"Are you a Dad?" and other Stories from Summer Camp

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    While working at a summer camp in Louisiana when I was a Benedictine Brother, I got stuck with the task of dealing with children who suffered from homesickness. We called them the homesick kids; it was easy to spot them right away: either they feigned a fall on the first day to get a ticket back home or they showed up at the cabin with a look in their eye of sheer sadness. These were the kids who figured out they were duped. Mom and dad were not coming back. It was not too hard to find these kids for they usually found you! It didn't matter to any of the forlorn boys who made it out to the homesick bay, if I said, "it's only one week." A week could be a month or a million years. They wanted to go home. One night I was in the infirmary and the youngest cabins were about to finish their night swim and I was helping the nurse administer the last rounds of Paxil, Sudofed, insulin shots, band aids and Calamine lotion.
    Near the end of the shift, about nine o'clock at night, a boy from cabin ten, the youngest of the boys (about seven or eight) walked in and told me us wanted to go home. The nurse asked, "You're not having fun?" "No" was his final unspoken answer. He was not to be consoled. He walked outside and sat on the concrete ledge outside of the cabin, as if he were waiting for his father to drive up the sandy driveway to take him home. I turned to the nurse and she shrugged. "I'll go see what I can do," I said. I went outside and sat with him for a few minutes before I walked him back to his cabin. He looked up at me when he saw I had followed him and looked back down again. We didn't say anything for about a WHOLE minute. Finally, he said, “Are you a father?” “No, I said.” My answer was not good enough because he asked again, “Are you sure you ain’t a father?” I figured he was confused about the distinction between fathers and brothers in church hierarchy so I said, “No, I’m a brother. The priests are fathers. I’m a brother.” Again, a few minutes later - I could tell he was still confused - he wanted to know if I was a father. When I explained to him again that I wasn’t a priest, he exclaimed, “No. Not that. Are you a dad?" I laughed and said, "Oh. You miss your dad?! I get it. Well, I'm not a dad. Sorry." He shrugged his shoulders, got up from the ledge, and I walked him back to his cabin.
    I wonder what he told his father at the end of the week, "Dad, there's no dads at that camp."

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