A few hours left of an island vacation, I got one of those text messages that makes your heart beat faster and trumps five days of drinking rum punch. My mom wrote to let my sisters and I know that my dad was at the hospital getting a CT scan. He had slipped on the ice a couple of weeks ago and hit his head on the concrete. Two weeks of headaches and dizziness finally pushed him to the ER. After another CT scan, an MRI, and 48 hours in the hospital, he was discharged with a diagnosis of a subdural hematoma, prescribed anti-seizure medications, and ordered to rest. My dad, who could run faster, fly higher, and jump farther than any superhero, dodged another medical bullet.
Any thorough evaluation of self includes deep reflection on our childhood. Over years of cataloging experiences and unpacking memories, I’ve arrived at the shocking and enlightening conclusion that I am who I am because I was never a Girl Scout.
A child of the seventies, I participated in the Indian Princesses, a YMCA-sponsored father/daughter program whose name has since been changed to Adventure Princesses as a nod to cultural appropriateness. My chosen name was Shooting Star, daughter of Broken Arrow and sister to Buttercup and Little Fawn. As Indian Princesses, we did things a little against the norm. Ours was a liberated group, of burly men and rowdy elementary school girls. We would never have been caught dead dressed in green bean-colored uniforms with pancake hats. The traditional Girl Scout sash seemed too indicative of beauty pageant aspirations, a thought that made our tomboy hearts shudder. Our only sanctioned adornment was a cobalt blue headband pierced with brilliantly colored feathers.
Each week we would gather at a different family’s house for our tribal meeting. It was the host family’s duty to send out invitations, as smoke signals are neither effective nor welcome in suburbia. One week my sisters and I wrote our invitations on the back of rabbit pelts, an act sure to make the Girl Scouts turn uniform green. I received tribal announcements on a variety of peculiar objects; rocks, bark, burnt parchment paper, and branches whittled and doctored to become arrows, all mysteriously found their way to our front porch.
Indian Princesses did not peddle baked goods door to door with sweet smiles plastered across our faces like some girls we knew. We excelled in the finer arts of running, swimming, fire-making, knot-tying, and animal identification. Having honed our skills, we were honored with brightly colored beads, coal black bear claws, and gaudy, gold eagle talons. These treasures meant more to me than any precious jewel.
Being part of a father/daughter group was very unusual. There was not an abundance of refinement. At an early age, I wondered why grown men, despite being provided proper facilities, enjoyed urinating outdoors. Five boy kids later, male potty behavior is still a mystery to me. These large boisterous men never ceased to fascinate our little girl minds. When camping, the dads often occupied themselves by drinking beer and smoking cigars. Occasionally giving us a sip of their magic brew or a drag off their peace pipes, the dads would roar with laughter while we girls puckered our proud faces pretending we were strong and grown up. While the dads socialized, we toasted fluffy marshmallows, told ghost stories, and imitated Girl Scouts.
The things I learned by not being a Girl Scout shaped who I am—rough edges and all. I learned to appreciate the finer things in life. I learned that careful handling of toasted marshmallows can result in a delicacy that surpasses any upside-down, glazed, five-layer, double-fudge, cream-filled chocolate cake with butter cream icing. I learned nobody looks good in a green beanie. I learned that the best friends are made around a crackling fire under the midnight sky. I learned to appreciate animals because of how their fur and skin felt. I learned the value of a bead, the worth of a bear claw, and the glorious acquisition of a gleaming eagle talon. I learned that men are boys trying not to be. I learned from these dads the qualities I wanted in an Indian Guide. I learned that Shooting Stars fall sometimes, but my tribe will always help me regain my celestial home. Most importantly, I learned as my sisters and I ran and chanted around our campfire, that a dad’s influence and love are forever.