My father died when I was eight years and fifty days old.
Today, my child is eight years and fifty-one days old, and has officially lived with a father longer than I did.
That is a crazy milestone that I’ve anticipated for years. I’ve calculated it down to the day (clearly). There’s a weird sense of relief – to think I’m sparing my kids the tragedy that befell me.
After the loss of my parents, I’ve of course maintained memories, their presence is always with me, but sadly, their memories fade in my mind as I grow older and busier and my own brain calcifies.
But I never, ever forget their death days. Every single time I see or hear the date (November 14th), in whatever form (11/14) it gives me pause. These simple numbers are singed into every crevice of my brain. With every conjuring of these calendrical digits, my mind takes an instantaneous detour from its intended path.
And I’m grateful for “taking pause”. My life is more based in emotion than math, so it’s refreshing to have numbers divert my forward momentum. There’s nothing emotional or messy about numbers. They just are.
And “11/14” doesn’t make me emotional or messy. It just makes me be. And it reminds me I’m experiencing a day unique from other days – like visiting a museum or marching in a rally or celebrating a holiday.
So. Back to life with/without my dad.
He was struck down after a heinous battle with brain cancer. It was gnarly, given his war wounds from his time as a U.S. Marine, his linebacker stature, and the tragedy of his young age. For two years he lived with a terminal diagnosis. He tackled it head-on with humor and determination. He kept on keepin’ on because of his mighty strength of character. And when his body expired, everyone in the family was relieved…because it was an exhausting fight.
I cannot imagine the anguish his sickness caused him or my mother – two people halted from pursuing all-American dreams at age 38; not in a quick tragedy, but in a drawn-out, gruesome one. And all while trying desperately to maintain a sheen of calm for their 8yo kid.
Having aged several years more than my father when he died, I see just how damn lucky I am – to witness my children’s growth and to have my health; to prioritize my kids’ development over everything else, and to have the luxury of getting wrapped in petty day-to-day crap that shouldn’t matter (but luckily does) because my life is not reduced to survival.
I wish I took more pauses on a daily basis to be present, and not just on visibly jarring number-days like my parents’ death days. (I should definitely get on that “meditate 3x/wk” on my vision board before I regret not having done so.)
I might burden my kids with the emotional weight that they have it better than I did when I was eight years and fifty days old. I think death isn’t something to be shunned or hidden, but rather confronted and discussed.
Or maybe I should just hug them an extra few times.
And have a drink to cheers my dad.
And just keep keepin’ on…with an occasional pause for
I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.
When I was in ninth grade, my
mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was
contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big
box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on
top) but said, “But I’ll take this back
if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”
But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.
I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)
And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.
Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.
In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.
It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.
Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?
Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.
The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)
And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.
What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?
But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.
We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.
Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.
But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”
I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.
At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).
At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”
Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)
I mean – no forest fire are
going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was
prepared to quickly stamp it out.
This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.
I didn’t bring Swiss army
knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we
will carve wood next summer.)
But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!
(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)
But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.
Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .
So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.
I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).
When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.
There are several NYC-based
Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them
are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a
ten-minute walk of our apartment.)
Wouldn’t it be awesome to
start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground
zero for the gay rights movement?
I love the irony.
And hopefully so would the
But this is not a manifesto
for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.