During one of the keynotes at this year’s Dad 2.0, the speaker quoted Mark Twain:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

We were beginning our Sunday morning hike along the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve when our guide mentioned that we may be able to see whales just 3-4 “waves back” from the shore.  “Is that why San Diego means ‘Whale’s Vagina’?” I asked.  He couldn’t respond.

That’s how my 4-day weekend in San Diego concluded.

The trip started when I deboarded the plane Thursday morning  in my “Mary Go Round” pants and hopped in a car with Carter, John, Aaron, and MJ to see the sea lions in La Jolla Cove.  I was meandering down the sidewalk, happily sipping my water and enjoying the cool ocean mist when two strange women with iphones asked to photograph my backside for a “friend who just wrote a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe,” so I let them.  And then Aaron captured the moment himself.

After lunch near the sea lions, we went to the Hyatt Regency La Jolla, got registered, and spent several hours at Drift, the hotel bar/restaurant.

The conference began the next morning, and we heard the first-person account of making a 2-week-long trip hidden in a container on a ship from west Africa to the U.S. to escape persecution and start a new life (a trip he had to make twice, as the first time resulted in deportation, so it was actually 4 weeks hidden in a locked container on a ship).

Then, the sessions started.  This year’s programming was different in a few ways.  There were more talks led by one person, instead of panels.  I didn’t see any “live bloggers” in the sessions (which I used to think was an odd practice, but after being one for several years, I liked knowing I could get CliffsNotes from sessions I couldn’t see while sitting in one scheduled simultaneously), which made deciding what to attend or not attend a struggle.  The ones I chose were good, but I didn’t seem to have as many takeaways as I have had in the past.  That could be a change in programming, or could have very well been because…well, the days leading up to this trip were hard.

Two friends died just before I left for San Diego.  One was a friend from home who was a couple years younger than me, worked with my younger brother, and appears to have taken his own life.  The other was a few years older than me and was part of a small group of 8 I was in through our church; we’d met weekly for about 2 years, up until a year or so ago.  He got cancer and quickly died from it.

Neither was anyone I talked to frequently or recently, but knowing they were gone upset me a good bit. I looked at Dad 2.0 2017 as a way to get away from things, which is probably why I awoke at 4am on the day of the flight.  It wasn’t a great mindset for trying to learn or engage.

At the end of the first day, we had an outstanding steak dinner hosted by the good folks at Kia, whom I’ve enjoyed getting to know over the years (and whose cars I’ve gotten to know on our various road trips).   Then, there was a “Dad Voices” event in which folks read a meaningful blog post out loud to a room full of their peers.  It last 3.5 hours and was a powerful experience to both reader and audience, as nearly every reader picked a very personal and emotional topic to cover in his post.  I read a story I wrote in 2008 about my last night at work as the rat at Chuck E Cheese restaurant, when I squeezed a kid’s hand so tightly that he cried.

The next day, I’d planned to get up and join everyone for a run in our new athletic gear from Russell Athletic, but it was raining out, and my head hurt, so I loaded a plate full of eggs and bacon and sat near the folks who’d run instead.

We attended more sessions, and the Hadrian’s Wall walkers got to go on stage during an announcement about the new Camp Kesem chapter we helped fund, and after lunch, Lance, Kevin, and I decided to take the Kia Niro on a test drive across the bridge to Coronado Island.

I did more riding than driving, but the car was quite nice, as was the company.

I attended Carter’s session in which people got angry at each other over political differences and then heard the closing keynote which inspired me to want to do more traveling and exploring (I’ve since bought 7 plane tickets!). That night, a bunch of us stayed up til 3am in the outdoor courtyard by a fire pit. I think I insulted Dave with my incredulous reaction to his academic credentials (but when your blog has the word “idiot” in it, should you really be surprised?).

Sunday morning, it was time to pack up, hike along the Pacific, and fly east.

In retrospect, my favorite moments from this year’s Summit were at meals and gatherings around the fire pit, sharing stories and laughs.  There were fewer shenanigans this year, but there was more listening. And if travel is fatal to bigotry and narrow-mindedness, how much more is travel, followed by civil conversation with folks whose backgrounds and viewpoints vary from yours?

Next year’s Summit is in New Orleans, and is during my Reserves weekend, but I bought a ticket anyway.  Just to make sure I’m adequately familiar with the city, I’m going next week for my 9th Mardi Gras.  I’ll be sure and report my objective findings soon.

My bride convinced me to register as a potential chaperone for our 5th grader’s field trip a few months ago, and I forgot about it, because she said lots of folks register for this privilege, but what I shouldn’t have forgotten is that I’m really lucky and win stuff from drawings all the time, so when I found out I was going, I had much to shift in my work schedule to make it happen.  But, on Wednesday morning at 545am, we arrived at her school to board the buses headed southeast.

Tybee is a barrier island just east of Savannah and south of Hilton Head. We stayed at a 4-H center that was like a campground, but on a marsh.  There were cabins that resembled little open bay barracks, but we chaperones had a separate room with our own bathroom (but still had a bunk bed to share–I got the bottom one).

During the day, we learned about marsh ecology, beach ecology, invertebrates, and orienteering.  At night, we returned to the beach for a guided walk that included gazing at myriad stars, hearing stories about pirates, and spending time silently listening to the waves scooting toward us.

We also visited Fort Pulaski and toured its grounds, which was great, except for the continuous whining from one boy about how badly he had to pee (once his eyes were full of tears, and he was lying on his side like a fetus from the pain in his bladder, I reluctantly agreed to escort him to the visitor center restrooms after a “Didn’t you hear the guide tell everyone to use the restroom before we left?” admonition).

After our muddy marsh walk, I decided that the brown leather Columbia hiking boots I bought with my dad during a trip home to Nashville shortly after college graduation should stay with the camp for future use by marsh walkers.  It was a somewhat hard decision, as I’m a sentimental kinda guy, but the boots were nasty, and I didn’t want to clean them up to put them back in my suitcase.  Also, I bought new waterproof Merrells last spring for our Hadrian’s Wall walk and really don’t like duplicity in my wardrobe (our closet’s not that big).  I bid them farewell and smiled at the thought that they’d live on to protect future hikers from sticky black marsh mud and that, maybe, just maybe, they’d be there for my feet if I come back with my 2nd grade boy in 3 years).

On the bus ride home (like the bus ride there), I got to sit with my 5th grader, which was going to be 4 hours of bonding and creating memories we’d cherish for the rest of our lives when I pictured this trip in my head, but instead it was 4+ hours of watching movies at about 130 decibels as I tried to focus on the emails I needed to respond to via my ipad.  When I got home, I immediately ordered wireless, noise cancelling Bose headphones that I will never ever leave home without, ever.

Despite the loud bus rides and the unruly cabin full of 10-year-old boys my co-chaperone and I had to try and quiet each night (I was “good cop”), I loved going on this trip.  I love that I have enough control over my schedule to leave for 3 days during the work week.  I love how sweet, kind, considerate, and innocent most of these little 5th graders are in their last year of elementary school, and how much fun it was to watch them get excited about coastal biology and ecology.  I love exploring a new part of the state I’ve called home since 1997 and learning how diverse its topography can be.  I loved all the free coffee.

When people ask when was the happiest time of my life, I never hesitate before saying 5th through 7th grades, but getting to experience this time with our children as they enter this same time frame is pretty close to being as good.  I can’t wait for the next few months and years.

Just the other day, the postman brought 4 bags of potato soup mix from Idahoan® Foods to try, so I partnered with Life of Dad and the good Idahoans to turn my backyard into a kickass steakhouse with outdoor seating.

We started with boiling water on the stove.

Then, I poured in the potato soup.

The children volunteered to make it into a romantic evening and served as hostess, server, and sommelier. They made name tags and menus, and they set the speakers to the “Symphonic Classical” Pandora station.

It was as nice as a card table on a backyard patio could be.

My boy insisted on heavy pours of the Pinot and then started asking about next year’s Christmas presents before I slowed his roll.

They were most proud of their service, as I was most proud of how the pork chops and soup turned out.

Once we sat down to eat, the fruits of my labor were enjoyed by the fruits of my loins.  It was beautiful.  I’d arrived as the #KingofSoup.

Thanks to Idahoan® Foods for sponsoring this evening, my 10, 8, and 6 year olds for servicing it,  and to Mother Nature for providing the January warm front that made an outdoor dining experience viable!  If you want this for your backyard or kitchen, go to Idahoan.com or follow @IdahoanFoods on social media.