Dad’s Corner: Happy Campers

By Peter Könnicke

People say a father-son outdoor vacation is important, a chance for father and son to bond while camping in nature, eating out of cans, lighting campfires, having father-son-conversations. So this past summer, I suggested the idea to my nine-year-old son. For my son, however, this idea became convincing only after I further suggested having the camping adventure before and after a visit to an amusement park. On the way to the amusement park, we would have a stopover at a campground, then we would spend a whole day with loops, wild water rides and Spongebob Squarepants 4D, and then on the way home we would stay another night in the tent.

I thought our adventure would begin right away, with the sort of peak experience of the open road you see in the movies. We soon realized, however, that those movies probably aren’t filmed on a 300-mile stretch of the Autobahn. Nor do they usually include coming upon big, sweaty, grimy truck drivers with their toiletries bags in the men’s room of a highway service station. We were happy to get to our campground and find that it was situated next to a little river. Unfortunately, it was also situated below the highway, and we soon saw a few familiar faces from the service station’s bathroom. We looked for a more remote place where we could put our tent up.

While I got the sleeping bags, mattresses and tent out of the car, my son was testing the river’s depth.

“I can’t stand here anymore,” he said after only a few steps.

“Great,” I said absent-mindedly as I tried to work out the rather complicated system of tent poles.

“The water is so warm,” he called.


“Dad,” he called. ”What’s that over there?”

I looked up and saw a huge chimney blowing purple-white smoke into the sky. Our campground was situated right next to a power station. No wonder the water was so warm and that you didn’t have to pay extra for a hot shower. This was pure nature!

I think that kids can learn a lot when setting up a tent: skill, strength, logical thinking and laws of nature. For example, we discussed the pegs.

“You put them into the ground at an angle,” I explained.


“Because then they’re more firmly in the ground.”


“Because they don’t come loose so easily.“


“Well, just have a close look, then you’ll see why!”

After about 15 minutes, our tent was set up. We bent the poles and pushed and pulled until the tent had the right upwards bent and everything was pulled so tightly that it was impossible to come down. Quite an effort, I would say.

A good campground has to have a minigolf course. Our campground had one, and we decided to play a round before it got dark. The first two holes were easy, so I was able to explain how to hold the golf club and how to set up in the right stance. Now , it’s not that I play golf regularly. In fact, I have never done so. But I have seen it on television a few times, and beyond that, I like the film “Tin Cup,” in which Kevin Costner explains to Rene Russo how to stand and swing correctly.

For a nine-year-old, however, a golf club is way too long, so it was impossible for him to put my theoretical instructions into practice. After the first two holes, I had a five-stroke lead over my son. His judgment: “That’s mean!”

I tried to motivate him: “Come on, there are 13 holes to go, and a lot can happen.” And it did: my son completed the most difficult passages without any concerns. While I was thinking where to hit the ball with the club, my son was just giving it a go without too much thought. Our golf balls passed through little tunnels, passed by obstacles, rolled over hills, through curves and little caves. At the end my son needed only 94 strokes, whereas I needed 98.

The night in the tent was great. So, too, was the amusement park the next day: eight hours, back and forth from one roller coaster to the next. It was already very dark when we arrived at the next campground.

“Come on, we’ll set the tent up in a new record time,“ I encouraged him.

“Okay,” he said yawning.

We needed half an hour—I had mixed up the poles. I had used a short instead of a long one, so that it was impossible to set up the tent. My son gave his best and bent, pulled and pushed, without success. He was close to crying; he was tired.

When we finally lay in the tent happily, we came to an agreement: Next time we arrive at a campground that late, he can stay in the car and sleep while I set up the tent. He will then be responsible for taking the tent down.

“Alright,“ he said. “But you have to pull out the pegs.“


“Because they are so tight in the ground.“


“Because they are covered by so much earth if you put them in the ground at an angle and set up the tent right.”

Wait—was my son showing a little pride in his father? I think we will go camping again next summer.

This article was written by Take The Magic Step™ team member Piet Könnicke, a writer for a newspaper in Potsdam , Germany and a lifelong runner.