Family Fun

Camping and Tents

Camping. The world’s most confusing hobby.

It makes about as much sense as fertilizing a lawn that you have to mow twice a week. Humans have spent hundreds of thousands of years solving the challenges of nature. We live in houses that maintain a stable temperature, supply clean water on demand, carry human waste out through a magic network of pipes, rain water is deflected by advanced roofing systems, beds adjust to our individual preference of firmness, and if we want to experience nature or community then we pull out some technology and surf the vast world of the internet. Dogs live better in these modern times than cavemen ever thought about. Yet here, in the pinnacle of this accomplishment, is a growing culture of people who yearn to eat reheated trail food and shit in the woods. I don’t have that burning desire.

Deep down in my soul, I enjoy domestication.

I know this because last year we tried camping. It was Memorial Day weekend and my father always has a family get together at his vacation spot along the Tennessee River. There are enough utilities for running water, an RV hookup, and a guest bathroom. A good balance of rustic and domestic. This particular weekend was foreshadowed by a trip down the clearance aisle in Walmart. As fate would have it, there was a two room, easy-up ten-man tent on sale for $5 BILLION dollars. (I’m sure it was a deal but I hate spending money so my memory recorded it as expensive.) We had a lapse of sanity and thought to ourselves, “Camping could be a fun family activity. Think of all the memories and closeness we will gain. We don’t have a dinner table so surely we could do better at quality time. Yessir, a tent is exactly what we need.” This is the point where I reflect and I am disappointed that Jesus didn’t intervene and burn the clearance aisle to the ground as an unmistakable sign that we shouldn’t go camping. Shame on you.

I recall being hesitant, “I don’t know honey, it sounds like a lot of work. I don’t remember ever sleeping in a tent and enjoying it.” She wasn’t having it, “Nonsense. Camping is fun. I remember doing it this one time really long ago.” (I think she has dementia and was remembering a Care Bears movie or something. No one likes camping in a tent.

Didn’t matter because as every good man knows, Happy Wife = Happy Life.


This would be the second tent she talked me into. It is for playing with Sugar Gliders. Read more on that in some previous stories. 

We bought the tent and lots of accessories. If the tent could hold air pressure we might have had a sufficient kit to colonize Mars. Whoever survived the six month road trip to the Red Planet would have been good to go. Bravely, we declared our intentions to the family, “YES we are coming this weekend and we are CAMPING!”

Fast forward to the weekend. Setup of the tent was flawless. We had fans, sleeping bags, air matresses, two coolers of various beverages, soft pillows, warm blankets, mosquito deterrents, and the tent even had a screened in porch area that acted as an airlock for bugs. This was going to be awesome!

Our dreams of family bliss began to erode almost immediately. The kids were so excited about the tent that they wouldn’t stay out of it. I was constantly urging them to “Close the damn flap!” or “Don’t walk on the beds with your shoes!”

The weather was pleasant in the morning but it started to get annoying by mid-day; Temps in the 90’s and humidity around 101%. I also began to realize that choosing a big weekend as our first tent experience was erroneous. A fellow river-goer had hired a band to play and there was no shortage of booze. Drunken Frisbee and Bean Bag Toss accompanied by cover band renditions of all the country classics definitely drowned out the cicadas and peep frogs.

By ten o’clock the children were all way past bedtime and exhausted from all the dancing and playing of the day. We rounded everyone up including the fowl breathed dog and entered our tent. I mention the dog’s breath because in about five minutes we realized that sleeping in a tent on a hot humid night is very much like being nestled in a fat man’s armpit if that man was also wearing a windbreaker. The fans were useless against the foggy air. The kids were in a separate room in the tent and all four were piled together on an air mattress. The touching, cover stealing, and rolling around provided constant complaining. The dog decided that she needed to go out about four different times because noises around the tent sounded like something malevolent was planning an attack. I think once it may actually have been an armadillo but I didn’t care. Two hours past bedtime and the children were still waking up and complaining. I was down to my underwear and trying to sleep without physically touching anything. Supermom was covered a stream of air from battery powered fans. The crowd outside had been distilled down to only the drunkest people left at the party. Their talking volume was near a yell and their vocabulary was fifty percent swearing. At two o’clock in the morning, fuck becomes a universal word; noun, verb, adjective, adverb, exclamation mark, a comma. I knew the children were listening because I heard one of them sigh and mutter something about “hot as fuck” as she tried to steal a blanket back from her sister.

Then, at 2:35 a.m., I snapped. I had enough of this adventure called camping and I was done. Maybe it was the fifteen mosquito bites on my abdomen. Maybe it was knowing that some campers would be getting up for the sunrise in four hours and the children would rush out to join them and make me get up too. Maybe it was simply sleep deprivation. Who knows? At any rate, I had enough and jumped up out of bed. The only words I uttered to Supermom were, “Fuck it”. I went and started the van and began systematically loading sleeping children into their car seats. I rolled up anything I thought we might need and threw it into the back. Supermom grabbed the dog and some pillows and barely had the door closed before we pulled out onto the gravel road and headed home. I didn’t give a damn if the fans caught fire and the tent burned to the ground. I was utterly unconcerned with anyone stealing any part of the stuff we left behind. I was done.

I went back to the campsite in the early afternoon of the next day. No one said much and my brother and sister-in-law had packed up most of the stuff for me. They are good people. I loaded everything into the van and brought it home to our garage where it has been sitting ever since.


Every so often, Supermom will mention nice weather and ponder going camping in our tent. I try to smile as the left side of my faces twitches in revolt. Four billion years of evolution of life did not culminate into a species who can overcome every element only to go camping. No thank you.

If you enjoy camping, you are insane and this post is for you. When I want to feel connected to nature I will eat a Cobb Salad. Take a bath hippie. This particular story was by request so Mr. L,  you’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

You’re A Bad Parent

You are a bad parent. Yes you.

You feed your kids crappy food. It may be all they eat but you allow it.

They drink too much juice at bedtime.

They stay up too late.

You use the television to babysit. And it is Spongebob.

You avoid some fun things because you don’t want the stress of managing the swirling mass of kids.

Does one have a saggy diaper that needs to be changed? You probably missed that because you were staring at a smartphone huh?

You forgot to brush their teeth before bed.

Your three year old just said, “Shit!” in context.

Your kid handed you a book at bedtime and you said, “Not tonight, daddy is tired.”

You just made your kid cry for wanting your attention. You are frustrated because they want to spend time with you and you are busy with something stupid. They only want you to look at the picture they just drew for you. It is the two of you holding hands…. I hope you hate yourself. It’s a wonder that your kids don’t already.

I never felt lower. She detailed the 'fist bump'.

That last one really happened and I never felt lower. She even detailed the ‘fist bump’ that we practiced.

What a terrible parent…


These are all things I want to scream at myself from time to time.

I get inside my own head big time. I sincerely hope none of you do this but, I suspect that isn’t true.

Life is such a whirlpool of being late, putting things off, and waking up tired to start it all again the same way. I watch myself being a bad parent and I hear the words that come out of my mouth but somehow it keeps happening. I try to balance the bad with extra effort on the good. Maybe I missed reading a book the night before so I will read two books the next.

I know my self-criticism is too hard but it piles up and I can’t help it. Besides, I look at comment wars on Facebook and I know that someone else is probably saying those things about me anyway.

A true first world problem is that we have the luxury of obsessing over stupid small details.

We took a short vacation recently and managed to slow things down. At first, things seemed like more of the same just at a different address. Then we went to tour a historic area and we managed to spend a beautiful day hanging out and taking things in. I was reminded of how hard life used to be and still is in some places. The area was Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Our first stop was at a log cabin. There was one four sided room with a fireplace on one wall and a door on every other. Just a floor, four walls, and a roof. Made out of trees cut down nearby. There were no marks on the wall where pictures had hung. There was no insulation under the raised floor. It wasn’t wealth or poverty at the time, it was just a house on the edge of the wilderness. The soil wasn’t even good for farming, hence the song “Rocky Top”.

Cozy home with a view.

Cozy home with a view.

We continued on our way and the next stop was a church and a cemetery. This location really sat with me for a while. The girls played on the old piano and the worn pews. Laughing and shouting and being loud. We took a few pictures and walked out the back door and strolled along the edge of the cemetery.

Quiet neighborhood.

Quiet neighborhood.

My wife and I were curious how long people lived in those days so we started reading the dates on the tombstones. More than half of the grave markers were for children. Many of them stillborn and many of the others were under the age of three. What made it worse was that several had the same last name and were in sequential years. Those parents lost children year after year and kept going because staying alive was all they knew how to do. I doubt they discussed name brand versus generic or if harsh chemicals in Desitin were harmful.

Two months in 1906 was all she got. The next stone was her mother who died on September 21, 1906. Nothing about that sounds easy.

Two months in 1906 was all she got.

That night I taught Jane how to play pool. She is really good at aiming and with a little arm length she will probably be a good player. We played completely made up card games.

Leaned too far.

Leaned too far.

The next day we spent our hard earned money on Build-A-Bear animals for each of the girls.

Lady Bug got a stuffed doggy. Worth every cent when she hugged it up and went to sleep.

Lady Bug got a stuffed doggy. Worth every cent when she hugged it up and went to sleep.

We rode a Ferris wheel, played in an arcade, and ate pizza.

Three of those dots are family members who chose not to ride the two hundred foot wheel.

Three of those dots are family members who chose not to ride the two hundred foot wheel.

That night I caught Supermom working a puzzle and the older two even learned to play Stratego. Prima the five year old ballerina is actually a formidable strategic planner. We watched Ernest Scared Stupid and they loved hearing him call a scary troll, “Booger Lips” and “Butt Breath”. I relaxed a little and realized that they are older and smarter than I wanted to admit.

Quality time.

Quality time.

I learned that I might need to work on parts of my parenting but not necessarily the same areas I have been worried about. Enjoying each other and the fact that we live in one of the best times in history. Despite what the media tells us, things are better than they have ever been. We expect kids to live past birth. We worry about organic labeling. We argue if spanking, timeout, or bribery are damaging to fragile egos. How lucky are we?

I get the privilege of putting the girls to bed every night and making sure I pass out kisses and hugs equally. Sometimes one of them will randomly say, “I love you daddy” for no specific reason.

Maybe I’m not the monster I paint myself to be after all. I sincerely hope that nobody else is either. Maybe we should all reach out and congratulate each other once in a while for keeping our kids alive or say, “I noticed your kid owns some clothes, good job.”

Enjoy the view.

Enjoy the view.

For people who are wearing themselves to a nub and feeling like a terrible parent, this post is for you. Slow down even if its just for a day. You’re welcome.

Underdaddy to the rescue.

Cleaning The Shotgun

As a father of many many girls I get the frequent question about “the dating years”. Well, not so much a question as a knowing look down the end of a nose followed by, “You better get your shotgun ready. Keep them boys at bay.”

My lord people. Are we such a violent and harsh society that it takes a threat of force to protect our children and convince teenage boys to think twice about their actions?

Absolutely. Without question.

But I have a better idea. Timing is critical for this idea to work right but if done correctly it will cascade as urban legend down through the years and cover all of my children in a protective blanket of mystery. “Mystery of what?” you say. Mystery of who I am and if I am indeed insane. Convince the first boy that comes around that something is wrong with you and the word will spread like wildfire. Let’s be careful here, I don’t mean something wrong like you wear women’s clothing to go jogging in the rain. Try and stick to upbeat but possibly psychotic under a happy faced disguise. The objective is uncomfortable fear not weird looks.

For example…
Scenario One: A young man is coming to our house to escort our daughter out on her first date. I instruct her to remain inside while I meet this fine young man and assess his mannerisms. She rolls her eyes at my quirky and overbearing nature. I promise to behave.

In anticipation of this day I will have prepared the following; one black garbage bag full of smashed watermelons and one pack of raw ground beef (Allow to sit for two days so flies are bouncing around the inside of the bag.), a fresh four foot hole around the side of the house near the edge of the woods, one dirty shovel.

Prince charming arrives a few minutes early. Two points for punctuality. I walk around the corner to the front of the house as he is getting out of his car. I imagine that I will be slightly sweaty with maybe some dirt smudged on my cheek. He will smile hesitantly and maybe even half wave to acknowledge me. I will stare for a second to increase the awkward, all the while beaming a Sunday church smile. Once the young man looks sufficiently confused I will thrust out my hand and say “Hi! I’m Jane’s father! Really nice to meet you. I know Jane is excited for her date.” He responds politely, “Hello, nice to meet you too sir. Oh yes I am excited too. I really respect Jane for her intellect and solid moral stances.” I’m sure this small talk is all heart felt but the moment will turn as I step up close and place an arm on his shoulder.

“Say, Dan, do you have just a second to help me with something?”

He will say yes, social protocol guarantees it. I will turn and head back around the corner of the house. I will place my dirty shovel on the ground near the freshly dug hole and beckon Dan to come closer. I say, “Grab the corners on that bag, CAREFULLY, you don’t want to bust this.” It will be much funnier to me than him and I will suppress a giggle, “huh hu hu ha ha ugghmm.”

The weight is lumpy and awkward with some mystery liquid sloshing in the bag and giving a half rotten smell. We heft the bag into the hole and I stare at it for a few moments in deep thought. I realize he is still standing nearby and I say, “Hey… Thanks for your help. And don’t tell anyone about this.”

“About what?” He looks confused and concerned.

“Exactly! I like you already!” Then I pick up the shovel and start filling in the hole. I talk over my shoulder as he walks slowly away, “You kids have fun. Don’t be late.”

Hopefully the first thirty minutes of the date will be spent trying to figure out what was in the bag. He may ask Jane what she knows but I refused to tell her earlier so the mystery will build. In fact, I will never mention the incident again. Each new wave of teenagers will carry the legend and try to solve the black bag mystery. Some of them will notice a sunken spot at the edge of the woods. The grass grows well in that spot. Perfect.

All I want is the title. The “crazy dad who buried someone in his yard” has a nice ring. It is like an old horror movie, the unseen is much more terrifying than something that can be visualized.

There may be other psychological warfare games that can produce the same results. Feel free to use any good ideas as your own or send me a better one. I’m open minded. And if you are planning on protecting your daughter’s virtue through intimidation this post is for you. You’re welcome.

Underdaddy to the rescue.

Fair Game

I remember the annual Fair as a magical wonderland of lights, ringing bells, free goldfish, and crazy insane rides. The whole atmosphere was Back-to-School, Christmas, and School Dance all in one. My parents always groaned at the idea and I barely got to go. It felt like all my friends lived at the fair and did fun things without me. My wife says she was never allowed to go, probably a wise move.

This week we took the kids to the Fair and my memory has betrayed me. It is a dirty cul-de-sac of questionable rides with carnies hawking games like souvenir salesmen in Mexico. “Hey buddy. Think you can pop a balloon?” “First toss is free.” “Win the lady a polystyrene timebomb?”

I’m not big on crowded areas and I don’t like solicitation. We can talk all day long but please don’t try to sell me anything.

The kids are amazed by the lights and activity. They bounce around like ping pong balls. Good thing at least one is strapped into a seat. They are begging to ride the rides. Rides seems like the worst description for the rickety moving seats. Why are the kids not cowering in fear? The first ride we try is creepy glowing eyes Donald Duck. The ride was built by Stephen King and might be featured in his new book.

Fun fiberglass duck or possessed demon vessel?

Fun fiberglass duck or possessed demon vessel?

Eventually the child realized she was riding a living nightmare. The meltdown was rapid.

I'll clean my room! I promise!

There isn’t anyone driving this thing!

Well that was fun. What next? Hey how about a ride where you can spin yourself into vomiting. Sure why not? Two kids made uncomfortable, only two more to go.

What else can you ride if you are a small human being? Not much. There was one ride that was off to the side from the rest. I instantly thought of the Zoltar machine from the movie “Big” but in this movie Zoltar was a man-sized rusty food processor looking ride. Must be why it only cost one ticket to ride. The slide was three tickets and it was a slide.



Seriously, look closely at this ride. There are severed electrical lines on metal railing. Rusty I-beams. The seats are possibly giant measuring cups? It is really hard to tell in this picture but only because taking a picture of something evil is usually blurry. If the kid from Toy Story (Sid?) who Frankenstein’d toys grew up to be a carnival mechanic he would build this.

The animals were really cool. The mosquitoes were not. A special thank you to the petting zoo, now my wife has researched Kangaroos and has decided we need one to make our family complete.

Australian Deer

Australian Deer

I reminded her we already have four. In an effort to wear them out I sometimes put a stopwatch on how long they can jump in place. They are competitive little roos and usually burn themselves down to a nub. Don’t judge me, if it works it works.

We saw a magic show with Magic Bob. He was very entertaining but I can’t help but wonder if he is a fugitive from the law, hiding in the Southern equivalent of “running away with the circus.” I can’t blame him. There is a constant supply of Funnel Cakes and interesting people.

Look kids he can pull loneliness out of his hat!

Look kids he can pull loneliness out of his hat!

The lemonade stand girl had a discussion with me about teeth and a phobia of ‘Gators. The gentleman taking tickets at the giant slide said something about, “’Dem kids and dat slide just got ups come down.” I agreed? At three dollars a pop I would think they could afford to employ somewhat sober people but then again drinking may be the only way to deal with other people’s terrible children. One boy rode his brother’s head, on top of a burlap sack, to the bottom of the slide. Not just a head like a murderous psychopath, but sitting on top of him with his butt on his brother’s face. Farmer Fran grumbled something about stupid kids and waved his hands. I vaguely feel like he disapproved.

Cap this off with stepping in fire ants and I am good with going to the Fair for a year or two. Overall we really did enjoy the experience and the company was great. The majesty was a little faded but what doesn’t grow weary with time?

I did get fun pictures too.



Camel Toe

Camel Toe

Sorry I had to.

If you don’t want to go to the Fair and needed to experience it through someone else. You’re welcome.

Underdaddy to the rescue.