Ty’s Take | Recognizing Our Sons

I’ve heard from quite a few parents that they hardly recognize their sons in some of the photos we post. Sure, the boys are looking tan, thanks to mostly our good weather so far. And maybe even a little stronger and bigger. We’ve had no shortage of physical activity. And, as you know, there’s something special about Kawaga that leads to growth.

Even after Rookie Camp, one of these young campers told his mom that he’s taller in just two weeks! She smiled, so happy that her son was feeling taller based on his first Kawaga experience. But he persisted – and showed her that his head is now above his mom’s shoulder. Yep, there’s something in the air up here!

Parents, your sons’ Kawaga experience – and every year of it – is formative. They return home from camp perhaps not only looking a little different also but feeling different about themselves – they feel more capable, more confident, and more caring. Just think about what our CITs go through on their Boundary Waters wilderness trip. I don’t think there’s ever been a camper who hasn’t recognized how this experience has positively impacted how he views themselves and the world. This trip of a lifetime not only changes campers’ appreciation of nature, but also of friendship and challenge.

A few families have used the word “manhood” to describe how their son has changed based on his Kawaga experience. I think, it’s more about growing into themselves than changing who they fundamentally are. So, yes, there may be a difference in how your boys look in the photos we post after being at camp for only a few weeks, as they develop new friendships and capabilities. Maybe it’s not quite “send a boy to Kawaga, get back a man.” But your sons will grow in unexpectedly wonderful ways from each Kawaga summer.

You’ve seen your son every day of the past school year – through all the trials and challenges of 2020/21. Now, there’s some separation, and your sons are continuing their journey without you being physically present for them. You blink, and they grow up. I’m seeing it with our own kids, who are younger than your boys. Shay is water skiing, Vaughn is swimming in the lake, and Dane just celebrated his 3rd birthday at camp. Hold on tight to these moments, parents. They’re fleeting but oh so special. Your boys are growing up in good, healthy ways.

We had such a gorgeous 4th of July – with hot weather, so we got to spend lots of time in the water. I heard several campers remark that it was the “greatest 4th ever”! Yes, one thing that you’ll hear from your sons is this sort of comparative context about their Kawaga years. Each summer becomes part of their personal history; they grow from the experiences, while never forgetting the lessons, their friends, and the all-out fun.

I can hardly believe we’re already in Week 3. Yes, the weeks fly by, but fortunately, the days feel appropriately long. We’re now only a week away from the Kawaga Spectacular, one of the programming highlights of the summer. So, we like to be very deliberate about this week that leads into this special event. It’s our final “typical Kawaga week” of the session. So, this week is about growing individual connections in and outside of the cabin. These are blossoming friendships that will last a lifetime. I think Tuesday’s rain was well timed. It gave us a bit of a break from the heat to allow us to spend more time just being together. Everybody’s now well rested, excited for what’s to come.

As I typically do after “rounds,” last night I hung out on the Hill with our Group 1 campers, just talking. One of these 15-year-olds asked me what year this is for me as Kawaga’s Director. I told him that I began my first summer as Director was 2017, when these guys were in our second-youngest group. Fast-forward five years, and they’re among our oldest and will be team captains in the upcoming Spectacular. They talked about how they’ve grown up together, not apart.

Those were a special 15 minutes. Parents, I get so much out of these talks each evening, hearing your sons’ perspectives and feeling so good about what they say, who are they are, and how they’re growing.

Be Proud. Be Kawaga.