By Ernie McCray
I hadn’t camped since Nancy died in ’09. But there I was, this past weekend, laying my sleeping bag down on the ground, to spend some time in the wilderness, near Julian, for two days and two nights with some of the most delightful people one could ever meet in life. It would be an understatement to define those moments as nice.
I mean we were living good, just kicking back, underneath a sky that was black as it could be considering that there was a full moon at play, eating meals off the grill, over burning logs we needed to feel cozy in the evening chill.
It had been a while but nothing had changed since the days when Nancy and I and our offspring would get out into the woods. Like back then, no sooner than I stepped out of my car my spiritual nature rose to the fore. At first it was a reaction to the sheer majesty of it all: the emerging colors of autumn all around me in the oak and cedar and pine trees, the knowing that I was surrounded by mule deer and wild turkeys with bobcats and mountain lions watching the whole scene, the fresh air. How could my soul not feel moved when I was, by the very environment I found myself in, feeling such a connection to nature’s wonders?
After letting the beauty around me sink in I focused on the twenty-three of us who had gathered together, a mix of families and friends, and looking around I found myself really zooming in on the men, each of us fathers except one. At one time just about everyone of them was relating to a child or two who ranged in age from ten to two.
And for two days I observed men who were refreshing to watch, men who were gentle with their children, so alert and attentive, joking with them, nursing their hurts, looking in on the bow and arrow skirmishes with little reminders of how easy it is to blind someone, helping them understand why they have to be very careful around the fire as they poked sticks into it so they could make the end of the stick glow so they could then blow on it and make it glow even more – yet another human generation fascinated with flames. “Watch the street” was the dads’ mantra when scooter racing and olly-ing were the games.
There was very little “Because I told you so!” with these guys as they were so at ease giving vent to moments of anger with quiet dissertations about “Why that made dad mad.” Not a bad way to learn.
I can still see some of the scenes from our time together: Little Elijah, a three year old who’s smart as a whip trying to outwit Ali, his dad, who would patiently explain things to him and watch proudly as he then built new questions on top of old ones, learning, seemingly, at the speed of light and using his new-found knowledge to add to his “gotcha” agenda, ready to one-up his dad at any moment; Ali watching admiringly as his son, Micah, polishes his scooter skills like he’s getting ready for the X-Games; Jeff looking in on Kai when the boys’ testosterone got too elevated in their hyper-ness and consoling little Mia, who wasn’t feeling well, with such tenderness, giving her a strong shoulder upon which she laid her head as he walked around with her until she miraculously healed; Tyrone, listening sympathetically while Tatiana lets everyone know “I’ve got on 5 layers and I’m still freezing!” and keeping up with two-year old Desmond who likes to run with his hands up in front of himself and can change directions and stop on a dime like a cheetah, quietly imploring him to be careful, to watch where he was going, giving him the reasons why; Dean, sitting around the campfire with Isabella comfortably nestled in his arms on his lap, feeling at peace with the world, when he wasn’t grilling cheeseburgers or repairing bows for arrows; Max running around having fun father-less; Tio Carlos portraying a giant monster fish being reeled in by little Mia, the children hanging from him like he was an E Ride at Disneyland, laughing in out-and-out delight.
It was great being in the presence of these admirable fathers and what I’ll remember most about them is how they handled their children’s wails, especially their boys who a couple of times, like Elias, one night, cried out of the pure mixture of the joy and agony that comes with the overwhelming exhaustion that accompanies playing from near sunup to after dark, searching the universe for enemies who need to be brought to justice.
There was none of that “Be a man!” tone in their voices when they consoled their sobbing boys. Can there be a better lesson for them to learn on this planet than it’s okay to cry? They’ll soon be men and the world will be better, I would think, if they are men who are able to express their feelings.
The spiritual uplift I get from moments spent outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of city life, makes me think idealistically (the only way I know how to think) along the lines of what a hopeful world there could be if there were more fathers like these men. Men who show their human side, their ability to love, comfortably.
I’m so glad I got myself back outdoors.