I Hate Camping. But I Love My Dad.


Growing up, vacation in my family meant battling the great outdoors. Packing up the sleeping bags, grabbing gallons of bug spray, and piling into the family van before the sun came up. I can’t remember a single summer of my childhood that didn’t involve a tent or a pop-up camper. We did it all: wooded Indiana state parks, Disney World in Florida, and the rollercoasters of Cedar Point.

I want to go on record saying that I am not now nor have I ever been a camping person. Hiking? Yes. Campfires? Sure. I even enjoy rock climbing and whitewater rafting. But willingly sleeping outdoors at the mercy of bugs and bears? No, thank you.

But camp we did.

We slept in tents, each with a sleeping bag as a bed. We played cards by lantern light and made pudgie pies (i.e. toasted PB&J sandwiches) over the campfire. Eventually we upgraded to a pop-up camper. Compared to the tent, it was “glamping” at its best. That four-inch foam mattress on the pull-out bed was dreamy after a five-mile hike, even though I had to sleep next to my younger brother. (Mind you, we promptly put up a makeshift bed-sheet wall between us.)

One of the most memorable vacations was a two-week adventure out West. Dad designed a truly epic trip. We saw majestic Mount Rushmore, mysterious Old Faithful, the breathtaking waterfalls of Yellowstone, and even spent one glorious night in Utah’s Apache Motel, put on the map by ol’ John Wayne himself. (You’re going to want to go ahead and click that link…)

During one leg of the journey, somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, Dad was beyond pumped for our next destination—a “really cool rustic site” near a river. To me, camping itself was rustic enough. But when Dad went “rustic,” it had serious implications for the rest of us:

  • No electricity.

  • No running water.

  • Porta Potty bathrooms that required the assistance of another family member holding a flashlight.

Not kidding.

Just to get clean, we had two options: 1) Take some soap down to the cold Colorado river, or 2) Go to the nearest town and cram into a pay-by-the-minute shower with my mom and two sisters. That Ziploc bag of quarters Dad handed us never lasted long enough for four separate showers. So we lathered, rinsed, and fed the shower its quarters in a well-rehearsed rotation. Family togetherness at its finest.

Despite these rustic experiences and all my best efforts to convince Dad that the beach and a book was an acceptable alternative, some of my best childhood memories took place while camping. Even today, when we all get together, we like to retell the stories and watch the home movies. We pull out pictures and reminisce about that week without showers or the time Mom caught her hair on fire.

While these memories certainly haven’t changed my mind about camping, they have painted a distinct image of my Dad and fatherhood as a whole. You see, underneath his love for Gander Mountain beats the heart of a family man, sentiment running deep in his veins. He lived and loved and led our family intentionally. Not once have I questioned Dad’s priorities: God first. Family second.

Camping became an expression of these values, a way for him to invest in his kids and explore the world God created. As a result, our trips not only colored my childhood with magic and memories, but also made me secure in my father’s love.

I may not having loved camping—but I was better for it.

This Father’s Day, I want to follow in my Dad’s footsteps. No, we won’t be buying a tent any time soon. But I want to do more than survive as a parent. I want to be like Dad and invest in my kids, to create opportunities for magic to happen and for experiences to turn into memories. I want to play and laugh with them while they’re young. And hopefully, somewhere along the way, they’ll look back and remember the thrill of finding waterfalls, the bond formed during long trips in the family van, and the love of God mirrored in His creation.

Blog originally published on June 16, 2017 on sarahewestfall.com