Don’t be stuck with a case of the coulda, woulda, shouldas once your little boy is all grown up. We’ve compiled the ultimate list of five things every dad must do with his son.
ALL FATHER-SON RELATIONSHIPS ARE DIFFERENT, and, therefore, so are the many bonding rites that take place within them. Some go to ball games together or test ride every roller coaster from coast to coast. Others bowl, fly-fish, shop for cordless Milwaukee Sawzalls, field-dress elks or remove stumps from the backyard.
All of those activities are well and good, but in my eight years of being a father, I’ve compiled what I call the Paternal Bucket List — five crucial, admittedly subjective, one-on-one, leisurely life experiences that all fathers need to complete with their sons before Junior is off doing other things with cooler people. So, when should you start? With Father’s Day coming on June 20, now seems as good a time as any. What’s most important is that you finish. I’m still working on that myself.
1. GET IN THE GAME
When I was a kid playing ice hockey in Toronto, there were two types of hockey dads: the ones pacing behind the bench like Scotty Bowman and the ones nodding off in the back row of the bleachers. Thirty-odd years later, that old peewee-sports dichotomy remains among fathers of skate- and cleat-wearing kids.
A couple years ago, my son entered a soccer league that depended entirely on parental volunteers. Because the thought of plunging into the chaos of 6-year-old ball-dribbling exercises wasn’t my first choice at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, I let someone else sign up to be coach. I skirted around the assistant coach position, too, clutching my foldout chair like an Elmo doll. “We could use a ref,” the volunteer commissioner said, looking in my general direction.
The next Saturday morning, while running up and down the field in a striped yellow jersey with a whistle in my mouth, I had one of those Green Eggs and Ham moments. I quite like this, I thought. So did my son. Two years later, I look forward to games more than he does — and definitely more than all those foldout-chair dads stuck in how-was-your-week small-talk hell with each other. “Are you reffing today?” my son asks me. “Yup,” I tell him. “Yessss!” he says, pumping his fist. How sweet it is.
2. ROUGH IT IN THE WILD
One day, when I was about 10 years old, my father decided to take me on an overnight canoe trip. It was a pretty unlikely move for a busy ophthalmologist. Same went for my two uncles (a psychiatrist and an accountant) who joined us with my two cousins. The whole thing seemed like a setup for some Borscht Belt joke: “A shrink, a CPA and an eye doctor go camping in the woods with their sons … ”
But there we were, a trio of fathers with their sons in Ontario’s lovely Killarney Provincial Park, getting mauled by horseflies, eating crummy freeze-dried food under a field of constellations and lying awake beside silhouettes of lanky pines while being serenaded by howling loons and my uncle Leonard’s snoring. A few days later, we drove home and talked keenly about escaping into the woods together again soon, which we never did.
Recently, my dad brought up that camping trip. “That was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?” he asked. Yeah, it was, I said. It was 30 years ago. My dad and I haven’t camped together since, but I know he’s thankful we logged at least one vision quest together in the great outdoors before I moved 3,000 miles away and started reminiscing with him on iChat about the good old days. So am I.