What ever happened to true whimsicality? The only spontaneity I see anymore is the planned kind, a contradiction. Acts not so much performed in the moment as choreographed for imminent global distribution. Look at me, dancing like nobody’s watching! The thing is everybody’s watching, or so you hope – that’s why you put it on Instagram.
It all seems little more than asking yourself, what would Zooey Deschanel do? Pretty small beer. For a while, America’s policy of gunboat spontaneity was on the wane, but suddenly it shifted shape and took on a most cunning form. I am of course speaking of Y Guides.
Don’t get me wrong, theirs is a perfectly laudable mission, bringing fathers and their children closer together. But since when do I need to put on a suede vest and sit cross-legged in Gary-the-Financial-Planner’s rec room to bond with my daughter? Honestly, there is only one person in my family who could so motivate me, and until I come home from work and see my wife dressed up like Pocahontas, I’ll leave the tribal headdresses to others.
The activities themselves are not intrinsically bad. Nobody’s trafficking in the dark arts here. And it’s not that I can’t imagine how making a God’s-eye with my daughter could draw the two of us closer together. I just can’t imagine how doing it on Gary’s command Sunday at 3:30 sharp is going to draw us closer together.
Frankly the only thing I don’t get is why Gary doesn’t feel about me the same way I feel about Gary. Note that I’ve only described the more innocuous Sunday afternoon festivities. The weekend trips are an entirely different kettle of fish. Come on, guys, this isn’t Mad Libs – this weekend I would like to [verb] with a bunch of [plural noun] – these are precious ticks on the clock, and I don’t intend to waste them.
Alas, this clarity of mind never descends upon me until it’s too late, and I am sitting on some cold and forlorn patch of ground in a Trust Circle with only one thought on my mind. When the arrow points to me and it’s time to name myself for the weekend, do I play it straight and go with something like “Standing Bear,” or the more unsettling “Big Wind”? While I love the idea of every other dad having to call me that all weekend, no need to traumatize my daughter so I play it safe.
Of course, that’s just the first of the choices that I’ll face around our hearth, our spiritual center, the campfire. Ah, the campfire. I can’t really explain it other than to say it’s primal. There is something about campfires that does strange things to grown men, causing them to feel an intimacy that isn’t there and overshare. Like, seriously overshare. As if the embers crackle “tell a stranger your innermost secrets” as counsel.
Next thing you know I am man-hugging Harvest Moon, whom I just met, and reassuring him that his father loved him even though they never crafted together. (Here I suppress a laugh, for if my old man ever asked to make a friendship bracelet with me, I would have immediately looked into the western sky for four horsemen.) All of this can make for some awkward moments early Sunday morning, as the campfire smolders and we pack up our gear:
Harvest Moon: So, Standing Bear, follow the river back to the highway, then it’s pretty much due south, is that right?
Me: That’s right. And please, call me Mike.
Harvest Moon: Listen, did I, uh, say some crazy stuff last night, about my insatiable need for approval?
Me: You most certainly did.
Harvest Moon: I have no idea where that came from. Caught up in the moment. You understand, right?
Me: I will bury it deep.
And you can be sure that acoustic guitar guy will make an appearance. An immutable law of nature is that there is one at every campfire. Not surprisingly, he’s opted for “Evening Song” for his name. Well sure enough, Evening Song has his six-string at the ready, just waiting for his opening to treat us to “Blackbird” or “Brown-Eyed Girl.”
Hey, Joe Cocker, you may think you are lifting us all up where we belong, but it’s just guys here, so all you’re really doing is identifying yourself as the first person we’ll eat if push comes to shove. But the toughest one of all to deal with, primus inter pares, is contraband guy. You know, the one with a deck of playing cards who can’t wait to show you the flask of whiskey he has brought with him for when the girls are asleep. Perhaps even something “medicinal” for the truly daring.
I suppose the doing of “cool” things at “uncool” events is just too post-modern for my sensibilities. After all, the whole rebellious point of smoking in the boys room was to protest involuntary confinement: not to put too fine a point on it, Treetop Flyer, but you designed the Evite! I’m expected to forget all of this the next time you offer to drive my daughter home from soccer practice?
Maybe the idea is what happens at the campsite stays at the campsite. I don’t know, but next time Standing Bear and his daughter will enjoy the s’mores and then head to the nearest Hampton Inn.