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I have vivid memories of my dad at family events, and I bet my siblings and cousins do, too.  My dad was the guy on all fours in the middle of the living room floor wrestling 7 kids at once.  He was the center of the wild laughter.  At times he was a bull.  At times he was “Dr. Dan the Medicine Man,” a name coined by my older cousin, Steve.  My dad is not a doctor, but the name fits.  He was probably making us all a little healthier.  He was on our level.  He was facilitating and monitoring rough play between 7 kids at once and making sure that no one got hurt.  Perhaps most importantly, he showed us all we were important to him.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I spend a few paragraphs considering the impact of dads on the development of their children.  My wife sent me an article last week and I thought it was worth sharing with you entitled “Dads Empower Kids to take Chances”:  This article references research that lauds the benefits of dad time.  It boils down to this:  in playtime facilitated by dads, kids are often encouraged to take risks.  There is a great anecdote in the article about parents and toddlers.  Toys were placed at the top of a flight of steps and each parent, in turn, supervised the toddler climbing the stairs to get the toys.  Moms followed the kids up every step, hand on the back (you can picture that, right?).  Dads stayed several steps behind the toddlers.  I can picture this in my home.  If you have kids, I bet you can, too.

My 4 year-old loves for me to tell her stories about when she was “little.”  One of her favorites (mine, too), is about the special relationship she and a pet cat had with the forest near our house.  At the time, we were living outside of Akron at YMCA Camp Y-Noah.  My daughter, Annalee, and her guardian angel, Horatio, would hike off into the woods on their own.  The trail they preferred was about 3/4 of a mile and led to my office in the camp.  Horatio was a big cat, my wife’s cat, but he protected our little girls like they were his own.  Annalee, from the time she was able to walk, loved hiking that trail, and Horatio would walk with us.  Sometimes, when Annalee and I were playing in the backyard, she would point at the trailhead and yell “trail” or “hike”.  Off she would go, Horatio at her side.  I would follow her, usually 25 to 50 yards behind, mostly out of curiosity.  I wanted to see how far she would go into the forest without her mother or me.  I didn’t want her to see me so I would walk quietly and hide behind trees.  You can picture that, too, can’t you?  Annalee would hike about 400 yards before she would turn around and come home.  Remember, she was probably 14-18 months old at this point.  On her return trip I would magically appear and walk home with her.  I have always wondered if she knew I was there.  My guess is that have Horatio was all she needed.  I didn’t think of myself as encouraging her to take risks or develop a sense of independence.  I was more curious about what her limits were.  I wanted to know how far she would go on her own.

Another interesting study referenced in the “Dads Encourage Kids to Take Chances,” involved rough play.  In the old days, we assumed that kids who played rough with their dads or siblings developed a disruptive level of aggression.  Nay, nay says the research.  Play rough, dads!  Play rough.  Current research seems to indicate that rough play with dad encourages the development of empathy.

Sometimes its fun watching history repeat itself.  The other weekend, my brother and I took turns being the focus of the four cousins wrestling on the floor.  My daughters, niece, and nephew squeal with delight as we roll around, give horse-rides, and tickle to our hearts content.  As a kid, I thought all the thanks was owed to my dad for those memories.  As an adult, I know the moms had to have lot of patience to let Dr. Dan do his important work.

Thank you, Dad, for playing.  Thank you, Mom, for letting us.

Happy Fathers Day to Dads Everywhere.  We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at


Every camp professional will tell you that they do not offer summer “babysitting” or “childcare” – they provide a summer camp experience.  So, hold them to it and expect more from your summer camp.

As parents, we assume that our children will be taken care of physically and emotionally when we enroll them in a summer program.  In fact, I know parents that care much more about the emotional safety of their children than physical health. 

Last year in a parent panel I facilitated for new camp counselors, one parent shared that he expected cuts, bruises and sunburns at summer camp.  The physical injuries were simply part of the package when a child is active in the summer.  What he would not tolerate was the emotional injury that results from bullying in a cabin group or the actions of a neglectful or callous counselor.  As a dad, I can get behind that sentiment.  That is our minimum expectation, and I would argue we are setting the bar pretty low.

In 2005, the American Camp Association ( produced a study with Philliber Research Associates to determine the impact of camp on a child.  This study surveyed campers, parents, and camp staff from across the United States.  There were some tremendous results:

  1. 96% of campers reported that Camp helped them make new friends.
  2. 94% of campers said that Camp helped them get to know other campers who were “different from me.”
  3. 92% of campers reported that Camp helped them feel good about themselves.
  4. 74% of campers said that they did things they were afraid to try at first.

Need more convincing?  Take a look at what parents reported:

  1. 70% of parents reported that their child gained self-confidence as a direct result of their camp experience.
  2. 63% of parents responded that their child continued to participate in activities they learned at Camp.
  3. 69% of parents said that their children remained in contact with friends they made at Camp.

I think you ought to expect these results from your summer camp this year.  I think that beyond health and safety, parents should be able to count on their summer camp providing results like those above to every camper they come in contact with.

Tomorrow, I’ll post an article on the 10 questions you should ask a summer camp before you enroll your child.

We’ll see you at Camp!


Summer Camp Source: Nathan Scott Brant