Ah, Father's Day. The one day of the year when every dad gets his wish.
Breakfast in bed, time to read both sports pages, no chores to do or crises to solve, steak and seafood for dinner, all followed by an evening at the ball-park - with lots of hugs and appreciation from the kids throughout the day.That's what I was expecting, anyway.
I did have one Father's Day like that. I think. But it wasn't this one.
No, my wife informed me months ago, I wouldn't be sleeping until noon and hanging around the house, unshaven, in dirty sweatpants watching meaningless regular-season baseball games all day. Not this year. No worry-free 24 hours for me, no sir.
On the most sacred day of the year for this dad, our entire family would be . . . camping in the wilderness!
Instead of sleeping soundly in his own bed, this lazy sportsman would spend Father's Day Eve freezing in a borrowed sleeping bag, waking every two hours to walk the kids to the outhouse, swatting bugs, fending off bears and Sasquatch, suffering with sunburn and maybe a snake bite, squeezing out rain-soaked clothes and constantly re-securing the tent to keep it from caving in on us.
I'd rise at the crack of dawn, start a fire with two sticks and dry leaves, walk two miles to a creek for water I'd have to boil for hours, maybe find a few leftover berries that weren't good enough for the squirrels and have nowhere but open space to send the girls when they need a timeout.
That's what I was expecting, anyway.
Family camping trips, you see, are the reason I entered the labor force at 14. My 17-hour Saturday shifts got me out of those miserable weekend marches into remote, mosquito-infested Alaskan campgrounds, where I'd spend two days washing dishes with cloudy water, listening to my stepdad snore and being annoyed by my younger siblings.
The only amenities at those campsites were the faded signs that read, "No amenities." A good campsite in Alaska was one that wasn't buried in snow, at least not so much snow that you couldn't find it.
I'm not entirely convinced we actually went to real campgrounds back then. I think my mom just picked a dirt road, drove 30 miles and then backed over some foliage. Thanks to permafrost, nothing grew high enough that it couldn't be flattened with one good stomp on the station wagon's accelerator.
Campsites in Utah, as I pleasantly discovered, are more modern and fully equipped. Unlike a certain interstate I know, the campground road was evenly paved. Not only was there a working faucet on our campsite, but electrical outlets, too! I could've brought the TV!
One of the worst parts about those Alaska camping trips was not knowing anyone except my folks and siblings. This Father's Day, our family shared a campsite with another couple and their kids, and five other families we know camped nearby. As my 7-year-old daughter said gleefully, "It's like all of our friends live in the same neighborhood."
And truly, it was. Camping was not a boring, tedious inconvenience. It was a nonstop party. Camping wasn't about being filthy, unwashed and uncomfortable - although I was filthy and unwashed upon return - it was about being away from the city, away from deadlines and editors, close to nature and surrounded by the people I love most.
Without all the distractions of everyday life, it was possible to hold lengthy conversations, particularly with my own children, and to think. And sleep late.
The couples with kids in diapers didn't have it easy. Scraped knees were commonplace, not all the kids could stay upright or even awake for an entire hike, and poison ivy was everywhere.
But the enjoyment of being in an outdoor environment with the family and friends far outweighed the subtle disruptions. My wife and kids showed me I really can go three days without washing my hair, and that we've really been missing out on something. There will be many more family camping trips in the future, no doubt about it - perhaps even next Father's Day.
And to top it all off, we ended the weekend with an evening at the ballpark. The Buzz blew an 8-0 lead, but a guy can't have everything. A loving family who can help Dad overcome past trauma and preconceived notions is good enough for me.