There are certain junctures in life as one emerges from girl to woman or boy to man where one finds themselves in a middle ground between adolescence and full adulthood. A person is perhaps in a place of leadership and yet they are forever the child to their parents. One of the lessons I am learning now that my own kids are in their 20s, is the axiom that you never stop being a parent.
At the camp I worked at, the junior staff had varying degrees of relationships with their families. Many went back to the city on weekends; others had family cabins — what we refer to as cottages — in proximity to the camp. My objective during the three years I was on senior staff was to spend every possible moment on the camp property. Summers are short in Canada and what we call “cottage country” in Ontario is beautiful, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.
In my first and third years there I was able to accomplish this. But in the middle year, I had to return to the city to complete some obligations I had with the individual who was employing me through the fall and winter months; the first time to catch a train for a week Winnipeg, the second time to catch a flight for eight days in England.
At all other times though, I was happy to spend my time at camp, and missing home never entered my head.
On the other hand though, while it was rare for me as a senior staff member to meet the parents of our other 160+ staff, my own parents had their own relationship with this particular ministry organization. This camp had in previous years got themselves in some trouble with various levels of government concerning reporting procedures, which is a nice way of saying they hadn’t filed any paperwork for over a year. People were paid, taxes on accommodation were collected, but the federal and provincial (i.e. state) revenue departments weren’t seeing a penny of it, and they were threatening to shut the whole operation down.
That’s where my father stepped in. For Americans reading this, keeping your tax information in a shoebox and reporting certain deductible items on an honor system may be common, but here in Canada shoebox type accounting doesn’t make the cut, especially at a business or charity level. So over many months my dad did the forensic accounting needed and implemented systems where each department had a cost code and the government started smiling again. The accounting supervisor he hired and trained works there to this day.
For this reason, he and my mother often showed up at camp — there was even a designated cabin for them to stay in — but because I never called home, I never knew they were coming until they had already arrived. “Your parents are here;” someone would inform me; to which I would reply, “Okay, thanks;” and carry on with whatever I was doing.
So now we return to the meat of this discussion as outlined in the first paragraph above.
One summer the director, having served in ministry in Africa, thought the best way for us as senior staff to get around the property would be to purchase a “fleet” of four gas powered minibikes; what I think were called mopeds at the time. They certainly were convenient, and we kept the keys where the campers would never find them. (I’ll skip the story of the day I let a camper ride on my back and we hit a giant hole in the middle of a field and were both thrown off the thing.)
On a particular afternoon, I was riding one of the bikes back to the main office, when at the same moment my parents were arriving from the parking lot. My mother had no idea the camp had even purchased the bikes, didn’t know I knew how to ride one, and totally freaked out, speaking loudly over the sound of the bike’s engine, “Paul! What are you doing? Get off that motorcycle!”
I know those were her words because there were just enough staff members around to hear it that it became associated with me for about a week. Even junior staff who were on their day off that afternoon were walking up to me saying, “Paul! What are you doing? Get off that motorcycle?”
To her credit, I learned many years later that there was some story in her family involving her brother and a motorcycle — a real one, not a little dirt bike — which may have instilled some fear in her. To my credit, I shut off the engine, told her not to worry, started the engine again, and drove off…
…Even when you have your own children, you never stop being your own parent’s child. Furthermore, you never know when parental instincts are going to kick in, even in that moment where you are in a leadership position and don’t see the potentially lethal moment of embarrassment sneaking up on you.
Still, I hope I never do that to my own kids. That’s why I don’t have Facebook. I can’t comment on their status updates or photos. I can let them be themselves as they jettison childhood and embrace adulthood, right?
Well, not entirely. Because the axiom is true, you really never stop being a parent.