Camp Dad: A week's worth of learning to take it easy

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Camp Dad launched, not unexpectedly, as a result of standard #daaad-level buffoonery.

Last July, tasked with securing a place at summer camp for my then-9-year-old and then-6-year-old, I completely missed a week. Didn't register them. Flat-out forgot.

The evening before the camp week was to start, I was frantically surfing through camp option after camp option -- the ones the kids wanted to do were sold out (or way too pricey for our budget).

I was consulting at the time and able to take the week off from work (a luxury a lot parents don't have, short of investing their own vacation time). So partly out of desperation, partly out of price-sensitivity, partly out of the creative challenge and partly out of blissful ignorance, I decided at 11 that night to create my own camp -- a week's worth of fun and creativity, directed by me.

Another summer Saturday morning at the parkour gym for Gabe and Jonah.

A photo posted by Dan Shanoff (@danshanoff) on

The kids would have no idea what's coming -- in large part, neither did I. I gave myself a budget of slightly less than what I would have spent on "normal" camp for them to cover a week of programming and started making a list of activities we'd normally never do.

The next morning, I didn't tell them what we were doing or where we were going, but it started with a surprise trip to the bulk-candy store. The kids' jaws dropped -- then were stuffed with the kind of absurd candy I'd never typically let them have. Camp Dad was so on.

I knew "regular dad" Dan Shanoff could never handle the kind of fun that "Camp Dad director" Dan Shanoff, so I channeled a muse: Tripper Harrison, Bill Murray's seminal camp-counselor character from "Meatballs," the greatest summer-camp movie of all time. If you have never seen the pivotal "It... Just... Doesn't... Matter!" speech by Murray, this succinctly showcases my inspiration.

*Candy overdose? It just doesn't matter!

*Chuck E. Cheese? It just doesn't matter!

*Sketchy water park 40 miles away? It just doesn't matter!

*Quasi-harrowing parkour lessons? It just doesn't matter!

*Abandoning bedtime routines by binge-watching all six "Star Wars" movies over six nights? It just doesn't matter!

There was more -- so much more. Ice skating. Being the only non-family members at the local high school varsity basketball summer league games. Pizza. Ice cream sundaes. Screen time on all of the apps I'd never normally let them use. Every day was filled with new adventures. The kids had no idea what was coming but approached every day with a glee like I had never seen before.

At the end of the week, both kids said it was the best week of their lives. And if I'm being honest with myself -- no offense to the attendees at my wedding or the folks who helped deliver our children -- it was the best week of my life, too.

I could attribute their (and my) enthusiasm to the epic lineup of fun activities that I barraged them with -- what parent doesn't want to see their kids having such a great time or get feedback like "This was the best week ever, Dad!"

But as I figure out what kinds of fun activities I am staking out for this summer, I realize it wasn't the mayhem -- it was my mentality.

What mattered most was "It just doesn't matter."

When I fully embraced that idea, all typical parenting pressures evaporated in the July sunshine. I wasn't "Dad" -- I was Bill Murray's "Tripper Harrison." The kids were relaxed. Heck, I was relaxed, despite the overload of activities and sensory inputs. (I even had patience at Chuck E. Cheese -- what bigger testimony could there be?)

I'm not sure I can live the Camp Dad lifestyle all the time -- it was summer, I took the week off, it was all new for the kids (and me). There were a lot of things that made it unique.

But applying even a little "It Just Doesn't Matter" to my life worked wonders, and I had as much fun as the kids did. We may or may not have another year of Camp Dad this summer, but there is nothing stopping me -- or any of us -- from easing up just enough to make the summer more awesome.

Dan Shanoff writes about parenting for espnW. Continue this conversation on Twitter by following him at @danshanoff or by liking espnW's Facebook page.