It just so happened that my eleven-year-old daughter today wore her beloved camp shirt, as a reminder of how she has been counting the days until her third summer at Camp Laurelwood. It’s a Jewish kids sleepaway camp here in New England, and it offers three weeks of bonding, adventure, spiritual connections and just plain summer fun. And all that doesn’t come cheap.
The enormous expense was why my wife and I planned to have the second of two morose meetings with our daughter today, to tell her the news I’d been dreading for more than a month. In our first meeting, we let her know that with me not working, we just didn’t have the funds for camp this year, and that even though we would continue to look for a way, she needed to be prepared for bad news. She took this in stride, and shed not a tear. She was kind enough to not remind me of my promise.
I had vowed, no matter what, she was going to camp. I promised her, somehow I’d make it happen.
Just one more in a long line of broken promises I made to people, to myself, that had no basis in reality. I have lived most of 50 years making promises I had no means of keeping, and yet that never stopped me from making them, breaking them, and then making more.
Because every once in awhile, magic happened. Or call it providence, good fortune, God’s intervention, the luck of the Irish, or just a coincidence. Some members of my family gambled and played the lottery, and only talked about the jackpots they won; it’s been the same way with my pie in the sky promises. I can tell you plenty about the ones I kept, somehow, someway.
As it turns out, this was one of those promises.
Today I learned the camp agreed to provide our daughter with a generous scholarship, and today the rabbi at our temple wrote a check, and then a dear friend — who tells me how much the memories of going to camp in Quantico more than 50 years ago still makes her smile — pitched in tonight with the remainder. All told, we are the beneficiaries of a fortune!
My glass-half-empty wife lamented that to her, all this effort at raising money for three weeks of summer camp was at odds with her own desire to save enough to pay September’s bills. I know; I’d do well to start thinking as she does. I admitted as much, and told my soon to be ex I’ve learned that I need to become more risk-averse.
But when it comes to real wisdom, the rabbi said it best: “I’m doing this because she needs an escape.” To my troubled mind, the unspoken end of that sentence was “from the two of you and your issues and your arguing and the mess you’ve made of a young girl’s summer vacation.” He didn’t say that, he probably didn’t even think it, but that is how I feel. The rabbi continued: “At camp, she’ll have time to be a child, to be a young woman, and to learn who she is becoming in a safe, comforting and supportive environment. She needs this experience and I am glad to offer to do this.” And he’s right; he is that kind of a man (and father) that I didn’t even have to ask. He is a blessing, even to this Roman Catholic transgender woman, and he closed our meeting with a prayer, for me, that brought tears to my eyes.
This evening, as we sat outside the family therapist’s office, I had the pleasure to tell all the funding had been arranged: “Mom and I talked about it, and after hearing from camp, from Rabbi Pincus and from a very good and generous friend of Daddy’s… you’re going,. I promised you you’d go, and you’re going!” Tears streamed down my cheeks and I could see them welling in her eyes, but her smile was so bright it dried them before they could even flow.
I took a photograph, to show our friend what her loan meant to my daughter, and she texted back that she was crying, too.
And when the therapist opened her door and asked which of our three children would like to see her first today, my girl — who has dreaded every session so far and made it clear how much — jumped up like a rocket at Cape Canaveral and said, “I will! I want to go first!”
She bounced into the office and my wife and I smiled at each other for the first time in a long time.
Just now, after I told her my daughter I loved her and wished her good night, I recalled a poem. A father named Kyle J. Underwood penned this ode to his daughter Alexandra a decade ago, when my little girl was just shy of her second birthday, her very first in our New England home:
She’s a soft cool rain on a hot summer’s day.
She makes me laugh with the funny things she has to say.
She’s the beat of my heart, and the air that I breathe.
She’s the sun and the wind, and autumn’s golden leaves.
She’s the pride that I feel when I know she’s done what’s right.
She’s that warm feeling I get, when I remember tucking her in at night.
She is homework and sports, and a busy social life.
She has this beautiful smile that could light the darkest night.
She is the scared feeling I have when she stays out late.
Or the feeling that I am losing her, when she wants to date.
She’s the mixed emotions I have, as I watch her mature and grow.
I tell myself she will never leave, but, I know in my heart that someday she will go.
I hope the man that steals her heart, will treat her like a queen.
Because she deserves so much more, than a man that treats her mean.
I will always cherish the wonderful times we have had.
The best part of my life was being her dad.
So now you know who she is, she’s my little girl.
I love her with all my heart and I always will.