Summer of Son

by Steely Dad on June 12, 2009

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I just returned from an orientation for parents whose kids are signed up for summer camp. Yup, that’s right, my son is going off to summer camp. OK, it’s not like a camping camp; it’s a day camp. Nevertheless, whereas many of the parents look forward to summer camp with greater anticipation than the kids, I’m counting down the minutes like a Dead Man Walking.

Yes, I know he will only be away for four hours a day. Yes, I am aware that the camp is only three days a week. Um, yes, I can do the math (with the help of a calculator): that’s only 12 hours a week.

But I’m REALLY sad.

I mean, REALLY melancholic.

My son, my little buckaroo, is taking his first real giant step toward independence. I seriously can’t believe it. Even as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), a role which provides me the opportunity to enjoy a majority of my son’s time, I’m still bummed. Of course I’m happy for him and I know he’s going to have a blast but a selfish part of me still wants to spend the entire day with him. There’s a part of me that now feels guilty for all the times I brushed him aside so I could do really important things like write blogs, Twitter, Facebook and the lame list goes on. I took for granted that I had all the time in the world with my son. Even though I became a SAHD for the sole purpose of spending the most amount of time possible with my kids, I still fell into the trap I so adroitly tried to avoid.

And it’s a total cliché: the time goes by so fast.

And it’s so very true.

He can’t be ready for summer camp. I just brought him home from the hospital yesterday.

I’m aware it’s not cool for dads to feel like moms but what can I say? I’m just one of the girls.

I worry about my son. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me I worry about. As parents, we’ve already experienced the agony and the ecstasy of growing up. The break ups, the heartaches, the rejection. We thought most of the volatility that goes along with the maturing process was well in the past but guess what? Once kids enter the picture, you have the distinct privilege to relive these special memories all over again only this time in a vicarious manner. It’s difficult and even more frustrating because you know your power to soften the blows will be futile.

My son is very sensitive. He really cares about other people. Whenever there is a new kid who joins his class at the drop-in center, he is the first to befriend the child. Parents have come up to me saying, “Your son was so nice to my boy. Thanks!” Comments like these are not unusual and each time I hear them I feel awesome. Just yesterday, for participating in a reading program, my son earned the privilege to choose a toy out of a treasure chest at the library. There were all sorts of cool little figurines that I thought for sure he’d snatch up. He ended up choosing a dinosaur straw. Later that evening I asked him why he had chosen the straw instead of the astronaut figurine or the little pirate dude. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Daddy, I thought those little figurines were too small for Ivie (his sister) and she could choke on them.” My eyes welled up with tears. You’ll recall the recent trauma we experienced when my daughter choked on a piece of food and had surgery to remove the obstruction. In any case, how does a boy this small have such a big heart? It’s a biological anomaly, especially if one considers his parents. I don’t know the kid’s IQ but I can tell you his EQ (emotional quotient) is off the charts and to me I’ll take that over “brains” any day of the week. Think of all the serial killers out there. Most of them have/had above-average intelligence. Let’s face it. Our basic job as parents is to make sure our kids don’t turn into sadistic criminals. If you see a story about your kids on America’s Most Wanted, you’ve probably goofed it somewhere along the way.

Most kids are cool but there are some mean little fuckers out there. My son has shared with me that some kids are not nice to him. They say mean things, exclude him and sometimes even hit or kick him. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps they mistake his kindness for weakness. Nevertheless, it breaks my heart when I hear these stories from him. I know he’s not making them up because I’ve personally witnessed several instances of this behavior. I don’t usually intervene unless the behavior is egregious. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to work things out on their own. I’ve tried to teach him how to handle tough situations, including how to defend and protect himself should things get physical. Although the kid loves to play rough and wrestle, he doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. Teaching him to fight back is like teaching the Dalai Lama to become a shit kicker. I don’t want kids to take advantage of my son’s peaceful nature but I also want to respect and encourage his unique personality. And therein lies the dilemma. The world is not always kind and is not always just and sometimes it swallows the innocent.

Summer camp will really be the first test, as much for him as for me. For the first time ever, we’ll be apart. His personality and genteel temperament will be challenged without Daddy’s occasional intervention. For the first time, the principles I’ve tried to teach him will undergo the stress and rigors of real-life application. Will they stand up to the test? Gulp. I just took my first huge swig of blind faith.

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