Family Man®: Grounded
By Gregory Keer

“Daddy, you promised to take us to Hawaii,” Jacob says as we watch a TV program about island habitats.

“One day soon,” I tell him.

“You’re lying,” he responds in a huff. “You’ve been saying that for 20 years.”

“You’re only 6,” I answer. “You haven’t been alive long enough for me to lie to you that often.”

Scowling at me, he turns off the TV.

“What’d you do that for?” I ask.

“I’m not going to Hawaii, so I don’t want to see it,” he says, stomping out of the room.
Such problems. I feed him, clothe him, keep him up to his eyeballs in his beloved art supplies. And it all comes down to a broken pledge to take him to a place most people only dream about.

I follow him to his room where he is writing a note with a picture of a palm tree and the words, “I hate Daddy. Love, Jacob Keer.” At least he signs it with affection.

“We still have to make a plan to go on our father-son trip,” I offer.

“Unless we’re going to Hawaii, I don’t want to talk about it,” he growls.

“I was thinking someplace closer,” I counter. “Someplace we can drive to.”

“Are you telling me we don’t have enough money to take a plane?”

I wince at this question, but it’s the one Jacob always seems to ask because he’s the family budget expert. He’s the one who asks, “How much can I spend here?” when we visit a store. He’s the kid who offers to split his meal with someone when we go out to eat. And he’s the first to tap into his personal savings if I say, “That’s too expensive for us, right now.”

Which is exactly what Jacob does as I fumble for an answer to his affordability question. He pulls five crumpled dollars from his “drawer of treasures.” (He’s got everything in there from favorite rocks to candy he thinks I don’t know he has.)

“I can give you extra if you pay me to clean the house,” he says earnestly.
While I am impressed by my son’s understanding that vacations cost money and that cash needs to be earned, I’m not ready to explain to him that flying to exotic locales takes a bit more than a 6-year-old – or his father – can handle.

We are certainly fortunate in having a comfortable lifestyle, afforded by our two-working-parent household. But the current economy has been squeezing us everywhere from the grocery bill (milk for three boys is a fortune) to the cost of utilities (we use less energy and pay more). Then there are those gas prices! It’d be nice to save gas by using mass transit or walking (we’re trying both), but shuttling everyone for the basic school and work stuff has us spending a significant percentage of our monthly budget on liquid gold.

Largely because of fuel prices, we’ve thus far taken a single, one-night road trip in the past 12 months. And airfares, themselves rising because of oil prices, have prevented us from flying with our kids for the last five years. On one of my recent price checks, I discovered that flying a family of five to a moderately distant destination could cost $1,800. Hawaii? Try a minimum of $1,000 per person, depending on where you start your journey.

Still, my wife and I believe strongly in the bonding power of vacationing with our children. So we’ve committed to return to family camp – and the credit card debt that accompanies it – at a site two hours away from home yet miles apart from our usually busy lives.

As I sit with my middle son, who so passionately wants a tropical adventure, I remind him, “This is the first year that you and I get to do the parent-child overnight at camp.”
Jacob cheers up a little. “Yeah, and that can be our father-son trip.”

I’m still hoping to take him for a separate getaway, but it seems that we’ve all become more grounded this year, in more ways than one.

Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of three boys.

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