Editor's note: This article was originally published on the author's blog, snapshotjones.com.
Like many wards in the LDS Church, our ward holds an annual fathers and sons campout. It’s a chance for fathers and sons to spend a little quality time together — by huddling close in the cold trying to stave off hypothermia. Most fathers get very little sleep on this campout.
For the lucky few who’ve never been, fathers and sons works like this. First: you go to Costco or Wal-mart and purchase a tent (or ask Mom to find last year’s tent). For most families, this is the only time the tent gets used. Invest accordingly. Tents come in a variety of shapes and sizes but have two things in common: 1, They have more poles than a jigsaw puzzle has pieces; and 2. They give the appearance of warmth without actually providing any.
After packing the tent, sleeping bags and not enough warm clothing, you drive to the designated location. The path is usually marked by paper plates stapled to fence posts reading; “Prairie View Stake, 198th Ward Fathers and Sons Campout turn here” in letters too small to be read from a moving vehicle.
It’s always a good idea to arrive at the designated camping area while it's still light. This is important because trying to distinguish green pole “A” from blue pole “B” is nearly impossible by car headlights. Furthermore, if you arrive after dark, all of the food will be burnt or consumed. Nothing says “father/son bonding” like a starving child yelling, “I told you the pole wouldn't bend that far.”
Once all the tents have been assembled and dinner eaten, then it’s time for a bonfire. If managed correctly, the bonfire gives fathers a chance to teach their young sons about fire, sharp sticks, hot coals, melted nylon jackets and second-degree burns. Older boys learn about melting things like marshmallows and expensive tennis shoes.
Following the bonfire, the boys usually play night games. If someone remembered to pray, “Bless us that no harm or accident will come upon us,” then injuries requiring hospitalization do not normally occur.
By the time night games begin, most fathers have retired to their tents to enter the early stages of hypothermia. The process starts when you enter your so-called “sleeping bag.” Sleeping bags have temperature ratings which are scientifically established following this formula: Manufacturers give bags to employee testers to try out and the employee reports the “temperature rating.”
I believe this means that a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees means that if you use the sleeping bag in 20-degree weather you probably won’t die from hypothermia or get severe frostbite. It does not mean that in 20-degree weather you will sleep warm and comfortably.
Most sleeping bags are made of nylon, a fabric renowned for its ability to stay extremely cold no matter how much time you spend in the bag. Every time you move, a new cold spot jars you awake — much like putting your foot into a bucket of ice. The way to avoid this is to remain perfectly still for the entire night. This is of course impossible, but it's nice to pretend.
In the morning, fathers and sons gather around the fire pit and try and coax some warmth from the remains of the marshmallow/candy wrapper/ tennis shoe campfire while the bishopric prepares breakfast. If tradition is followed, breakfast comprises burnt pancakes, cold bacon and greasy eggs. Following the hearty breakfast, fathers attempt the impossible task of stuffing the tent back into its original bag. I heard that was successfully accomplished once during the 1976 fathers and sons campout — but it’s never been repeated.
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Fathers usually give up and just throw the whole thing in the trunk.
After stuffing the tent and sleeping bags into the trunk, buckling in the sons and driving off to soccer games and yard work, fathers are left with the warm memory of that moment in the middle of the night when their son snuggles up close and says those three magical words:
“Daddy, I’m freezing.”
MacKay Jones lives in Provo with his wife, Heather, and son Dan. He enjoys refereeing, photography and spending time with his family.