I worked myself into a frenzy thinking about the tasty food and heartwarming reunions. But not everyone shared my enthusiasm for visiting day at summer camp.
From the ages of nine through 15, I spent my summers at Camp Scatico in upstate New York. I have wonderful memories of sleeping on sagging mattresses in un-air-conditioned bunks, where I participated in water balloon fights and laughed at fart jokes.As visiting day approached I was understandably excited about showing my parents how much I had matured during my time away from home.
My mother and father were always the last parents to arrive, but my wait was rewarded with camp’s most valuable currency: food. The backseat of their car was weighed down with my mom’s crispy-fried chicken, brisket swimming in gravy, various fruit pies and a blimp-sized watermelon.
The feast would be spread on a blanket, as my bunkmates abandoned their parents to share in the banquet. I felt as popular as I did on my birthday in August, when I was presented with a cake in the camp’s dining room, giving me the power to decide which of the dozens of well-wishers crowding around me would receive a piece of cake or a spoonful of frosting.
After lunch my parents and I headed over to the ball fields for the father-son softball game—although my dad always had some type of injury, which kept him on the sidelines. Following the game, it was off to the lake for a swim before saying goodbye.
When my parents left I felt sad—not only because I had to go back to eating overcooked hamburgers and drinking metallic-tasting “bug” juice, but because I missed home. I assumed my parents felt sad as well, and enjoyed visiting day as much as I did.
I knew my mother liked visiting camp. She had been a camper at Scatico and loved reminiscing about the Girl’s Sing and her bunkmates (she never said anything about water balloons or fart jokes).
My dad also went to a summer camp, but hated it. He was overweight and a spaz, making him the target of his camp’s bullies. He carried his nightmarish camp experience into adulthood, to the point where his normally homing pigeon-like sense of direction would abandon him on the drive to Scatico.
“That’s why we were always late to visiting day,” my mother recently told me. “It was the only time I ever saw your father get lost.”
When I confronted my dad about my mother’s revelation, he acknowledged his camp-phobia and admitted that he faked injuries to avoid playing in the father-son softball game: “I was afraid that the other fathers would make fun of me.”
Finding out that my father hated visiting day was nearly as disillusioning as realizing that parents see summer camp as a vacation from their kids. It feels bad to think that while I was happily stuffing my face with watermelon and fried chicken, my dad was having flashbacks to fat jokes and wedgies.
Despite learning about my father’s visiting day traumas, I get nostalgic when my friends tell me about visiting their children at camp. They are looking forward to this summer’s visits and their kids will undoubtedly be happy to see them… especially if they bring a care package stuffed with Ring Dings, Mallomars, jawbreakers and licorice. n
Ben Krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the Upper West Side.
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