Fatherhood Is In-Tents

Illustration by Kyle Rothweiler
Illustration by Kyle Rothweiler

Fatherhood Is In-Tents

Mason, Michael
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Camping adventures with kids.

Look! Out in the woods! It’s a trapper… it’s a mountain man… no… it’s KamperDaddy! Gentle and unassuming, yet driven by the desire to provide “quality time,” he leads a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and camping.

Ah, camping. The call of the wild, cooking over an open fire, sleeping on a bed of fragrant pine boughs snuggled under the sheltering branches of a majestic tamarack.

Ah, children: stuffed animals, mutant-ninja-teenage-princess sleeping bags, Pop Tarts, smartphones, and tents impervious to fresh air, bugs, and killer chipmunks. In the woods, children want nothing less than paved roads, streetlamps, a wave pool, and Wi-Fi at every site.

KamperDaddy already knows this and has made reservations at one of those campgrounds with a quirkily spelled name and cute cutouts of woodland creatures dressed in quaint costumes. (John Muir must turn in his grave each time a Kampground cash register spits out a receipt.)

After securing reservations at one of these Kute Kampgrounds, KamperDaddy should take note of the first law of the outdoors—the number of times a child needs to go potty is in direct relation to the distance of the tent from the bathroom, multiplied by the intensity of the weather.

Should you be assigned a site near the bathrooms, and if the weekend is sunny and bright, the children will only have to use the bathroom once, probably during full daylight hours. But if you find yourself located on the opposite side of the campground, at the mercy of hurricane-force winds, basketball-size hail, and severe lightning, your KamperChild will need to go between 50 and 100 times a night.

The corollary to the above Bathroom Law is that children cannot coordinate their needs. As soon as KamperDaddy returns from taking one, the other will need to go… badly. A whole weekend can be spent this way, especially as the facilities will probably be considered subpar by KamperChild standards: “The toilet is sticky.” “The spider on the wall is staring at me.” “It smells like a diaper in here.”

KamperDaddy doesn’t have a problem occupying himself while KamperSon is using the bathroom. KamperDaddy can wash his hands, brush his hair, or even use the facility himself. But with KamperDaughter? That’s a different story.

Just slightly too old to use the men’s side, she insists on going to the place where KamperDaddy is not permitted to go: the Ladies’ Room. It will take all of KamperDaddy’s acting skills to not look like a creeper hanging around the ladies’ room while KamperDaughter takes 30 minutes to do what takes 20 seconds at home.

Nightfall brings on a different set of problems. KamperDaddy—exhausted from cooking dinners, building fires, shepherding his flock to and from the toilets, and telling lightweight ghost stories—is about to fall into a well-deserved sleep when the Sleeping Bag next to him mumbles, “I hafta go.”

“Are you sure?” moans KamperDaddy.

“Yes,” mumbles the Sleeping Bag.

KamperDaddy puts on his pants and shoes, picks up KamperChild A and checks to make sure KamperChild B is still asleep. At this point, one of two scenarios is quickly developing.

One scene might look something like this: KamperChild B wakes up to discover an empty tent and begins to scream for KamperDaddy. KamperChild A and KamperDaddy return to find the site surrounded by five macho male campers with AK-47s searching for the grizzly bear everyone thought was attacking the child.

The other scene might look something like this: KamperDaddy and KamperChild A return to find the tent empty. Now, KamperDaddy begins to scream and demand that a search party be organized just as KamperChild B returns from a solo excursion to the bathroom. In the midst of all this panic, KamperChild A tearfully reveals that she never actually needed to go.

In the morning, KamperChildren will plead, beg, and pout to be allowed to consume vast quantities of cornflakes and milk while still in their sleeping bags because it’s too cold to go to the picnic table. DO NOT GRANT PERMISSION! For the rest of the camping trip, KamperDaddy will be hearing all about why the KamperChildren cannot sleep in a milk-soaked bag covered with soggy cornflakes. This is known as the “Why did we have to go camping anyway?” whining provision and may be chanted 12 times per hour.

Also be aware that nutritionally balanced meals do not taste good in the outdoors because they have not been cooked “Mom’s way.” KamperChildren feel much better if they see KamperDaddy opening a can of spaghetti thingies or shrink-wrapped beef by-products. Just dump the stuff on a tin plate, hand it to them, and ignore the comments about the crawling insects. It probably won’t work, but go ahead and recite all the latest studies from the Food and Drug Administration declaring bugs a necessary nutrient in the prevention of scurvy.

Each camping day is generally divided into three parts: feeding-frenzy time, nap time (good luck with that), and dark time. The hours in between will be devoted to developing creative solutions to the All Free Activities Are Boring problem. Fun is directly proportional to the amount of money spent. The more an activity costs, the more KamperChildren will beg to do it. This accounts for why the hiking trails are empty and the $1,000-per-hour pony ride requires a two-week reservation.

When things look their darkest, it’s time to quietly invoke the KamperDaddy Relief Act, or the “Just you wait—I hope you have children who treat you as badly as you are treating me right now” curse. This law/curse ensures that KamperDaddys remember the aggravation and grief, but that KamperChildren remember only fun and good times. It’s a darned good law that ensures future generations of KamperDaddys at all the roadside campgrounds across our great country. Good luck out there.

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