stories, photos, graphics chronicling my journey as a dad
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.
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.
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.
Road trips were a big part of my childhood. As a military family, that meant lots of visits to grandparents and cousins each summer and Christmas. Most of these trips were taken in the family van (this was pre-minivan, folks). It was a glorious every-shade-of-brown, tricked out with a movable table, back seat that folded into a bed, and wall-to-ceiling velour. And as the oldest kid, I had the best seat — the captain’s chair behind the driver; feet propped up in the tinted windowsill; plugged into my Walkman as I watched the world whiz by.
College road trips consisted of driving the 787 miles from Waco to my parents in Colorado Springs. It was equal parts breathtaking and mind-numbing, but with the right music (and lots of Dr. Pepper), the trip went by in no time.
Nowadays our expeditions are usually to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Yet music is still an essential part of our travels — whether it’s to entertain a fidgeting second grader or keep Papa awake during I-95 traffic.
Papa and I certainly could have done better in keeping Jon up on his reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic this summer. Unless role-playing digital comics counts as reading, creating Roblox/Minecraft/Terraria structures out of code counts as writing, or “subtracting” swim trunks, goggles, water bottles, lunch boxes, socks, towels, and underwear during summer camp counts as math.
But what he lacked in academics, Jon made up for in feats of awesomeness. Last November, the pediatrician had tasked us with making sure our son could swim beyond doggie-paddling and ride a bike without training wheels. He now swims like a fish and rides like the wind, though both still with a healthy amount of youthful wobbliness. He also danced and dabbed his little heart out during Family Day at camp, and took on dog-walking (galloping, rather) responsibilities.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
After setting the summer months with a beautiful weekend on the Bay, we are once again here — the first day of school. SECOND GRADE! We’ve been in our new house and Jon’s new school for a year now — so we can’t honestly call either of them “new,” though they still feel that way at times. Despite the occasional rookie parent mistake, we navigated the First Day like seasoned pros. We managed to get up and out the door in time, sans a drop of drama. I even made his lunch note the night before!
The original plans for our long-planned, one-and-only summer vacation fell through at the last minute due to bad weather at our destination. It would have been a long-planned but oft-postponed visit with Jon’s birthparents. We’ll make the trip up later this year, wildfires permitting. While it was a disappointment for our son (and a pain in the ass for the hubby and me), perhaps the universe needed us to get away — just our family — just one weekend near the end of the swiftly-passing summer.
Not wanting to brave the masses at an amusement park or one of those water park/hotel behemoths, I remembered a friend recommending the small town of Cambridge, Maryland. It sits on the Choptank River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a two-hour drive, but felt worlds away from work, housework, and the looming schoolyear. Thanks, universe.
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To give you a taste of our weekend, a conversation between my husband and son, while looking out over the balcony of our hotel room.
Jon: Papa, what is that?
Papa: It’s an Indian wedding.
J: Why are they having it here?
P: Well they rented the area and it’s a pretty place for a wedding.
J: Cool! Can we rent it?
P: For what?
J: (thinks) … for a hug party!
This gives my heart all the smiles. 🙂 Also, who wants to come?!?
For seven days, I and eleven other dads hiked more than 90 miles along England’s historic Hadrian’s Wall. Complications of life (and perfectionist tendencies) kept me from writing about it at the time. Here, now, are some thoughts and images from that life-changing week.
07.10.16, DAY 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle – 17 miles
Today it’s actually happening. I’m trying to figure out the pay-by-the-minute shower, packing up all my gear, guzzling some caffeine to make up for a restless night’s sleep. As someone who’s inherently aware of their shortcomings — especially when it comes to anything physical — I double and triple check what I’ve stuffed into my backpack, trying to imagine every scenario possible. I will come to learn along the way what I need more of (water, foot bandages), and of what I need less (pretty much everything else); but this first day I was flying blind.
Last night at the lone pub in town, we chatted over dinner and beers with a grandfather and grandson who had just completed the walk. Having traveled from the opposite direction, they advised wearing long pants for the several patches of nettles, and to be prepared for lots of diversions.
“Diversion” is British for “detour” — a word with which we would become intimately, frequently acquainted.
Adam West’s Batman was my first exposure to superheroes, as he was for so many others. There were a lot flaws in West’s version of the Dark Knight — his Shatner-esque acting (or was Shatner’s Westian?); his astonishingly high shorts; his general lack of musculature. But because he was first, he holds an important place in my memory.
But it wasn’t just the superhero aspect of Batman that hooked me. Everything about the show and West’s campy Caped Crusader was iconic. The theme song. The pop art graphics. The off-kilter camera angles. The guest star villains. Robin’s “Holy _____, Batman!” exclamations. The Batusi. The cliffhanger sign-off at the end of each episode.
I’m continuously amazed at the evolution of Oren Miller’s legacy. Last summer’s walk along Hadrian’s Wall (to open a camp in Oren’s name) recently received recognition at the 2017 Iris Awards. Winning in the Philanthropic Work of the Year category, now even more people are aware of Oren, Camp Kesem, and the cause to support families touched by cancer.
The Iris Awards are given out at a swanky ceremony held in conjunction with the Mom 2.0 Summit. Nominees and voters are from within the parent blogging community, so it’s particularly meaningful to receive kudos from dear friends and respected colleagues.
But it was also pretty amazing being honored alongside the 12 men I now consider my brothers. Being able to celebrate with them only amplified my excitement, as well as my pride in our achievement of walking nearly 100 miles and raising over $40,000.
Check out the video of our award being announced (and of me speaking), beginning at the 24-minute mark.
And the story has chapters yet to be written. The Camp Kesem started in Oren’s name at the University of Maryland is training counselors this fall, and will hold its first summer camp next year. You can bet I will be there, cutting a ribbon or rowing a kayak or whatever I can to celebrate my friend, his life, and the hope and strength for kids affected by their parents’ cancer.