This post is sponsored by Procter & Gamble. The author is responsible for all opinions, fading memories and overly sentimental reminiscences.
Where the Neuse River brushes against our family’s ancestral land. There’s a lot of mud back in there.
The Neuse River rises from the North Carolina piedmont north of Raleigh and winds its muddy way to the Atlantic Ocean, emptying into the Pamlico Sound at New Bern. The Neuse is the longest river fully contained within the borders of my home state. It is an especially crooked river, as if it took its own, sweet time carving a path to the sea, meandering where it would across the millennia, taking in the sights along the way.
With a C-shaped turn of the river between the small Eastern North Carolina towns of Grifton and Kinston, the Neuse brushes against a particularly lush and green 100-acre plot of land. Upon this land once wintered members of the Tuscarora tribe, which dominated the region until the early 1700s brought European settlers and their diseases. Somewhere nearby, maybe even right in the woods that run down to the river’s edge, Union and Confederate forces skirmished for control of this strategically vital waterway throughout most of the Civil War.
And in 1918, my great-grandfather, George Tebo McArthur, bought those 100 acres and the antebellum house on them and began to scratch a living out of the rich, loamy North Carolina soil. My dad, Tebo’s Dayton-raised grandson, spent his summers on the farm, his mother’s childhood home, in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. That kid from Ohio learned to put in tobacco, prepping the smooth, golden, gummy leaves for hanging and toasting in the cavernous barns that used to dominate the Southern landscape. He traipsed through the woods with his younger brother in tow, pretending to lead Lee’s cavalry at Fredericksburg, marching under the cypress trees, dodging hidden cypress knees and deadly water moccasins. He learned to call those mean, nasty snakes cottonmouths, which is all they’d ever been to the people of Eastern North Carolina. His people. His place.
My people. My place.
In 1976, when I was 7, we moved from Raleigh to the farm where my father used to spend his formative summers. Those tilled fields and dense woods became my playground. I traipsed through the woods with my younger brother in tow, pretending to lead Lee’s cavalry at Antietam, marching under those same cypress trees and keeping a very close eye out for the descendants of the cottonmouths that terrorized my father 20 years earlier.
There are definitely water moccasins in there. I can’t believe I used to PLAY in those woods.
When we visit the farm these days, the highlight is always our family walk back into the woods. We grab some walking sticks off the back porch, wander down past the old potato barn, and cross the railroad track into the world of soil and undergrowth and fresh deer tracks. My 7- and 4-year-old sons thrill to the novelty of a hike into the “wild.” To these two children of the Florida suburbs, the open fields and dense forests of my childhood are other-worldly. Around every bend is a bear. The rustling leaves all are cougars. Every stick on the ground is a cottonmouth. (OK, that could be real. Ugh. Cottonmouths still give me the shivers.)
The boys come back from those hikes tired, but excited. Just as I was when I came back inside after my long, carefree adventures on the farm, the woods and at the river when I was a kid. Just as my dad did before me. And yes, we were all usually a bit dirtier than my boys are today when they come home from our community pool in Florida.
Which gave me an idea.
The boys have their sticks and are off on an adventure. That could be me and my brother. Or my dad and his brother.
As you saw above, this post is sponsored by Procter & Gamble, parent company of Tide and Downy. As Father’s Day approaches, I have the privilege of working with Tide and Downy to bring attention to “Dad’s Way” of parenting.
I can only speak for one dad’s way of parenting – mine. So, when given the chance to plan an event for dads and their kids to have a fun time together with little or no regard for staying neat and clean, I started thinking about what we do as a family that falls into that category.
This is Florida, so I thought about the beach. Then I thought about a fishing pier, or a charter vessel on the Gulf of Mexico out of John’s Pass. Maybe we could get a bunch of us together and take an air boat ride through the Everglades, or go kayaking on the Weeki Wachee River.
Then it hit me. Not far from our home in the Tampa suburbs is a hidden gem of a public space, Brooker Creek Preserve. They have guided nature walks on Saturday mornings, and there is ample space for a picnic. I would invite a bunch of dads and their kids to get together the day before Father’s Day and just have a great time.
Which is exactly what we’re going to do, and I couldn’t be more excited. The boys are fired up, too. It’s not Disney World, but that’s the point. We are going to have fun, we are going to get dirty walking in the woods and playing and eating picnic food, and we are going to have an absolute blast with our friends. We can’t take them all to the farm in North Carolina, but this will do. This will definitely do.
As a bit of an epilogue, I want to share one of my favorite new dad-focused commercials. It happens to be for Tide and Downy and – hey, this is a nice happenstance – our family has used Tide for years. You might have seen this one: the Princess Dress. It’s nice to see a major brand portray a father as competent instead of as a buffoon when it comes to parenting and household responsibilities.
If you enjoy the video, let the world know by tweeting about it with the hashtag #DadsWay. Me and some of my favorite dad writers around the country will be checking in on that hashtag quite a bit over the next couple of weeks, too. And as we get closer to our event at Brooker Creek, I’ll be writing more about the things that shaped me as a father – why I am who I am as a dad, and what that means for my wonderful sons.
During the month of June, Tide and Downy are celebrating the unique way each dad approaches his role as a parent — Dad’s Way. Because they know that everyone has a story about what makes his or her dad unique, they’re encouraging the sharing of those stories on Twitter with the hashtag, #DadsWay. Every time someone uses that hashtag, Tide and Downy will donate $1 to the National Fatherhood Intitiative.