Up To Onaway Island

Camp Onaway. Just typing those two words stirs memories in my soul from six magical weeks of my childhood, spent one week at a time each summer from 1985-1990. Those of us who were fortunate enough to go to camp as a kid know exactly what I mean. For me, it was Camp Onaway, a camp in central Wisconsin on an island in the beautiful Chain of Lakes near Waupaca. Yes, an island! The entire island is owned by the Boys and Girls Brigade, a youth organization in Neenah, Wisconsin (my hometown), that runs a program during the school year for youth in grades 6-12. Onaway is the location of their week-long summer camps, alternating weeks of boys and girls camps, as well as some leadership and family camps.

Onaway Island

Onaway Island

My first week there was in 1985, just after finishing 6th grade. I don’t remember a lot about the specifics of the camp now, 30 years later, other than that I had a lot of fun playing games, swimming, wrestling with fellow campers and leaders on the rough raft (think “King of the Hill”, but on a raft in the water), canoeing, singing, Chapel and campfires. And morning dip, cross country race, tribal competitions, skits and watermelon feed. Okay, I guess I remember more than I thought. But, what really stands out in my mind is the memory of the leaders at Onaway. A bunch of men who willingly gave up a week of their summer to spend it with someone else’s kids, away from the comforts of their own homes and families. Probably spending a week of their own hard-earned vacation time in the process. As a young camper, I loved being around these guys each summer. For one week, those guys were my family. It wasn’t until years later that I began to comprehend the sacrifice and dedication that these men made each summer to be at camp.

After finishing high school I wasn’t able to attend camp as an adult leader since I moved away to attend college and ended up getting married and starting my own family. I did, however, get an opportunity in 2006 and 2007 to return for a few days as a leader. Despite not seeing many of those men for the better part of 15 years I was welcomed with open arms and hearty hugs. There was no judgement about why I hadn’t been back sooner; just joy that I was back. There were lots of new faces among the leaders there but there were plenty of guys who had been so integral to my development as a young man. Men who I thought of as family despite not knowing them personally outside of camp or even seeing them much since 1990.

DickandChrome

Two of my favorite leaders from Camp Onaway. Dick and Chrome.

I woke up this morning to read the news that one of my favorite leaders, Chrome, had passed away last night. It turns out that he actually had a real name, but I knew him as Chrome. To be honest, I didn’t know that much about him outside of camp. I did know his real name and I did see him a few times outside of camp when I was still living in Wisconsin.

But Chrome was the epitome of camp to me. I funny guy with a heart as big as the ocean. I remember when I returned to Onaway after my 15 year absence Chrome was one of the first to see me and he came running to greet me with the biggest, most heartfelt hug. And he’s not a big guy. He literally grabbed my cheeks with his hands and held my face, telling me, “Carl, it’s so good to see you again, young man. Welcome back.” I’ve been crying on and off all morning since learning of his passing, just thinking of the good memories I have because of men like him. The last time I saw him was in 2011, at camp the summer before we moved west to Washington.

It’s extra special for me this week to know that my third daughter is at Girls Camp 2 at Onaway this very week, making her own magical memories. My older two daughters have also been to Onaway in previous years. I know that my son, who will be in sixth grade in the fall, is already thinking about going there next summer. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to join him as a leader. That’s the thing about camp. Once you go, you always want to go back, even just for a moment. One of the best parts of each day at camp is the daily chapel. While Onaway is a Christian organization it’s not a “church” camp.

OnawayChapelChapel is more of a time for reflection with a very short talk given by one or more leaders. It’s often in the early evening as the sun filters through the tall pine trees, giving all in attendance the opportunity to think about their day. Chrome was kind of famous for giving his “sands of Onaway” talk each year at chapel when I was a kid. It’s the notion that no matter where you go, the memories of Onaway will be with you. Thank you, Chrome, for your years of service to countless young men like me. Without him and the many men and women like him, Camp Onaway wouldn’t be as special.

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You won’t believe what my 14 year old posted on Facebook

Facebook

Yesterday afternoon my 14 year old daughter made me so proud to be her father that I’m going to tell you about it right now. Call it a “humble brag” if you want, but reading what she posted as her status on Facebook yesterday brought a tear to my eye for not only the truth in what she wrote but also because it’s the kind of leadership that I want for my children to embrace.

Here’s her status:

It honestly makes me so mad when I see people commenting on pictures telling their friends that they look Autistic. It makes me sad what our generation has come to. It’s as if people have no respect anymore for those who really are Autistic. Seriously, just put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about how they would feel if they saw someone mocking the way they look. Think before you make the comment, because what you say really does hurt people. I don’t care if it was meant to be funny, it’s just not okay. Kids my age are always wondering why adults don’t have as much respect for them anymore, and this is why. Making fun of other people is not cool or funny, nor does it make you any more popular. It just puts people down and makes them lose respect for you. It also makes the many people who can see it lose respect for you. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Sorry about the rant. I just thought it needed to be said.

To those of you with young children I want to encourage you to really think about the message that you’re sending them every time you open your mouth. They’re watching and listening and learning from your example. They’re also watching to see if you stand up for people who don’t fit within society’s awfully narrow definition of “normal”. Perhaps they will be encouraged and empowered to stand up for others in the face of potential backlash from their own peers. I remember a banner that used to hang at a school where I used to teach. It’s message was clear and very applicable to what my daughter did.

Doing what it popular isn’t always right. Doing what is right isn’t always popular.

Unlike many jobs where you can see tangible results of your efforts or your supervisor gives you an annual review, being a Stay At Home Dad (or Mom) requires a LOT of patience. You have to embrace the notion of delayed gratification and have faith that what you’re doing as a parent is going to work out well (or at least not screw up your kid so much that therapy can’t undo it). So, for me it’s a pretty big deal to see my daughter put such a post on her page where her friends can see it. I want my kids to be kind, considerate and compassionate people who are willing to be leaders when necessary. In this case, my daughter saw something written on Facebook and, unlike many of her peers, didn’t turn the other way and keep on scrolling. She stood up for what she knew was right and spoke the truth. Way to go!