The Departed II

My daughter left for summer camp this morning. We brought her to the bus, which was parked in a nearby mall lot. She’s been both excited and sad these past few days—which goes for us, too. I’ve cried several times, though only once in her presence. It’s hard—not merely her leaving, but this big stage in her life. I still vividly recall her birth; a tiny thing of 5 pounds and 14 ounces, emerging with the cord wrapped around her neck. She made no noise, and the doctors seemed nervous. When I looked at her, well, she was angelic. Just a little glowing angel. I actually gave her the nickname “Swan Angel of Love,” which means nothing and everything.

I digress.

In the immediate aftermath of my original post about summer camp (The Departed), I received several painful comments, all along the lines of “What sort of parent sends his 8-year old off for seven weeks …” Each word hurt; actually, cut. I told my wife, “Of all the notes I’ve gotten through the decades, these are the hardest.” Why? First, because I get it. To me, the idea of sending my little girl off the camp was, initially, crazy, too. Hell, summer is the greatest of seasons. Freedom and liberation and ice cream. Why would I want her to miss July 4 with the family? And what about swinging on the hammock in the front yard? And pancake breakfasts every Saturday morning? And her birthday—July 31? I didn’t have children to not be with my children. I’m a write-from-home dad for a reason: Because I want to see my children grow up. I want to be there. For everything. Every dirty diaper. Every rough night. Every step. Every word. Every triumph. Every setback. Everything. Honestly, I hate (no, HATE) that my daughter left for camp this morning. I am beyond depressed. I am hurting. Crushed.

And yet …

Being a parent is not about being a parent. I’ve learned that from my wife, and it’s true. Being a parent, more than anything, is about giving your kids the best lives possible. That doesn’t mean spoiling them with dolls and games and trips and cars. No, it means making their lives fruitful and engrossing; teaching them empathy and understanding; setting them forth on a righteous journey. I’ve already had my childhood, and while being a dad allows one the blessed opportunity to experience kid-like activities again (jumping on the trampoline, lying atop the car and counting stars, giving voice to my son’s snake doll, building a haunted house for Halloween), I am—sadly—not a kid, and never again will be. Again, this isn’t about me. It’s about them. Their childhoods.

The camp my daughter is attending is amazing. It’s where my wife went, and where my wife’s sister went, and where my wife’s cousins went. My daughter is attending along with two first cousins and six second cousins. They have a waterfront, and water skiing, and a camp musical, and sing-alongs, and pottery, and a million different fantastic opportunities. Last summer my daughter attended a local day camp, and as more and more friends went the sleep-away route, she became increasingly bored. Had she stayed home this summer, she would have been even more bored. Oh, the evenings with her mom, dad and brother would be—as always—enjoyable. But, truth be told, it would have been bad. Not awful, just, well, bad.

•••

What goes unspoken here—until now—is that I’m Jewish, and this is what a huge number of American Jews (across the spectrum) do come summer. My brother and I both attended sleep away camps as kids, as did my only cousin. I’m not sure if it’s, technically, part of our culture, but it’s definitely tradition. Talk to most any Jewish guy or woman in my age range, and you’ll inevitably hear summer camp stories about tipping a canoe, or a hike to see Bigfoot’s grave, or roasting marshmallows on an open fire, or, eventually, a first boyfriend/girlfriend, a first kiss. When I think back to my camp days (which weren’t quite as enriching as my wife’s), I think of—oddly—the Annie soundtrack, and hitting the game-winning homer in color war, and excitedly receiving care packages from my folks, and intense rainy day games of knock hockey. There were girls I had crushes on, and counselors who I idolized, and seemingly endless days in the water, doing “the crawl” out to the deep dock.

For those who don’t dig camp, or don’t understand camp, I get the criticism. And, certainly, I felt horribly empty this morning, as my daughter boarded the bus and tears welled up in my eyes (I’m getting teary again, writing this). I love my kids more than anything I’ve ever loved. I would die for them, without a moment’s thought.

Sometimes, however, a father (and mother) has to let go a little. Sometimes he (or she) needs to know that the best parental move isn’t always the one that keeps Junior closest to your side.

I am deeply saddened by my daughter not being here.

I am equally hopeful.

20 thoughts on “The Departed II”

  1. Right on, dude. Not jewish, but my oldest boy’s camp time was a special thing for him and a big chance for him to become his own special person.

    I don’t know about seven weeks, but in supportive environment with friends and family…what the heck, right?

    My youngest boy is definitively shipping out when he wraps up third grade.

    Hang in there and look forward to her return.

  2. Jeff,

    I was cringing at each comment on the last post. Who are these people to judge you and your wife’s parenting decisions? I don’t get it.

    While I was in college, I spent one summer working at a Jewish camp south of Buffalo as a counselor. I am not Jewish, but 90% of the counselors and other staff and campers were. I worked 7:30-4:00 each day and came home dead tired each day from all the activities the camp put on for the kids. The kids stayed overnight and then never stopped smiling. Kids ranged in age from 8-18 and even the youngest babies seemed to enjoy it. All these years later when I bump into a kid from the camp we laugh and smile about some memory from that great summer.

    I only know you as a writer and as a great podcast guest. But, each time I read the words you write about your children I get a greater insight into what a great father you are. It’s rude to be an armchair parent to other peoples kids. No one on the Internet knows what is better for your baby girl than you and your wife. People need to seriously back off.

    When my brother was 11 my mom made a tough decision and allowed him to try our for a travel hockey team in Rochester. He made it and that meant home games and practices about 70 minutes away from our house in Buffalo. Everyone knew what was best for Anthony and didn’t think it was a good idea. We rallied as a family, made it work, and watched him develop as a hockey player. Today, he is a D1 hockey player at Yale on a full scholarship. I don’t hear anyone talking anymore.

    My two cents are this. Back off people. Jeff knows exactly what is best for his daughter.

  3. I hope she has a great time. Think of the stories she’ll tell you and your wife. Good for you for letting her do this.

  4. I went to an overnight camp in the Catskills for a long time, first going as a camper and then a counselor. I loved it (and will be going to visit at the end of July). It is a great experience for most kids. I only hope to be able to send my daughter there one day.

  5. Jeff, WELL SAID!!!

    I also went to camp the summer after 3rd grade, and kept on going back again and again.

    The memories are so fantastic.

    Boating, fishing, sports of all sorts, and FRIENDS!

    I am Jewish, but I went to a Quaker camp with children of all backgrounds from NYC and Westchester and Rockland, NY.

    We had Sunday morning meeting, where we all gathered and discussed our community, Quaker style.

    We climbed mountains and participated in Color War, that lasted a week, and we made friends for LIFE!

    Camp is where I discovered Rock and Roll Music, mainly The Clash, Lou Reed and Dead Milkmen.

    I introduced other kids to Hip-Hop, and everyone had something to learn and grow on.

    I hope CAsey has an amazing summer. Of course she will.

    She has an amazing dad and an amazing family.

    Let me offer a piece of advice, ” Let the HAter’s hate. ”

    Love will conquer hate EVERYTIME.

    Peace DJ WHITEOWL

  6. I understand your traditions and kids needing to learn and explore, but she is 8yrs old! I have 2 daughters myself(8 and 10), and i couldn’t even imagine the pain and heartache it would be to put them on a bus alone for the summer. Why even have children if the only thing you want to do is ship them off for others to raise? Unbelievably selfish. Its like the people who have kids, and 6 weeks later “mom” is back to work and kid is shoved into daycare.

    1. Bob, unless you work from home, drive your kids to school every morning, pick them up every afternoon, put them to bed a night (every night), odds are you don’t spend nearly as much time as I do with my kids. I don’t mean this as a criticism AT ALL. Like, not even remotely. But kids do, I believe, need time away from their parents. Believe me, this kills me. Kills me. But, day’s end, I believe it’s best for them.

    2. Bob, what amazes me is not that you’ve chosen not to send your kids to camp (a perfectly valid choice), but that you’ve chosen to voluntarily read a website and then voluntarily leave a comment on it basically calling another human being a bad parent. I’m genuinely unsure what qualifies you to do such a thing or what you could possibly be thinking when you label as selfish someone you’ve never met. After reading this blog for years, I can honestly say that I hope to be the kind of father to my kids that Jeff is to his. I don’t agree with everything that Jeff writes on this blog, but I do think he is dead-on when it comes to family and far, far away from being selfish. Shame on you, sir.

    3. Bob, you talk as if those moms who put their kids in daycare are off playing blackjack and jerking off all day. In reality, as you surely must know, most moms who put their kids in daycare have to work in order to feed their children and pay the bills.

      Are you only supposed to have kids if you are independently wealthy and don’t need a job?

      1. Yeah, really. People put their kids in daycare–usually at great financial expense– because they HAVE to in order to work so they can feed their children, send them to school, clothe them, take them on vacations, etc.

        The weird thing in some of the comments has been equating Jeff’s decision to send his kid to camp with someone being an absentee father. Clearly the idea isn’t, “let’s get this kid the hell out of the house so we can be free for a while.” It’s making a choice with the informed hope that the kid will benefit from it.

  7. i’m always amazed at how easily so many judge others’ actions on the internets these days. i’m not christian, but so many of those who claim to follow christ’s teachings seem to forget ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ — which i’ve always seemed to think is a pretty good way to live

  8. My point in the comment from your last point was to say that TO ME, this little “tradition” of sending kids away for summers at a time is beyond ludicrous. If it works for. You and your culture, so be it. Just don’t be so high and mighty when you criticize how other parents choose to raise their kids. I enjoy a round of golf 6-8 Saturdays a summer and for that I’m a bad father in your eyes. But I’ll put the quality time I spend with my kids up against yours any day of the week. Just asking you to not be so judgmental when it comes to being a parent, especially in light of your little “tradition.” OK?

      1. No, I guess you didn’t. But your posts a fraught with moral righteousness that don’t sit well with me.

  9. Much more eloquent. Still not buying it.

    Seven weeks you don’t get back. As quick as the eight years went, the next eight will just as quick. To mire it into a ‘give my kid the best life possible’ I think you really don’t buy.

    Hey, we all pick our battles. My wife picks hers on having a real tree at Christmas, or that we all go camping during the summer. I have my own, and sending my eight year old away over the summer when I can spend every moment with him/her would damn sure be one of them. Sorry, but sending/picking them up from school isn’t really the same.

    Just my two cents. If you really thought it was right, it really wouldn’t hurt.

    1. I hate Iphones. Maybe I should be sent to camp to learn how to post with one.

      Guess that makes me a bad father too. 🙂

  10. This is really nobody’s business but Jeff and his wife’s. Folks can disagree openly with the decision, but why be so nasty about it? The lack of civility is shameful!

  11. Jeff, 7 weeks summer camps are not a big tradition where I am from in New Zealand, i went for only a week at a time, but when I first left NZ to travel, started it off by working a summer in MA, at a boys summer camps, predominantly Jewish kids, but not a jewish camp – kids from all walks of life.

    I loved it so much i ended up working 6 summers, quitting a job each summer in london to go back.

    Camp is amazing, we ahd kids as young as 7 there. All the kids learn how to eb independent, grow as kids, end up idolising the counselors and learning from them, and become better citizens of the world.

    The kids I had in my first summer were 12, I keep in touch with many of them, facebook etc, and I take it as a compliment anda good thing that all are in college and travel themaselves now, and many of those who have passed through London, look me up, and we get together for a catch up and a pint.

    It is surreal to see these kids 9 years after I looked after them, but all are well rounded young men, and speak of camp as some of the best times of their life. they are some of mine as well, and I am not afraid to say ‘I love camp’ – I wish I could be back now, as my old camp is starting now too, but well life goes on.

    Life is for living, and your daughter is going to get so much living done while at camp. She won’t forget you and your wife, but camp will keep her so busy and having fun, she won’t think about too much either.

    Also look at it as being able to double down on parenting your son too, he will enjoy all the alone time with you and without his sister.

    pt

  12. I was hasty in calling you an idiot after reading the previous post regarding this, it was out of line and I’m sorry about that.

    I should have just waited until after you compared the Nazi with tea partiers. When I think of intolerant closed minded agnostics, well, sorry about the condecending fathering criticism.

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