It started as a daddy-daughter camping trip back in 1990. My Uncle Jeff and two of his best friends – who had spent a sizable chunk of their younger years hiking and backpacking and camping – took their daughters to a campground on a small inland lake and spent a few days eating and drinking and laughing, passing on the camping gene to the next generation.
When my dad was invited to take my sister the following year, he said that he’d love to come but that there was one condition for his attendance: he’d need to bring me, too. So, with only one element of the nuclear family left out of the picture, the resulting name was obvious and a long-standing tradition was underway. Other dads and their kids have joined and left the trip, but the core group, and the name we’ve adopted, remains the same. We are No Moms Allowed.
Twenty-five years later and the NMA annual camping trip is still going strong. Though my work/vacation schedule means that I’m back home already, a number of campers are still at the edge of Lake Michigan sitting around a fire or playing bocce ball. The trip proper – our silver anniversary trip, no less – ends Wednesday.
Over the years our destination has been fluid – we’ve stayed at state campgrounds all across Michigan and we’ve even had a few return stays, including our 2014 destination near Muskegon. And while we spend a little less time at the beach than we did when we kids were young and water-obsessed we still tend to stay on the Great Lakes (a tradition that started three or four years in).
Our attendance has grown and shifted over the years, too. These days, with the kids (and I should note that even though I’m married and approaching 30, I – and the rest of my generation – are still considered kids to the dads) scattered by school and work and typically hard pressed to take a full week off, we tend to have campers coming and going throughout the trip. Our peak attendance reached 23 this year – not as high as we’ve ever been (we once approached 30) but a solid figure all the same.
And yet, for all that’s changed – and Lord knows that over the past 25 years we’ve all changed quite a bit as individuals – much of the trip remains the same. Though the chairs around it have been broken and replaced over the years, the fire – that symbol of man’s deep history – is still our center, our focus. The fire didn’t always provide enough space for everything, though, and so a long time ago we added a tarpaulin canopy that functions as something of a mess hall, a place to eat and cook and play euchre into the night. We’ve still got that, too.
More importantly, though, we’ve still got one another. It sounds sappy, but it’s true. The personal bonds you make are the most important part of any tradition like this – more important that the smell of the fire, the sound of the lapping waves, or the taste of the late-night hot dog (although that last one is a close second). The dads have seen one another through everything that life can throw at you in 25 years: new kids, new jobs, and new wives. And the kids have all known one another as long as we’ve known anyone. In the end, though only some of the NMA crew are bound by blood, we’re all family.
And I’m already looking forward to next year.