A Father’s Day Tribute

These Boys Have to Grow Up Sometime… by Jim Proebstle

There is a lot of concern about raising kids today, especially with drugs, weirdoes and perverts that may bring harm to our most precious gifts.  It’s understandable.

“Back in the day,” God, do I sound old, but things were different then.  We grew up more quickly with an emphasis on independent thinking and being able to take care of yourself.  Take this story, for example, and try to find its equivalent in 2012 as to how a father’s own sense of adventure had an impact on his son’s creativity.

In May of 1960, myself and most of my buddies were about to turn sixteen.  We were men, or so we thought, fresh off a successful football season in Canton, OH.  At the time we were a little out of control, pushing the envelope with mishaps and trouble, but basically good kids.  More importantly, we were about to get our licenses.  There were no formalities, just pass the written and driving tests and you were “good to go.”

This whole idea of driving had nothing but adventure written all over it from my point of view, so Bill, Bruce, Larry and I decided to capitalize.  We wanted to take a road trip—three fifteen year olds about to turn sixteen and one sixteen year old.  Fortunate for us, I grew up with a father who, while stern, loved adventure.  His love for camping and the outdoors was stimulated by his boyhood in Cass Lake, MN and put him in the league of Crockett and Boone.  Our plan was simple.  I would make an appeal to my dad that we wanted to go camping.  I knew in later years, like when I was sixteen or seventeen, that if I used the word camping in any sentence with my dad, I was likely to get a “Yes.”  For example, if I asked to go to Cleveland and raise hell with my friends for the weekend I was very likely to get a “No” and not see the light of day for the rest of the weekend.  If, however, I asked to borrow the second car and family tent to go camping with my buddies at a state park on Lake Erie near Port Clinton, this would pass muster all day.  He was a good father, just not always tuned into the big picture—namely the campground was ten miles away from Catawba and Cedar Point where we could raise hell and chase girls.

Back to the story—in Ohio you needed to have a permanent driver, namely one who was licensed and sixteen, in the car with you as a fifteen year-old driver with a temporary permit.  Armed with this knowledge I approached my dad.

“Dad, some of my buddies on the football team and I have an idea that sounds like fun.”

“What is it, Jimmy?”

“Well, it involves camping, but our plan is to be gone until a week from Sunday.”  That was when my mom stopped washing the dishes to give full attention to our little talk.

“That’s eight days from now.”  He paused, but I could see the gleam in his eye.  He continued.  “What’s your plan?”

I explained that we had picked out a state park named Raccoon Creek in WV about one hundred and twenty miles away, closer to Pittsburg than he calculated.

“Who’s going to drive?”

“Well, that’s why Bill, Bruce and I need your permission to use our car.”  We were the only ones to have two cars so the request made sense.

“None of you have turned sixteen, yet…you need a driver with a permanent permit.”

It was time to play my ace-in-the-hole.  “Larry is sixteen.  He’s going, too,” I said.  Larry happened to be the one kid that every parent trusted—what a great cover.

“I don’t think this is a very good idea, Len,” my mother interrupted with an authoritative tone while twisting her apron.

He paused, and then looked me straight in the eye.  Paused again and turned to my mom and said, “These boys have to grow up sometime.”

Can you imagine today (2012) giving a car to four kids of our age for an eight day “camping trip” with no contact, cell phone check-ins, or adult supervision?  Nuts, right?  Maybe, but that’s when we started to grow up.  That’s when I started to imagine possibilities, not just with the girls we met, but with everything around me.  I was lucky enough to have a father who encouraged me to take responsibility for growing up.  The freedom of thinking that I was encouraged to develop as a teenager definitely helps me be a better writer today!

Happy Father’s Day to every dad with a teenage son trying to become young men.