First of all, happy Father’s Day to all the dads currently RVing with their families, stowing equipment from this weekend’s outing or planning their next adventure. Camping with dad is one of the more memorable things kids get to do with their fathers and, in hindsight, I wish I had spent more time camping with my three daughters.
Because my parents divorced when I was in third grade, I didn’t get many opportunities to see my father outside of about six weekends a year and a week or two in the summer. Other than a day trip to play mini golf at the nation’s first Jellystone Park in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., I only recall camping with him during two one-night adventures in my life.
Dad served in the Army in the 1950s and that type of camping may have spoiled him from the recreational type that I have come to enjoy.
That’s why I am eternally grateful for some very dedicated men who stepped up and served as my Scoutmasters as a tween and teen — men who instilled in me a love for nature and adventure in our monthly camping experiences.
For years I photographed weddings and I’ve attended many such events where the bride and groom create memory boards of themselves growing up as kids, meeting for the first time and life together as a couple. In most such displays, I’d see photos of at least one, if not both, camping as families or together as a couple.
Despite my love for camping, my girls and I got our first opportunity to camp in June 2001 when they were ages 11, 12 and 14.
Winnebago Industries took pity on me as the new editor of the industry’s then-leading business publication. I had been on the job just over a year when I admitted to Sheila Davis, the company’s now-retired public relations director, that I had never used an RV.
Before you smirk, realize that almost every journalist currently covering the RV industry does not own and does not use a recreation vehicle. As a full-time RVer today, I am an anomaly among RV journalists.
Sheila arranged for me to borrow a 35-foot Minnie Winnie Class C motorhome to familiarize myself with the lifestyle and to take my daughters on a cross-country adventure to New England. My girls still consider it to be one of our family’s Top 3 vacations — on par with Disney World and a train trip to New Mexico.
During the trip, we visited the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island where we were required to stop to purchase postcards and souvenirs from each state.
Somewhere I have pictures of them standing on Statue of Liberty Island with the World Trade Center’s iconic twin towers in the background on June 11, 2001 — three months to the day before they were destroyed.
We stopped to see the Old Man in the Mountain — a 40-by-25-foot New Hampshire rock formation resembling the profile face of an old man. Sadly, it too collapsed just under two years later.
We have pictures of my bravest daughter, Kristin, gobbling up her first lobster in Old Orchard, Maine. We have photos of them swimming in the ocean, sleeping in the overhead bunk, playing games as we traveled down the highway and meeting Yogi Bear for the first time.
They have memories of visiting the Crayola factory in Easton, Pa., while I interviewed the staff at a now-defunct dealership in the same community. I have memories of driving through the spectacular White Mountains and being thoroughly impressed with the scenery only to glance around to see my wife and three daughters sound asleep.
The experience was so much fun, that we bought a pop-up camper the next summer for us to use. However, work commitments and teenage schedules didn’t allow us to take it out more than a few times. It served as the summer vacation house for the girls and their friends who enjoyed multiple sleepovers in the camper.
The one memory I do have of using the camper involved going on a daddy-daughter camping trip with my youngest. We went to Wyalusing State Park, which is located on top of a bluff overlooking the delta of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers.
We saw our first Great Horned Owl swoop in as the last moments of sunlight peaked through the woods on our first night. But the trip was cut short when Becky developed an allergic reaction to a blanket she was using that required a quick trip to the emergency room to stop the intense itching. Her enthusiasm for continuing the adventure quickly eroded.
At the campground I am visiting this week, there are dozens of families enjoying Fathers Day by making new memories. They are cooking outside, playing Frisbee in the open area and swimming in the pool. In a few minutes, I get to visit my middle daughter, Beth, and my first granddaughter, Riley, who live a few miles away. Celebrating Fathers Day as a grandfather gives entirely new meaning to the day.
Thanks to the RV lifestyle, I will leave my temporary home in Wisconsin later this week to head down to Illinois where I’ll visit Becky again — along with her husband and three daughters. There is some talk about camping with grandpa during this visit, but with the girls ages 3 months to 2.5 years, it might still be too early to embrace that possibility.
Throughout the country, there are tired dads tonight who are unloading campers and storing equipment after another hectic weekend bridging two hectic work weeks. The dads are likely exhausted and simply wishing for a chance to kick back and enjoy an adult beverage while watching the world revolve around them.
Don’t worry, dads. That day will come soon enough. In the meantime, embrace the adventure for its those memories created today that will comfort you many years from now. The time you invest in camping with your children this year will be remembered as the most memorable of family experiences by everyone involved.