the delight of the entire camp.
When we finally arrived home late Saturday morning, I was tired, filthy, hungry and covered in bug bites.
That said, I can’t remember a time when my soul was so at peace and heart was more full.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that on both Thursday and Friday I had work related “fires” that despite being officially on vacation, I had to take time out to address. Given the environment in which I was immersed, they felt like little more than a couple more mosquito bites.
Dear reader, by now my point has hopefully penetrated the hardened noggins we all drag off the pillow every morning and into our “important” workdays. If not I will make it painfully obvious.
No matter how busy you are or how urgent things may seem, you DO have the time to walk away and spend a few days doing [insert important thing]. For me, it was time in the woods with my boys. Do I have a pile of emails to go through and other stuff to catch up on? Yes I do, but that’s true every Monday.
Experts are always telling us to get out of our “comfort zones.” Last week I found myself way beyond the borders of said territory…and it was the most comfortable place I’ve been in a long time.
Now, you go out and do the same.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved