One of the things my own father has taught me is that guilt and regret are the two most useless motivators for anything--the very antithesis of the "Cat's in the Cradle" message--and so you do things for your own reasons. You tell yourself, "Take it easy," you do the best you can, and if that's not enough, you tell the world and your kids, "Sorry you got mad."
And then you see what happens. As I write this, my arms and legs are riddled with mosquito bites, my pores are sunburned and clogged with bug spray, sweat, and lake water. I've just returned from two days of camping with my nine-year-old son and 70 of his closest friends. It is very quiet where I am, here in the rubber room where camp chaperones go to recover.
But don't cry for me; I volunteered for the gig--and no, not to avoid being stood up by my son in some restaurant 30 years from now. That's not reason enough to scrunch yourself up on a bus full of crazed, atonal singers whose favorite song is "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." It isn't enough to make you sift through mud for bugs, or frighten children with starlight stories about the haunted house you grew up in. You don't do these things because you feel guilty, or because some book or columnist told you how to be a good dad.
You do it because you like to attack and sink other canoes; because you find the sight of bug-eyed, wide-mouthed kids looking for frogs, snakes, and turtles to be miraculous; because you like the first crunch of a perfectly blackened s'more in your mouth around a campfire; because the sound of a bunch of boys swapping insults in their bunks is a better song than anything Harry Chapin ever came up with, and because on the way home you like the way your son's hand feels in yours, the way his head rests in your lap, and because at some point you realize that no matter how busy you are, you really have nothing better to do.