The difference is that I was the overprotective father, the guy who, fifteen years ago, carried the baby monitor from room to room to make sure that if she uttered a peep, I’d be there to hear it. Now I was the guy who was willing to send her off to Central America for three weeks, to Nicaragua, a country whose only association I had was with the Sandanistas and the legendary Clash album of the same name (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the musical reference. It’s a weak point of mine).
The group of eighteen teenagers worked in El Sauce, a city in the North Pacific section of the country, and Moyogalpa, a town on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The community service involved planting trees to restore the Reserva Madronos nature reserve, painting a children’s nursery, and laying the foundation for walls that would protect a village’s water supply. While the teens labored, the local villagers brought the group food. I was stunned to learn that the same kid who rarely ventured beyond pizza or ribs at home ate what the villagers offered.
On a day spent at a local farm, my daughter milked cows and held chickens. When I remarked my surprise, she told me that I couldn’t have cut it there. Perhaps that was true, perhaps not, but more importantly, I felt a glow that my daughter, firmly planted in a cushy suburban existence, the girl whose idea of roughing it was going to a place without a cell phone signal, was able to venture out and experience what much of the world is really like.
As an author who loves writing character-driven stories, I loved hearing about the people that my daughter met there: the small girl who took her hand and showed her around the local church and her home, the villagers that welcomed the teens into their homes, the others on the tour with whom she bonded.
One night in Ometepe, while the counselors slept, the teenagers snuck out for a midnight swim in the warm lake. It was the kind of thing a father doesn’t want to know about until safely after-the-fact. But as I reflected on my own youth, I couldn’t help but feel vicarious excitement at their breaking the rules for some harmless fun.
My instincts had been correct. Allowing my daughter to explore and experience the world on her own provided immeasurable value. She returned home with a newfound appreciation of what she has, a new outlook, and new friends who I have no doubt she will stay in touch with for years to come. She contributed to a society so vastly different from her own and learned how great it feels to help others.
I am so proud of her…and a little proud of me.