The Dad

I just figured something out. I am the “Dad”. I don’t know why it took me so long to come to terms with that, but on a recent camping trip I realized that my role had changed. I’ve understood my role in the rest of life for quite some time, but on camping trips, it hadn’t seemed to sink in. I did what The Dad was supposed to do, but without really grasping all of the significance. Does that make sense?

I have gone camping my entire life. (Rumor has it that I was conceived in a tent.) In all that time, I have had many roles. For a long time, I was a “Kid”. A Kid does not have to do anything but survive a long car trip, not fall in the fire, avoid poison ivy, and be around for meals.

When I hit my early twenties, I became an “Independent Adult”. That meant that I was expected to participate a little in the work of the vacation. I would chop wood, help pitch the tent, or at least bring beer.

Now, I am the Dad. I am responsible for pulling the camper (we’ve upgraded). I have to set it up while my Kids jump on their bikes (after I remove them from the roof) and explore, trying to avoid the poison ivy. My wife, Liz, helps, of course. She is the Mom. Together, we do the sweaty work of unpacking and setting up the campsite so when our kids come back, they will have something to eat and somewhere to sleep.

The uniqueness of my role appeared one night when the Kids and the Mom were all safely stowed in the camper, quietly falling asleep. That’s when we were visited by our marauding neighbors, the Raccoons. Their role is to scour our campsite for a poorly secured cooler and empty it of all of its butter. This pack was made up of a big fat Mom and five cute little puffball Kids. When I realized that one of the coolers’ lids was being loosened, I knew I had to go outside and protect it. I put my shoes back on and loudly opened the door. This sent all of the Kids scurrying off into the woods. The Mom looked at me for a moment, huffed like I was being rude by interrupting her business, and waddled off to collect her Kids.

I kept shining my flashlight into the woods to protect my back from a Ravenous Flying Raccoon Attack From The Rear (it could happen!) After I wedged one of my shoes between the picnic table’s bench and the loose cooler, I did a sweep of the site to see if anything else had been overlooked. When I saw a skunk in the screen house, I hot-footed it back into the camper. He could have whatever he wanted.

That’s when I realized that I had become the Dad. When I was a Kid, that’s what my Dad did. He braved the dark wilderness to protect us and our food. I don’t remember him running from a skunk, but I do remember him washing our dog in tomato juice. I knew in that instant that I had accepted a mantle of sorts. Not the kind of mantle in a Coleman lantern, but a mantle of leadership, of guardianship, of…the Dad. It certainly didn’t change what I did or how I camped, but it changed the way I looked at what camping should be. It also made me have more respect for my own Dad.

The Light is Still at the End

I was almost there. I had almost reached that elusive, magical moment in the day called, “Everything Is Crossed Off My Things-To-Do List.” I began to imagine the short nap I would take before starting dinner. I would take it not because I needed one, but because I had time to take it. I even began composing the column that would celebrate this rare triumph.

I was halfway through the penultimate (second to last) item on my TTD List and the end was near. That chore was to clean the cobwebs off the front porch. It sounds odd, but I never noticed them before the previous evening when some friends were leaving our house. I usually walk with my eyes down, scanning for toys or small children to avoid stepping on, so the spiders had erected quite an array of webs and egg sacs in the upper corners of the overhang.

I took a broom and then a hose to the ceiling and walls of the porch. As I was finishing, I noticed that the ground cover nearby was beginning to spread onto the front walkway. A fresh, clean porch deserves to have a crisp walk leading to it, I thought. So, I trimmed the ivy back into its allotted space. Since I had the edger out already, it made no sense not to finish edging the grass all the way to the driveway.

On the other side of the walk, the holly bushes that I am trying to coax into being a hedge looked awfully unruly across from the manicured landscaping. It didn’t take too long to trim the errant branches and encourage the bushes to grow in the right direction. By winter of 2011, I should have a solid wall of green spiky leaves and poisonous red berries.

However, tidying up the bushes made the leaves covering the ground surrounding them look less than rustic, as I had decided in the Spring. They looked downright disheveled. They had to go. I raked them up and took two wheelbarrowfulls to the mulch pile out back.

That made quite a mess on the walkway, so the hose came back out and I sprayed everything down. Finally, the front of the house looked completely rejuvenated, almost new. It sparkled like the minivan after a car wash. And it only took…

It took all the time I had before I had to start making dinner. No nap. No finished To Do list. No celebration column. Just this one. Oh well. Tomorrow’s Things-To-Do list will have one more item on it. Maybe I can finish that one.

©2008, Mark Phillips

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 Women, it's true, make human beings, but only men can make men. - Margaret Mead

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. or E-Mail

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