“Antonio, why don’t you want to go to Cub Scout summer camp?” I had already asked him a number of times but I just wasn’t satisfied with his answer. He always said, “No” when I asked. “Too many bugs,” he offered once in explanation. I didn’t remember any bugs, and I was with him when we went two years ago. I had even brought us a mosquito netting to put over our cots.
Equally troubling to me was why I cared. Why I just couldn’t drop it. Last summer I had signed us up for camp and then fretted the summer away until August as a stubborn Cub Scout Bear growled, Noooo, whenever I broached the subject. Finally, I just gave our spots away to another parent and scout.
Now here we were at year three. I studied Antonio. Sitting on the lowest rung of a step stool, his arms draped over my knees. Reaching a hand down, I rubbed his dark hair. How I loved him. Yet, there was something not being said. I could feel it, just out of my grasp. Air was thickening with every nanosecond. Then it came to me, fleeting as it had that first year at summer camp when we were making our way up the hill to the mess hall. Waves of men and boys moved about us. Where one group ended another began. I grabbed for the thought, held it: all those men and all those boys.
“Do you not want to go because there are mostly dads with their sons? Does it make you miss not having a dad?” Antonio’s pained look and the dive under his bed told me the answer.
“Buddy, you can ask Uncle Scott or Uncle Marty to take you,” I said.
Peering out at me with a smile, he said with enthusiasm, “You could dress up as a boy.”
I thought, well that’s nice. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be with me. It’s just that he’d like me to be his dad.
I laughed, “I tried being a boy once when I was about your age. I told this kid that my name was Dan, and he wanted to be my friend. It didn’t work out so well. I was always worried about being found out.”
I paused, “What if we invite your cousin?” His cousin is the same age and also a Cub Scout.
“What about Jacob?”
Once Antonio said that, I knew we would be going. He had moved from “No” to bargaining.
I suddenly realized why I couldn’t drop his attending camp. Just like I couldn’t make myself into a boy, he couldn’t make a dad appear.
Sometimes the obvious needed stating. “Antonio, the reason this is so important to me is because you don’t have a dad in your life. You’re a boy and you live with two moms and a sister. We’re all girls. You need to know how to navigate in the world of boys and men. When we go to camp you can look at all the dads and pick out the stuff you like and know that’s the kind of dad you want to be when you grow up and you’ll be able to hang with a bunch of boys and do what boys do.”
Antonio seemed satisfied with the answer.
Sometimes there is no getting past the pain of our lives. Instead of walking away from it Antonio, his friend, and I would buddy up, jump in the pond, and swim to the other side.