Growing up, I was extremely involved in boy scouting. I worked on our council camp staff for 9 summers, helped lead or at least worked at many district and council camping events, and had leadership roles in the Order of the Arrow and in Exploring. In all, I had spent nearly a year of my life camping or living at a scout camp in one way, shape, or form.
Those years were full of great learnings that impacted who I am, how I respond to situations, and how I succeed now in life and in work.
But some of them were forgotten, or got rusty or dusty, and some of them just needed to be dusted off a little bit. This weekend, while taking my oldest son on a “Dad ‘n Lad” campout – our first campout together – I ran back into some of those key life learnings. So here, in no particular order, are 10 things that I either learned or re-learned this weekend on my first weekend campout with my son:
I had forgotten what a night in the woods sounds like before you feel asleep – the sounds of cicadas, crickets, owls and toads, of the creatures that come out after the sun goes down. It is a veritable choir of creation with so much to do and so much life. I had also forgotten how it sounds as night gives way to dawn and the choir of daytime animals comes to life. I had forgotten how many different types of birds, how many songs of animals, fill the day. I was amazed by the realization of what is around us in the world that I had gradually, over time, started to tune out.
One thing I learned about my oldest son was that he is not a fan of dirt, mud, or anything that might disturb his preferred super-clean status quo. I used to be like that too – trying to avoid the dirt and keeping myself as clean as possible in the out-of-doors. But in trying to help him see that it’s okay to get a little dirty, I found myself enjoying dipping my own fingers and toes into the mud a bit as well. We’re resilient creatures that wash up quite well, and it didn’t kill me to get some dirt under my fingernails again. In fact, it actually felt good.
It was fun to watch my son and his fellow scouts have such a good time together as they explored the different activities the weekend offered – archery, bb guns, fishing, slingshots, orienteering, and more. They joked and bonded and forged deeper friendships. Through shared challenges and excitement, I could see friendships coming to life. As we were leaving camp this morning, my son said to me, “Dad, guess what: Joseph said I’m his very best friend in the world now. Isn’t that awesome?” It might be short-lived at their age, and they might not even remember the details of this weekend in twenty or thirty years, but I bet they’ll remember each other and the time they shared. It’s our challenges and adversities, but also our good times, which give us the opportunity to grow together and forge our human relationships.
In a card that my wife tucked away into the gear in my backpack, she had written something to the effect of, “Just listen to him and help him try it his way and have a good time.” I had thought a lot about how nice it would be to spend a couple of days with just my oldest son, sharing the experiences of camping and the activities, but I had also been nervous about whether he would frustrate me while we were trying to set up the tent, or if I’d grow impatient while walking at his pace to an activity area. In the end, though, it was easy – and refreshing – to slow down to his pace and to just listen and let the weekend go his way. In fact, it was really rejuvenating. I felt like I was his friend and guide through a type of rite of passage, and it brought us closer together as father and son. I’ll long treasure the experience of this weekend, and hope to have similar experiences through the years with my other sons. At the end of the day, though, I need to remember tomorrow and for days to come the value of closing my own mouth, listening, and looking at the world through the eyes of the person I’m speaking with at any given moment.
At times, my son would ask if we could go back and hang out together in our tent instead of going to our next activity. He was really nervous about trying the bb guns, and wasn’t really interested in going to learn first aid. He openly admitted that he was scared of the bb guns, but I gently encouraged him to go there with me and at least give it one try. I remember times when my own parents encouraged me the same way through my fears, and I remembered how many times – even in my adult life – I’ve been less than comfortable walking into new situations. Life is lived in those moments of overcoming our own walls of fear, though, and some of the activities that he was most reluctant to try became his favorites of the weekend. Trying new things can be intimidating, but often have the biggest payoff.
At the same time trying new things can be scary, they can also be tons of fun! My son was nervous about attempting archery, but after he had tried his hand at it, he was asking me if we could build an archery range in our yard. It’s only through tackling our fears and trying new things that we can discover new joys and interests, and find new outlets for fun and enjoyment.
The weather forecast for the weekend changed drastically (deteriorated might be a better word) through the week approaching our campout. On Monday, it was going to be an 80 degree weekend with a few clouds; by Friday morning it was going to be in the low 60’s with spot showers through the weekend. Friday night, it got down to 45 degrees and “felt like” 42 (according to The Weather Channel app.) I was woefully under-prepared with my 2-season sleeping bag and slept miserably as a result. Worried about my own sleep as well as my son’s, I made a quick trip into town to pick up two additional blankets for the second night. Thankfully, I was warm and slept like a baby last night. My son summed it up best, saying, “I was as snug as a bug in a rug.” By this morning, I re-remembered how important a good night of sleep can be. Seeing the vivid difference between my energy and feelings on a day following poor sleep versus a day following good sleep, I’m recommitted to trying as hard as I can get a good night of sleep every night.
When I was setting my out of office message on my work email on Friday, I told some of my peers and key team members that I would be available as long as I still had battery on my work mobile phone on Friday night. They quickly (thankfully) encouraged me to leave the phone behind, disconnect, and enjoy the time with my son. I did just that, and am thankful for their encouragement and my decision. In today’s super-connected age, none of us disconnect enough, and we should treasure the opportunities to do so. In fact, we should proactively carve out time to be disconnected, to re-center ourselves, and to enjoy human moments without the distractions of email or Facebook. After a few days without those add-ons, I felt more connected with my son and some of the other dads there than I have in years. I discovered that disconnecting can lead to closer connections.
That was one of my dad’s favorite mantras as I was growing up, and I find it to be true quite often (I’m even fond of quoting it now), but I saw it even more so again this weekend. For years working on camp staff, I was often a “center of attention” at camp, helping to anchor a skit or a song or an entire campfire, or responsible for one of the biggest program areas – anything to ensure we, as a staff, were delivering the most exciting, engaging, educational, memorable experience for the scouts. I kind of felt a pull to go back into that mode when I pulled into camp, but had to remember that I was there to sit back and participate in a different way this time, as a coach and dad and support for my son and his friends in our den. For each of us, it’s important to discern what it’s the time and place for – and what it’s not – and act accordingly.
It was a real treat to be able to point out to my son my own name on a few of the plaques in the dining hall – the old lodge chiefs of our old OA lodge; the Founders Award recipients; those of us who have kept the Vigil; the framed plaque and ribbon from when our lodge was awarded the “Lodge Spirit Award” at the 2002 NOAC. It was just as fun to be able to point out his papa’s (my dad’s) name on his Wood Badge patrol flag. He seemed amazed and inspired by that connection to the place and our legacy. But it was also a treat when a couple of people I didn’t remember, who were also there with their own sons now, who had been impacted by my work in the organization in those years, saw me and came up to thank me and to say how great those years were for them too.
It’s through little moments that life puts before us, the choices we make, and the proactive investment we make in having an impact, that leave our little marks on the corners of the world where we live and work and raise our children. This weekend, I got to explore a whole new corner of raising my own sons, and connect it back to life lessons that I had collected along the way. I can only hope that I’m blessed with many years to keep sharing those lessons with my own boys, and many more years to see them pass them along in turn.