A Note to My 12 Year Old Son
I guess I’m not surprised at the emerging young man that you are turning out to be. And sometimes you need to be told how proud of you I really am. I know that my schedule keeps me away for longer than you would like and, in this hectic pace of travel and attending to other people and their needs, I sometimes forget about yours.
You have shown that you are thoughtful and compassionate to others and this might be the simple greatest achievement in this world where narcissism is rampant and undermines most concepts of community. You have demonstrated that you have developed a conscience and can be introspective but heed a word of advice and some practical real world experience from your father here: knowing your limits is a good thing but don’t be afraid to push the envelope.
Push yourself to see what you are capable of rather than procrastinating and putting things off. You might surprise yourself and find rewards that are profound and sublime at the same time. You have a whole world of life and experience in front of you and I have no doubt that you are going to embrace it—and you come by it honestly, your father has never been afraid to seek new experiences out. Your curiosity is similar to mine and there’s no telling where it will take you.
I’ve kept a journal of outdoor experiences and one day you might find it tucked away in the dark corner of a closet or I might give it to you when you have your first child; it is a mishmash of milestones that I was able to witness and experience with you and while your days are currently filled with education, football, girls, and video games (three out of four aren’t bad I reckon) there might be a time when you look back at the collection and remember.
There is a .410 cartridge shell from the day that you shot your first squirrel at the age of 8. A small slip of paper is in there with the date, location, and a few other notes. You were so excited that I couldn’t calm you down enough to get a shot at another but after a few futile attempts at a stalk, your curiosity was displayed when we walked back to the truck and skinned it together. It was a lesson in so much more than just walk in the woods with your father. The lessons learned that day contained the appropriate ethics of a hunter, biology (flora and fauna), physiology, philosophical discussions of sentient beings and our place in the natural world---see, way more involved than simply going on a squirrel hunt.
In our way, where we eat what we shoot, we took that squirrel home and Theresa breaded and fried it up with a biscuit for breakfast. You didn’t really care for it but you tried it and I can appreciate that. Did you know that we haven’t hunted squirrels since then? We might have to go back out and give it another go before you’re too worldly to hang with your old man.
There’s another .410 shotgun shell in there from your first dove hunt and I can remember with pride how you handled your gun as you remembered the lectures on gun safety that both of us continually and consistently gave you. I have no doubt that you will continue to handle guns with these core lessons in mind as you get older—at the very least you will be knowledgeable and safe even if you never hunt again. There’s another .20-gauge shell in there that you shot your first dove with—and I remember with pride you bolting out of the blind to go get it. I will keep that picture in my mind’s eye for my entire life. I’m not sure you ever noticed me picking these things up around you and hiding them in my vest—you were in-the-moment and feeling the thrill of combing the chase with skill and I hope that you carry that enthusiasm with you. That is a simple joy of living and the importance of living within the moment can’t be denied.
You show pride in not only doing things but doing them well and I was pleased to see that you brought home a writing project about the conservation of trout and your excitement was palpable. Your pride in knowing that this is an ethos that is held in high regard in our house indicated that maybe something we’ve done or said might have impacted you. Our words and conversations seemingly go in one ear and out the other and I’m sure your excitement was based on the fact that resources were going to be widely available to help you write this paper or that a school project may be accomplished with some ease rather than struggle but, internally I smiled, you recognized what it is important to your parents. One has to read between the lines occasionally, Son, to get at the deeper meaning. Often times, it’s not what people say but rather how they say it—or what they don’t say—that can be more informative.
These are simple things that we enjoyed outdoors but the lessons carry through to so much more in your life. Discipline, attention to detail, and the ability to focus were not your strongpoints as a kid but I see that these things are becoming sharper as you get older. Maybe, just maybe, these outdoor lessons will continue with you. You are going to experience both heartbreak and joy and everything in the middle of it and it happens with such alacrity that both could be found in the space of a single minute. You can’t be prepared for it—it’s our job as parents to give you the tools to do it and as I see you physically grow (holy cow!) I also see you growing spiritually and emotionally. It’s a beautiful process and I’m glad you’re my kid.
We’re both exceptionally proud of you, Bug.
Of course, I know that you will never take the time to read anything your old man writes or tells you so it will be years before you actually get around to wondering who your father is (or was) but I thought it important to take a minute or two and write this down. Maybe, just maybe, some of the things that Theresa and I show you will become part of you. It is natural that you are going to find your own way and I think that you are well on the way to creating your own path or journey.
But do your old man a solid would you, and make sure that you at least carry a shotgun or fly rod occasionally while you walk?