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 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.
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.
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.
For seven days in July, I and eleven other dads hiked 90+ miles along England’s historic Hadrian’s Wall. We walked to fund a camp for kids whose parents had been touched by cancer. We walked to honor our friend Oren Miller, who had died of cancer the year prior – and for whom the camp would be named. We walked for those in our own lives impacted by the disease, including several in our group. But we also walked for ourselves.
The experience was exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and tedious; breathtaking — both literally and figuratively. It was the undisputed apex of my year, and near the top of any other.
Until now, I’d only shared about the walk on social media. Life and all its complications — and my perfectionist tendencies — kept me from documenting it properly here.
But in light of the announcement that the University of Maryland Camp Kesem will officially come to be this fall, I thought it high time I collected my thoughts, memories, and images from that life-changing week in a more permanent fashion.
I still haven’t decided if this can be done in one post or seven (or something in between), so bear with me as I return to the rolling hills of Northern England and allow this epic outing to re-unfold.
READ FULL ARTICLE >>
Does choosing the right family car drive you crazy? Do you get confused having to shift gears between comfort, affordability and style? Does the entire process cause your brain to stall out? Do you ever tire of car puns?
Recently I was invited to the Kelley Blue Book headquarters in California, as part of an elite squad of “experts” — the KBB Dads! Our mission: choose the NUMBER ONE BEST CAR FOR DADS OF ALL TIME! Well, for 2016 at least.
Imagine yourself a kid at summer camp.
Perhaps it calls to mind bunk beds with flimsy mattresses. Potato sack races and three-legged races and racing around at dusk playing hide-and-seek. Scratching mosquito bites, catching fireflies, watching sparks swirl up from a fire into the night sky. A night sky so black and stars so bright, it’s like you’d never seen them before. An escape from school and parents and all the baggage that entails; a chance to be on your own, yet surrounded by others in the same, wonderfully wobbly paddleboat called childhood.
Now imagine one of your parents has cancer. Perhaps they’re in remission, or they’re enduring chemotherapy; or maybe they lost their battle and now you’re a teenager (or preteen, or younger) without a parent.
One year ago today I lost my friend Oren Miller, and the absence of his voice and his friendship is still as profound.
I think of him often, particularly of his “Cancer” post, which not only announced the diagnosis of the disease that would eventually take his life, but also recalled a moment years earlier when he chose to step back into life and be present.
If you’ve never read it, please take a few minutes and do so, now. If you have read it before, read it again.
I think of him often, particularly when I’m feeling out of my element, unengaged, not taking life in as it comes to me. Oren’s epiphany of choosing to be involved in his own life resonated so deeply, and has continued its echo throughout the 365 days since his last.
Think for a moment about the last year of your life. Scroll back through your mental calendar, and consider the holidays, the birthdays, the everyday. Where you were, what you experienced, who you were with. The times you beamed with pride, fell in love all over again, cuddled during story time. And the times you shouted too loudly, held grudges too closely, cursed your job or the lack of one. Think about the losses you’ve suffered and the things you’ve gained.
If you’re in the parent blogging community, you may be familiar with the Iris Awards. If not, it’s kind of like the Oscars of parent blogging — minus the million dollar jewelry and with lots more children being told to go to bed.
Last year I was nominated in the Best Philanthropic Work category for the writing and fundraising I (and scores of others) did on behalf of Oren Miller and his family. It was an amazing and unexpected honor, particularly as Christy Turlington was also in that category. (Neither of us won, by the way. This awesome organization did.)
Now this is going to be a bit weird. It is for me, at least. But I’ve been trying to be more genuine and honest about the things I want in life — instead of defaulting to snark and passive-aggressiveness. So in the spirit of Putting Out into the Universe What I’d Like to Get Back…
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts is sponsoring a campaign to raise both awareness and funds for breast cancer research. And to see how many of you are tough enough to wear a tutu.
As you can see, this challenge is not a huge stretch for me. However, as a tutu-wearing advocate, I want to encourage as many of you as possible to participate in this fun way to give a little — a way that doesn’t involve getting doused in a bucket of ice water.
And when you think about it, wearing a tutu (or doing a walk or giving money) involves very little bravery when compared to those living with and fighting breast cancer. I’ll wager there are very few people who read this who haven’t been affected by breast cancer, whether it’s a family member, friend, coworker, or yourself.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
1. Take a photo of yourself in a tutu.
Don’t have one lying around? Head to your closest A.C. Moore, where they sell a tutu-making kit, just for this occasion! For you crafty types, you can make your own using this short tutorial from A.C. Moore’s web site.
2. Share the photo on social media with #Not2Tough2Tutu.
And if you knew my late friend Oren, add a #Dads4Oren to it, too. While Oren didn’t have breast cancer, he had it pretty much everywhere else — and his life and death continue to motivate me to get more involved, to give back, and to live life to the fullest.
3. Tag 3 friends to join the challenge.
Call them out. Triple-dog-dare them. Throw down the frilly, tulle gauntlet. It can be anyone — man, woman or child. Big, hairy dudes are of course the funniest, but please don’t limit yourself to that.
HOW THIS MAKES A DIFFERENCE:
In addition to putting a smile (or a giggle) on everyone’s face who sees it, for every post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the AC Moore Foundation will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society.
As an added bonus, I’m matching that by donating an additional $1 for every social media post that also tags me. (DesignerDaddy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) If you don’t have the time or inclination to don a tutu, please consider making a donation to the American Cancer Society anyway.
Got questions? Shoot me a message, leave a comment, or check out the official press release from A.C. Moore. It also explains their inspiration and motivation for the #Not2Tough2Tutu campaign.
And finally, here’s the original challenge video, from A.C. Moore’s CEO (and fellow fat, hairy dude), Pepe Piperno:
#Not2Tough2TutuOur CEO Pepe Piperno is #Not2Tough2Tutu, are you? A.C. Moore will donate $1, up to $25,000, to American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for every picture we see. So put on the tutu, post a pic, use the hashtag, and prove you aren’t too tough to tutu!
Posted by A.C. Moore on Thursday, October 1, 2015
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
To learn more about the American Cancer Society, or to make a donation directly, visit Cancer.org.