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.
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.
As peak travel season approaches, many parents may be feeling anxious about hitting the road (or skies or open seas) with the kids. Things are crazy enough at home, so you’re probably imagining how much more stressful it would be out in the great wide world — where you have even less control.
Fear not! If you’re freaking out about a looming family vacay, who better to ask for tips, hacks, and general life lessons than a bunch of travel-tested dads?
I reached out to some of my pals from all over the USofA for the very best, most comprehensive Dadvice you’ll find. And in true dad form, these nuggets of wisdom/war stories are offered up with a mixture of common sense, bad puns, and lots of heart.
If you’re looking for affordable family fun, look no further than Philadelphia. Our family got to spend four days with our up-the-coast neighbor; however, the first two were just me and my 6-year-old — a challenge I wasn’t sure I was prepared for. Under normal circumstances, my adventurously independent son is a handful. Now we were sans one dad, adding a train ride, a hotel stay, and a bunch of activities in a city I knew next to nothing about. Papa and I had spent an anniversary weekend years ago, focusing mainly on art museums and antiques. I knew my kiddo was having none of that, so we were in uncharted territory.
It’s also important to note that Jon was not as over the previous week’s stomach bug as I thought.
Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia has plenty of affection for families and kids, too. We made it through the trip with lots of flying colors, great memories, and even learned a few things. And yes, there were lots and lots of trips to the bathroom.
Here are our five Philadelphia favorites — along with a score for the restrooms at each location, based on their ability to accommodate weary, middle-aged dads and a kindergartner whose bowels were constantly at DEFCON #2.
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5. THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE
The initial draw of The Franklin Institute was the Art of the Brick exhibit — which did not disappoint. Yet on further exploration, the entire museum was amaze-balls, as the kids say. From the giant interactive heart, to the train factory, a planetarium, and pretty much any invention or sciencey thing you can think up — it had it all.
It’s the Monday night after our first vacation of any length in years, and the re-entry has been a trying one. My day was spent burrowing diligently and deep into the pile of work, emails, and kindergarten-related prep I put off while we were away. While the air is similarly sweltering, it’s minus the lovely Cape Cod views and sand between my toes. All that remains is a sunburn I keep absentmindedly scratching (and then regretting), remnants of sand in everything except my toes, and lots of memories.
Papa, Jon and I attended our first Family Week, an annual gathering of LGBTQ parents and their families in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s impossible to encapsulate everything from our week on the Cape (that’s what Instagram and Facebook are for), so I’ll just share the few images that make me smile, think, or feel the most.
The anxiety I feel over my son’s adventurous spirit is matched only by my admiration of it. Stifled at times within the context of school and home, it stretched its wings and flew, ran, splashed and jumped every chance it got.
As summer winds down, families everywhere are taking one last vacation before the rigors of the school year take back the reins. And nothing epitomizes the family vacation more than a road trip. Parents, kids, and other assorted passengers piled into the family car; crisscrossing the country in search of excitement, enjoying the togetherness, pausing for the random road side oddity. It’s an adventure like no other.
For the nights you’re not on the road (but still hoping to cram in as much family fun as possible), nothing beats family movie night! Whether you’re snuggled up on the sofa or camped out in the backyard, these films capture all the adventure, fun, and occasional misfortune of the family road trip.
So grab the popcorn — and your map, compass, flashlight or fairy dust — and settle in for a rip-roaring, vicarious vacation.
Did everyone use the bathroom? We’ve got a long trip ahead of us…
Christmas is often idealized as a time of reflection, to pause and consider life, family, world peace — lightweight stuff like that. But I can’t remember the last time the days between Halloween and New Years resembled anything remotely meditative or peaceful.
I could blame consumerism, box stores and maga-malls; the colder, shorter days; my rambunctious 5-year-old; Obama. But if I’m being honest, it’s all my own doing. If there’s going to be any inner dialog, it’s on me to stop and listen. So one recent evening I sat in view of our tree* and took it all in. Glowing lights in our dimly lit dining room, twinkling and reflecting off the orbs and odd shapes adorning a sweet-smelling fir. I let my eyes wander from ornament to ornament, remembering where and when they were purchased, what was happening in my life. It was like spending time with old friends — you may not see one another very often, but your history is deep and your reconnection easy.
In taking these moments, in making these observations, I came to realize some of these baubles were among my oldest possessions. Outlasting furniture, clothes, photographs, albums, books. Tokens from nearly every year of my life hung from this tree. It was a feeling both comforting and weighty — but it had given me the space and peace of mind I’d been seeking.
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Mouse, circa 1976
I’ve owned this mouse made of felt and yarn longer than anything else in my possession. I don’t know exactly where or when it was purchased, but I’ve always known it as being from my brother. The photo may not show, but it’s yellowed and frayed in spots. Yet I’ll hold onto it as long as I can, clutching close the memory of our childhood, our innocence and friendship, before dogma and condition and uncomfortable silence took its place. And I’ll hold a little hope that some of the former will return.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Barilla, but opinions are my own.
In September of last year, the chairman of Barilla made the following statements in a radio interview:
“I would never do (a commercial) with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect
but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays
a fundamental role. … If [gays] don’t like it, they can go eat another brand.” 1
“I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who
is not able to choose.” 2
Like many others, I found Guido Barilla’s comments ignorant, insulting and infuriating. Our family is made up of two gay dads (one of whom is Italian) and an adopted son, all of us consumers of large amounts of pasta. I’m not sure there were any ways left to offend us. So like many others, our family made a conscious decision not to buy their products again.
While I’d heard of efforts on the part of Barilla to make amends, I paid them little mind. I was skeptical they could do anything to salvage a relationship with the LGBT community and our allies.
But then I was asked to take part in Barilla’s Share the Table campaign. And I was approached specifically because I’m a gay father. I learned they’d also enlisted other LGBT bloggers, including fellow parents Polly Pagenhart and Vikki Reich.
According to the materials I was given and my own research, Barilla has been making changes ever since the interview and subsequent boycott. They met with and received counsel from GLAAD; established a Diversity & Inclusion Board and appointed a Chief Diversity Officer; participated in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index; and as evidenced by this post, they want to partner with influencers in the LGBT community as part of Share the Table, to ensure families of all kinds are included.
We’ve all heard plenty of corporate apologies, yet this invitation resonated because it was made directly to me. And as I read more about Barilla’s inclusiveness in regards to the importance of family meal time, I was immediately reminded of our trip to Italy two years ago.