Suburban Chronicles: Campfires, sleeping under canvas a way to connect with teenage son

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“Hey Dad,” my son said a few weeks ago. “I think I want to try camping again.”

I tried to keep the surprise and mild trepidation out of my voice when I responded: “Huh. OK.”

The first time we tried camping — the only time we tried camping — things did not go well. He was probably eight or nine at the time and everything about it scared him. It was dark. The people the next camp site over were loud and obnoxious. He was convinced, despite the fact that you could hear cars on the nearby road, that we were going to be eaten by some wild animal. I doubt he slept more than a couple of hours and the next morning he could not get packed up and back home fast enough.

Another Dad Adventure, assembled with the best of intentions, gone horribly awry.

Now 16, he’s learning to manage his apprehension about new places and experiences. We did quite a bit of cycling together during the pandemic and the three-day bike tour we did last summer (we stayed in Airbnbs) was both a disaster — we got lost, drenched and filthy — and a rousing success.

With the ability to see his friends again, he hasn’t done as much riding this year so we elected against a full bikepacking excursion, instead taking the car and strapping the bikes to it. We filled the car with a tent, sleeping bags, camp mattresses and enough snacks for a summer’s worth of drive-in movies. We bought firewood on the way.

We found a secluded site on private property to rent via an online app, foregoing the subdivision camping experience of many provincial parks and conservation areas. There was a river nearby and a porta-potty. It was close to a town and a long biking trail.

I suppose it could have gone better but I’m not sure how. We ate well, slept well, rode bikes, got clean in the river. We had campfires and talked late into the night about all kinds of thoughtful, interesting stuff.

My son and I have always gotten along but it hasn’t always been easy. He’s a lot like me and I see a lot of myself in both his charms and his imperfections. We are also very different. He can be a moody teenager and I can be consumed by work. Some relationships come naturally and others require you to work at them. So we work at it.

These trips help. Away from the endless distractions of everyday life, we can connect on our own terms and in our own time. We talked about life, family, the nature of our relationship. We read books in silence. We listened to music, grilled corn on the fire and admired the moon. When the last morning came, we took our time packing up, a little sad the trip was over.

As we drove home, stopping at every bakery and bike store along the way, we started to plan another camping trip next summer. Maybe two. Life will always be busy for both of us but we’ve learned the importance of making time for one another. I probably didn’t need a tent to tell me that, but it’s not a bad way to learn.



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