Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. For example, how many parents can say their kids are excited to go back to school? Okay, so I loved going back to school as a kid — but all my favorite activities involved air conditioning. My kid LIVES for summer, but he’s hyped for back-to-school as well.
Maybe he’s excited because he’s an only child and misses being around other kids. Or perhaps it’s that his classroom is in a newly-built wing. Or he’s just pumped to use his new Black Panther backpack.
It’s likely all those things. But it’s also a genuine love of learning. And as a parent, I can’t imagine how I could be more lucky.
A couple of weeks ago, Jon initiated this conversation.
“Daddy, this year at school I have some goals,” he began.
“Oh yeah? Like what?” I asked.
He begins to list them. “I want to be a better listener in class. I want to not talk in class unless I raise my hand or it’s my turn. I want to be a better helper. I want to stand up to bullies…”
What did you do on your summer vacation? Before we’re all too entrenched in the new school year, allow me to regale you with a harrowing tale. A tale of childhood. A tale of fun. A tale of absentmindedness and excuses and going commando. And a tale of a very, very frustrated dad.
Last summer my son attended a daytime summer camp and had an amazing time. I’ve never been much of a summer (or any type of) camper. I was/am too uptight to deal with nature or filth or a lack of personal space for long periods of time. But my kid is almost exactly the opposite. Which meant he squeezed the fun out of every moment of camp, but tended to not sweat many any of the details. Which also meant day-after-day-after-day of his shit being left behind at camp.
It boggled my mind, pushed all my Angry Dad buttons, and eventually became comically surreal. Nearly every parent I told said their kid was exactly the same, so I swore that the next summer I would document it somehow. There was some cathartic, empathetic humor to be mined.
Yet as this past school year wound down and quickly burst into summer, I found myself rushing around preparing for camp and completely forgot about my idea. It wasn’t until the first afternoon of pick-up that I remembered; when I opened my son’s backpack to put away his wet clothes and found none. On. Day. One.
It was one week, more than three years in the making. At long last, Camp Kesem at the University of Maryland was a reality.
The campsite was set on a tiny peninsula in southern Maryland, where the Potomac feeds into the Chesapeake. It looked like any other summer camp — bunk houses surrounded picnic tables beneath a giant oak; paddles and canoes stacked alongside a murky, green river; a swimming pool, a mess hall, a fire pit. But this camp was unique. It had a history; a tragic yet inspiring origin story. Created by the literal blood, sweat, and tears of a family, a community, and a university.
To tell the full tale would require more words than a single blog post warrants. However, if you’ve known me or this site for any length of time, you’re probably familiar. All you really need to know is that a loving father named Oren lost his life to cancer; this inspired 12 other fathers to hike across Northern England to raise money for a camp in his honor. This is that camp.
As with every Kesem chapter, the campers are kids whose parents have been touched by cancer — whether a survivor, in treatment, or victim. Yet much more than “cancer camp,” I’ve attempted to do it justice with a few pictures and a smattering of words.
CAMP KESEM, IN PICTURES
The day before camp, I attended the staff’s final training session to share about Oren, Dads4Kesem, and the ways this camp is special to so many. They cheered when I told them Oren’s children would be attending.
Our family is featured in a new spot for the ACLU! We were excited and honored to share our story with an organization we’ve long admired for their commitment to social justice. Along with Jon, Papa and I, the two-minute ACLU Voter video highlights several other families … and several examples of why it’s more important than ever to make our voices heard through voting.
Check it out…
Racial justice, travel bans, disability rights, reproductive freedom, immigration, LGBTQ rights — all of these issues have been through an upheaval under the Trump administration. And as mid-term elections loom across the country, they are in further danger .
Movie: Teen Titans GO! to the Movies (PG, 1 hour, 33 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy, Jon (8)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★1/2, Jon ★★★★★
Plot Snapshot: The Teen Titans jump from the small to the big screen, literally…-ish. Bummed they’re the only superheroes NOT having a movie made about them, the team (Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy) sets off to prove themselves worthy by acquiring an arch nemesis. Intrigue, time travel and fart jokes ensue — culminating with an epic, world-shattering battle. And also messages about friendship and teamwork.
I sat on the floor of my son’s room amidst a sea of books, surveying those he’d carefully selected yanked off the shelf for inclusion in a yard sale. Memories from the last eight years of nightly bedtime stories flooded my thoughts (and my eyes a little, too).
Few moments in parenting are as special as those spent reading with your kids. Yet it can be a challenge finding quality children’s books that include a positive — or any — portrayal of fathers.
Some progress has been made, but society still often works overtime against dads making emotional, creative or educational connections with their kids. Books that feature fathers can play an important part in bridging that divide. They help lay an early foundation for equally involved parents, regardless of gender. And for two dad families like mine, representation is crucial to helping our kids feel nurtured, included, and seen.
As I proceeded to cull, it came as no surprise that the “dad” books were making the “keep” pile rather tall. So as we near Father’s Day, I thought I’d share my favorite “keepers” — my favorite children’s books about dads. Each of these father-centric books carries the official Designer Daddy (and son) seal of approval, and is guaranteed to keep dad(s) showing up for story time.
Before I got deep into the mechanics of actual parenting, what gave me the most agita was this whole open adoption thing. The stress was there from the beginning — like the weirdest arranged marriage you could imagine, with a baby thrown in for good measure. It evolved into a whole different kind of anxiety when we were actually paired with birthparents, growing incrementally as the due date crept closer.
After our son was born, the distance increased and contact lessened. Yet the relationship with birthmom and dad was still there, looming off in the horizon like some celestial monkey wrench, a constant (perceived) threat to our familial peace and harmony.
Our son has been told his story from the get-go, as we continually remind ourselves this transparency is for the best. But there’s always the fear of the unknown, be it far off or soon. Fear that our son will be teased for being adopted; that he’ll learn something disappointing about his biological parents; that he’ll throw the “You’re not my real dad!” grenade in the midst of an argument.
With the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel celebrates ten years amassing the money-makingest film franchise in history. They’ve also made some really great movies. And mixed in amongst the epic battles, amazing effects, and side-splitting one-liners there lies a wealth of character-building wisdom. One might even say gems of wisdom.
Just a little over a year into the MCU Decade, I became a father. Few things have given me more joy as a dad than introducing my son to these characters and these films… at age appropriate times, of course. 😉
So as a galactic-sized THANK YOU to Marvel and Disney, I’ve pulled together 10 of the great life lessons I’ve gleaned from the films. While my intention was to impart these nuggets to my kiddo, they’ve certainly taught me a thing or two, too.
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1. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Superheroes don’t just throw big punches, they’re also often very, very smart. Geniuses Bruce Banner, Shuri, and Tony Stark have used their knowledge of science and technology to give them an edge against that universe’s bullies. Just don’t rely too much on your smarts, or you might accidentally create a sentient robot set on destroying humanity.
This morning started like any other Monday. Rushing and scurrying and reminding and reminding and reminding. Breakfasts and showers and dressing and packing up, all culminating in a mad dance between kitchen and front door. Stashing a note in a lunchbox, a library book in a backpack; shooing the dog away lest she get stampeded.
But from across the room, our 7-year-old — in great anticipation of becoming 8 very soon — asked if today’s date was the 30th.
Putting down a paring knife and checking the calendar on the fridge door, I corrected him, “No, it’s the 23rd” I said loudly over the din of the TV, followed quickly by, “Are your shoes on yet?”
I glanced over at Papa, who had taken my knife to cut up some fruit for his on-the-road breakfast. I gave him a questioning look. “Is it today? Or the 26th?”
He questioned back, “I thought it was the 21st.”
I checked my phone’s calendar and confirmed it was today. I started to explain to my inquisitive kid what was special about today, but then it was time for he and Papa to scurry out the door, and me on with my day.
Like any other day, but 20 years to the day that Nick and I went on our first date. It was also the day we started our family. For a long, long time, that was the only anniversary we had — so it wasn’t something we had to jog our over-40-parent-aged memories to recall.
And as a gay couple 20 years ago, this was the only anniversary we thought we’d ever have. Several years later, we had a commitment ceremony. It was close to our original anniversary date, so we didn’t add a new one. And we never imagined we’d end up adding yet another anniversary to mark our legal marriage to one another. But we did, many more years later, but in April. So now we had a couple three anniversary dates. After our son was born (the first week of November) and we had managed to barely survive a two week period that included our anniversary, Halloween, and his birthday, we decided to instead celebrate on our legal wedding day (in April) giving late October/early November some room to breathe.
So on this ordinary Monday in the midst of our extraordinary life that includes two decades of love, a son about to turn eight, and a life I never imagined, I say to my husband, Happy Anniversary.
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Epilogue: I wrote this is in October around our original (dating) anniversary. I’m not sure why I didn’t publish it then, but it’s a safe bet it was because of the aforementioned stress around that time of year. First date, commitment ceremony, wedding. October 23, November 3, April 26 — they’re all just days. But they’re also places to pause and remember, cherish, and recommit along the 7,300+ day journey we’ve travelled together so far. Here’s to many, many more. Smu, B
I landed in San Diego fresh off a week-and-a-half of my son’s spring break — however, I was feeling anything but fresh. Spring break as a parent is not the Bacchanalian catharsis you may remember from your youth (or from watching MTV); it’s not even a relaxing week spent lounging in the sun. Instead it’s a lot of scheduling/juggling of play dates, museums, movies, trips to Grandma’s, and whatever the hell you’d call Dave & Buster’s — all of which has the potential to suck the life out of you.
Yet this short jaunt to Southern California was just the thing I needed to recharge my batteries, rev up my engine, and get me back on track for the next adventure. [FYI: This was a parent blogger event paid for by Kia, hence all the car/driving metaphors. Buckle up — there’s more up ahead.]
From the start, this two-day immersion excursion sparked my creativity at every turn.
First off was the rock & roll theme — meticulously carried out in every aspect of the experience. Most of our time was at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was cool and contemporary and comfortable all at once — a music museum with turndown service and a mini bar.