One of my college summer jobs was as a counselor at a YMCA day camp in Phoenix, AZ. Entrusted to me, a 20-year old college sophomore, was a group of twenty boys ranging in age from 8 to 14, to be watched over and entertained from 9 to 4. After a few weeks, the older boys started bringing a boom box to camp to liven up the ‘Arts & Crafts’ sessions that were, to be honest, geared more to the young boys than them. They loved listening to heavy metal rock: MegaDeath, Metallica, Iron Maiden. Some sported T-shirts emblazoned with their favorite band logos and frightening images like bleeding skulls. One day, one of them asked me: “Hey Mr. Braum, do you like heavy metal?” Without much thought, I replied: “No, not really,” and continued to help the younger boys with their craft projects. The next day, these boys stopped bringing the boom box to camp and I never saw another scary heavy metal concert T-shirt. I had no idea why, but one of the mothers clued me in one day during evening pick-up. “My boy told me that you don’t think heavy metal is cool, and so he and his friends decided that it’s not cool, either.” She smiled at me. “Thank you,” she whispered as she turned to walk back to her car with her son. Alarmed by my apparent power over these boys, I fretted over everything I said to the group from then on.
A summer camp counselor realizes the impact he has on his charges.
Another evening, a father picked up his son, who occasionally bullied other kids and often distracted the rest of the group with his antics. When the father asked me about his son’s behavior in camp I told him the truth, hoping that he would have a word with his son and thus make the remainder of the summer camp a little easier for me to manage. I watched him walk away with his son to the parking lot, talking intently to his son. But when they arrived at their car, I watched in horror as the dad pummeled his son repeatedly with heavy blows to the head and, after his son doubled over, to the back until the son sank to his knees, sobbing. The next day, when the dad asked me again about his son’s behavior during the day, I lied to him and told him that his son had been extremely well behaved.
Ever since I penned my first short story (a detective story) aboard a train in Germany as a 10-year-old boy, I've considered myself an aspiring writer. I still do, 40 years later. And I still enjoy the process of writing immensely, even if nobody else reads my work (but secretly I hope someone does).
There are really two different sides of the counselor coin here. I found the heavy metal story amusing and a bit ironic in view of your recent account of taking your son to see AC/DC. But the bully story was sobering and sad. Nowadays we would expect a counselor to report an incident like that, to camp management if not the authorities, but that wasn’t the norm back then. I sympathize with your dilemma and your next-day lie was clearly appropriate. Had the staff given you any training about what to do in such a situation?
There was little training as far as I can remember, and frankly I was afraid of the dad myself…
My immediate take-away was more along the lines of ‘I’ll never be that kind of dad.’
Great story about the power of words, for good and for ill. Thanks for sharing it.
Lutz, what a compelling, sobering story. We are all role-models, even at the age of 20, aren’t we. And it is scary to have so much power. Interesting that the kids respected you enough to quit the heavy metal, but the abusive father was just awful. And now our tweeter-in-chief doesn’t comprehend how much kids are modeling his foul behavior (parents too, of course). Thank you for sharing this powerful story.
Yes, all the more important that the rest of us are good role models even if our head of state isn’t.