mom extraordinaire Sara Whitman. In this piece, Sara chronicles a
poignant moment in her son’s journey to adulthood. Gay or straight,
it’s this language of parenting that bonds all families.
This weekend, my kids’ dad, Walter, went out for Dad’s weekend
at my ten year old, middle son Zachary’s camp. All the Dads bring
tents and they have a weekend of games, competitions, singing,
skits and campfires. At the end of every day, they have a time to
sit around and reflect, as a group. The counselors give them a
question, and everyone answers.
One night, Walter told me, they asked, What does it mean to be a
Zachary answered, To be strong and thoughtful.
Walter is very strong physically, no question. I love that Zachary
sees his thoughtfulness, because to me, Walter’s strength is not
his ability to lift a ninety-pound boy over his head and toss him
across the swimming pool but his ability to emotionally connect on
a very deep level.
It makes him very thoughtful.
Walter answered that a man is an individual who also realizes they
live in a community and are a part of that community.
At the end of the weekend of festivities, the Moms are invited to
visit from 12 to 4pm. My wife Jeanine and I drove out, picked up
our other son, Ben, from his much shorter stay at camp and then
went to visit Zachary. I couldn’t wait to see Zachary- he has
been gone three weeks and has one more to go. I missed him so much.
The big blue boo boo eyes trying to get something special, his
kicked backed relaxed time on the couch first thing in the
His wry sense of humor.
When we were driving up, Ben said, I don’t know why you are
torturing him like this. It’s just going to make him want to go
home. It’d be easier if you didn’t show up at all.
Maybe, I said, but… it’s not always about easy.
Walking down the path toward his cabin, we heard Walter’s voice.
Jeanine called out and in the instant Zachary saw us, he jumped and
started to run towards us just for an instant. He then slowed down
and said, Hey!
We both hugged him the way Moms hug boys they have not seen for
three weeks. He did not run away.
At the end of the day, we ended up by the lake at a basketball
court. Zachary and I were shooting hoops, something Ben had a hard
time letting happen- teasing each other a little, laughing a
Show me your moves, I said to him. His moves included a great deal
of double dribbling and traveling but… they were sweet.
I could tell all day that something was bugging Zachary. He had
said, over and over, I’m not missing you, I’m having a great
On the way to the basketball court, I pulled him close as we walked
and said, It’s okay to miss us AND have a good time.
I know, he said. He wouldn’t look at me.
Ben finally announced he was ready to leave, as Zachary and my game
slowly wound down.
Don’t go, Zachary said, You just got here.
It’s not time yet, I said, glaring at Ben, But it will be
His head dropped and he focused on the basketball.
Let’s go over there, I said, and put my arm around Zachary. I
gave the look to Jeanine and Walter than meant, keep Ben busy.
Alone time needed.
We went over to the water’s edge. It’s really beautiful out
here, Zachary. I love it. I wish I could go to camp again.
He didn’t say anything but I looked over at him and his eyes were
full of tears.
Hey, what’s going on?
Buddy… I can see you’re about to cry… what’s going on?
I dunno, he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Come here, I sat down and motioned for him to sit in my lap. I
wrapped my arms around him. We sat for a few minutes.
Do you know why you are sad?
He shook his head.
Has anyone been mean to you?
He shook his head fast.
Do you not like your counselors?
He shook his head fast again.
Any idea why you might be sad?
He sat for a while and then said, It’s weird that you’re
leaving without me.
I hugged him tight- I know. I miss you very much.
He nodded. No words, just more silent tears.
It’s okay to miss home and to have a great time, you know.
It’s about feeling both things at once, Zachary. You can miss
home and love camp all at the same time. You know, you might want
to talk about it tonight with your cabin at circle time. My guess?
Everyone feels that way today. At least a little bit.
We sat for a while longer, just looking at the water. My baby in my
lap holding me as much as I was holding him. I know the experience
is pure growth for him- he’s learning how to identify feelings
and to talk about them. He’s learning how to miss home and still
try something new and different.
I am proud of you, Zachary. Not because you can stay at a camp for
a month on your own. But because of who you are.
He nodded. The bell rang calling the boats in off the water. It was
time to leave. We both got up slowly and walked back to his
The camp is a beautiful place. I know it’s a great experience. As
much as I wanted to bring him home, that minute, I knew he needed
to climb up the stairs to his cabin and sit on the railing. I saw
the tears in his eyes. I needed to let him go.
My definition of a man is a person who is strong enough to let
himself be vulnerable. Someone who defines himself rather than let
other’s dictate who he should be. Someone not afraid to champion
those who cannot champion themselves. Someone who expresses fear
and uncertainty knowing the definition of bravery is feeling scared
and doing it anyway.
And on Sunday? My son was learning a small piece of what it is to
be a man.