A lawyer I have never met snores as I shiver fully clothed in my sleeping bag in a cabin at the edge of Gull Lake. Sounding like a bag of rocks being dragged across cobblestones on this cold September Saturday, the bulldozing barrister's snoozing is cut with little yelps, farts and night whispers from the adolescent boys and other adults who share our unheated shack.
We're all here for Kilcoo Summer Camp's father-and-son weekend.
Fetally folded, I stare wide-eyed up at the bunk above me, wondering what the hell I'm doing here with people I have almost nothing in common with.
Murmured misgivings Earlier this summer, I'd encouraged my son to suck it up, take a chance and go to a summer camp he thought might be too preppy. He's an artsy kid whose interest in sports is more about fitness than competitiveness, and we both wondered if this nature preserve for private-school progeny would welcome him.
But he had a great time, and I realized I, too, had to suck it up and join him in an end-of-summer reunion with his buddies and their dads -- no matter what my own murmuring misgivings.
I hear the zip of a sleeping bag, a stranger's phlegmy throat-clearing, followed by feet clomping heavily on the cold, creaky floor. Another dad stumbles past through the dark and out the door to piss beside the cabin. Note to self: never walk barefoot here.
Watching my breath, I wonder what I'm afraid of. Why do I care what these people think? Surely, I'm not imagining a Lord Of The Flies orgy of short-sheeting and wedgies, accountants and doctors hanging forlornly from door corners with their underwear jammed up their asses.
I went to one camp for 12 years, but now wonder if I stayed there because I loved it or because I thought the next place might just be worse. As an adult, I've made being an outsider work, but as a kid it just meant wondering if somebody's evil smirk was meant for me or the next poor bastard.
Hot, humid summers in Toronto's Flemingdon Park and a crazy home life meant the relief of a cool Kawartha lake was real, but contemplating camp again, I realize I was also trading a concrete jungle for one of cedars, pines and forced push-ups.
At a hockey camp full of rich Americans, I was the only kid who lived in an apartment. As a good lefty, I've never pined for the preserves of the privileged. But now I find myself wondering if my son was punished at this camp for living in Riverdale instead of Rosedale. Or am I worrying about me?
As grey dawn breaks, a new hell looms. A polar-bear swim has been promised, and according to my camp code I will have to participate in this ritual of frigid folly or my boy and I will be ostracized, mocked or worse. A bell clangs, and loud, frosty fools march past the cabin to the icy lake that I assume holds my fate, too. One of the fathers groans by in a taut orange suit, and I begin to steel myself.
Hiphop summer "Jules, are we doing the swim?" I ask, thinking I know the answer.
"Fuck that," he says brightly, flipping in his sleeping bag, "It's freezing."
I'm hit by a sleepy smile and remember what I said to him when he headed off to camp. "We're not asking you to be someone you're not."
It's a message he took to heart with a hiphop summer of laying rhymes and freestyles on his private-school pals. The only thing he submerged this summer was his head in the lake, but not his high-flying heart.
Watching him move among the campers and councillors over the course of the weekend, he reminds me of the good stuff at camp -- forging unlikely friendships with strangers, enjoying his freedom and a chance to be deep in his own identity.
Hell, we both get big hits in the inter-cabin baseball game, and he covers me closely in father-son football. By the end of the night, as we dance on dining-hall tables singing Spirit of the West drinking songs, I realize that the son has been teaching the father something about fear this summer.