The Things Men Do

There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences. – P.J. O’Rourke

My fifteen-year-old son came to me a few days back and told me he and his buddies were making plans for a backcountry pack trip this summer. He wanted to know if it would be ok if he went and if maybe I could drive them to the trailhead. I chuckled at the thought and wondered what the hell he was thinking? He doesn’t have a drivers license yet and legally can’t carry a rifle without an adult present but he thinks I am going to hand him a pack and send him on an overnighter ten miles from the nearest road into the Cascades with just a can of pepper spray, a sleeping bag and a tube of matches.

I laughed then almost told him no. Almost.

He’s at a funny stage right now. He’s taller than me and looking more like a man every day. I have to remind myself constantly that he is no longer a boy and that means a few different things. As my old man was often fond of saying, “You want more freedom? That means more responsibility.”

So I told him maybe. We’ll see. His mother was not impressed. Her thinking was that it should have been a definite NO. But we’ll see.

It wasn’t too long ago that was me standing in his socks, shorter of course by quite a stretch, but in the same pair of socks nonetheless. Brother, did I have ideas. The world was my oyster and I was going to enjoy every part of it. I don’t recall being able to take off into the bush overnight on my own quite at that stage but shortly after I turned sixteen and had my first pick up I was gone like the wind.

My parents never really stepped on me too much. I had a lot of freedom but was expected to make the right choices. Most of the time I made out pretty well but in hindsight, on a few occasions, I probably should have ended up dead. Of course, that was the way it was for most young men in my time who grew up in small town North America, wherever that may have been.

Our parents knew something then that parents today have forgotten: that young men sowing their oats, with freedom and a world of possibilities to explore were part of what made the west, particularly this continent, the place it is. Life is risky, but without ‘risk’ there is neither reward or progress.

‘Risk’ is, by and large, although not exclusively, the root of property. Without it we’d still be eating mold off the surface of a rock wall somewhere in central or southern Africa, afraid to venture much further than the mouth of the cave. A life without risk is not much of a life really, at least not for young men. Boys that never leave the basement and spend more time in front of a screen than outside, in books or engaged in sports of some kind remain caught in a time vortex, many never truly becoming grown-ups.

Indeed, what we feed the mind and the body we become.

The flip side to risk, of course, is ‘duty’. That is, the duty to either reap the rewards of our successes or to suffer the consequence of our error.  Kids that do not take risks do not fail. This would explain, in part, the nature of the modern, and I uses the term loosely, ‘university’.

Losing builds character as richly as success does, sometimes more so, and if our kids aren’t out there taking risks (hopefully calculated ones) then they are learning nothing and they will not be prepared to become adults.

Someone one once said that the difference between men and boys is the size and cost of their toys. This, of course, is the reward for becoming a man and assuming risk successfully for if truth be told, for many of us, we never quit dreaming of many of the things we dreamed when we were young.

Much of it gets set aside, of course, as duty calls in the form of family, business, and community. But the dreams still live and the rewards that risk creates are part of what makes those dreams a reality.

When I was a lot younger than my son is now I had a little plastic gray colored, spring loaded rifle that shot rubber darts. I had a variety of animal targets to go with it: lions and elephants and giraffes. It was a safari set and I spent more hours than I could count stalking game in my bedroom and in the windrows and the grass that lined the ditches outside our prairie home. At some stage, I shelved the plastic critters and headed out into the field across the road to chase songbirds, because you know, they moved, and came so close on one occasion that the rubber dart I fired actually bounced off a robin, who then had the audacity to simply shake his feathers and fly away.

My parents were amused by it all I think, they let me roam and when I turned from a child into a teenager the passion grew from plastic to blued steel, from squirrels, robins, and sparrows to deer and then as I matured from deer to everything else.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come full circle, back to the elephants that haunted my dreams when I was a child. They are still just beyond my reach, although I walk from time to time in their tracks. One day, before I “shake off this mortal coil” the beast I stalked in my bedroom at five and I will have a final rendezvous. No matter the results it will be a glorious end to a life lived well.

In thinking about it I realize my son and I are not so different. Today he is dreaming of friends and packing into the mountains and exploring on his own and tomorrow he will harness that energy, curiosity, and drive and turn it into something else. Just like I did. And I suspect he will have his successes and his failures, like most of us do, and he will have to learn from all of it.

So in the meantime, the answer is still maybe. Which makes me wonder, how bad does he really want it? And will his mother survive the gray hairs that follow? I know mine did and probably so did yours. And I suspect we’re all better off for it. Because with freedom comes responsibility and for young men, that’s a lesson worth learning.





26 thoughts on “The Things Men Do

  1. Pingback: The Things Men Do | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Wow that hit me. My oldest just entered that age as well; he’s almost a man, but at the same time he is far from being one. I’ll have to re-evaluate a few thing.


  3. When an old school buddy and I were reliving our youth at lunch, we were asked by another person that was listening, did you two have parents. We both laughed at his disbelief in our stories. I would not change one moment of my youth and the adventures we had. Let your son go. I don’t think either of you will regret it no matter how it turns out. Sometimes the most difficult thing we do as parents is relaxing our grip on what he doesn’t know and our concern for them. I thank my late parents often now for turning their head the other way so I could experience life.


  4. I’d say, if you have taught him the things he should know, and him and his friends can come up with a good over all plan, let him go. Short of dying, he will be able to draw on this experience his whole life, and he will remember that you trusted him. I remember at that age how much that trust meant to me.


  5. He appears to be ready to take the risk…you’ve raised him and prepared him, so the question is, are you ready to take the risk of releasing him on this journey?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So let’s look at this from the boys’ angle and from the Dad’s angle.
    The givens are that we have 15 year olds that are growing up but not mature yet. They can do a lot now, but this would be a great learning experience. The trick is to let the boys learn, but not get into life threatening trouble. So how would one do this?

    Back to learning experience. Here is a suggestion for the Dad.
    1. Get the boys together and do a little planning. Where do they want to go? What is involved in this? Water, food, clothing, shelter, gear, survival stuff, map, compass. Brainstorm things. Write things down. Anticipate hazards for the trip, come up with ways to mitigate the hazards. Write them down.
    2. On the first trip, Dad should come along if they are biting off a big trip. HOWEVER, he is just the protector from them getting too deep into trouble. They make the decisions. Dad does not overrule them unless they are putting themselves in serious danger. If they are going to do this, he will remind them to think it through. It’s kind of like training wheels, or a student pilot who knows a fair amount about piloting a plane but not ready to solo. Doing this the first time will keep moms from getting gray hairs.
    3. They will need map reading skills, camping skills, situational awareness, what they can do to protect themselves from predators.

    Dad goes along for the ride, but they run the show. This can be a great learning experience for individuals and for the whole group, with some common sense precautions. Pass the wisdom down.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My parents allowed me to do overnight pack trips at 15.
    Most of the time. The few times the answer was no was due to some of the others going.
    Guess mom and dad were smarter than I gave them credit for at the time- they guys who were the reasons for me not being allowed to go have spent a good part of their lives in jail or prison.
    As long as our kids were going on whatever trip it was with friends we trusted- then we let them go.


  8. Darn good read! Reminds me of my up-bringing in the vast “flyover” country of the Midwest. Hiking, camping, fishing, target shooting, hunting–it was all we kids lived for!

    And as we grew up and matured, found our first real job and our first round of “high power: beer at the local tavern–Dad counseled we five boys: “Have a beer or two–BUT REMEMBER–you have a job. Be back in the steel mill at 0700 sharp. Your crew depends upon you, your family here does, and when you get married, so will your wife and kids.”

    Duty and responsibility were his watchwords, which he learned the hard way in the Great Depression and battlefields of WWII tramping all over Fortress Europe. A gentle giant of a man.

    “Thanks, Dad!” It’s been 70 years and the lessons taught are still with me and mine.


  9. My perspective on this was related to the fact that I have spent the great majority of my life in Alaska and its wilds. We have many more serious hazards up here from weather, natural hazards, and wild predators. You want your younguns to be prepared and not get over their heads. People get mauled here every years by bears, stomped by moose, and die in avalanches, esp in the mountain valley where we live. You do not want to be overprotective, so you must equip your growing children to have the knowledge and skills to survive and thrive in a wild environment. And that starts from a young age, much younger than 15.


  10. As a 12 yr old in the mid 1960’s, my friends and I would load up our packs and single shot .22’s and get dropped off behind Fernan Lake on Friday evening by someone’s mom, and we’d rough it, roaming the woods of N. Idaho until Sunday night when we got picked up.
    Later, my folks dropped me off for a week behind Horseshoe Bend in S. Idaho, just before I went into the USMC.
    Kids have to grow up, somehow they can’t all stay neutered little momma’s boys. Teach them to be responsible for their actions, teach them woods skills, and sooner or later they have to learn to fly on their own. If not, you’re the failure.


  11. Pingback: Our Kid Doesn’t Measure Up | thinkpatriot

  12. do a father son two mile recon of the proposed route. both of you will learn something(s). please share when you have time. give him a radio worthy of a connection for emergencies. I was raised as you were. I should be dead too. but I am not.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Help him prepare, then let him become a man.

    “…It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

    Theodore Roosevelt, the Man In The Arena, 1910


  14. I was just talking to my daughter about the same thing a week ago. Her boys are at the jumping off age too. You know your son better than I do so you have to decide what is best. I told my daughter about when I went to collage. There were to many that came there, that had never been away from there parents before. They never did anything to make a mistake when they were at home so that the parents could help them thru it and let them learn with some guidance. Most of the ones that had never been able to learn from there mistakes fell hard. Good kids but never had to learn the good painful lessons that are the best teachers for life. To many fell into drugs and alcohol and never made it thru. Pain is a very good teacher I am sure you have had many good painful lessons also. I have lost two of my sons and never want any parent to have to go thru the pain of having to lay your children to rest. It is a hard world out there and they need to learn the painful lessons sometime.


  15. Our son isn’t quite as old as yours, but being imaginative people we are toying with the same questions. So far, our response to such a situation would be determined by what sort of person our son is by that time, and that will in turn be a result of how well we did our job.
    The questions then become: Have you faith in your efforts? Did you give your son the things he needs, such that he will easily survive such a trip? No? Why not?
    If your answer is yes, then he should go, and be better for it.
    We note that there are many people ready (well, willing at least) to have kids, but very few who are ready to be parents. As a result, the world abounds in idiots who can’t be trusted with a burned-out book of matches, and their parents have no idea why this is. Forsaking the old ways of making the transition from child to man is partly to blame, with the result that we are surrounded by children that look far older, taking up the trappings of adults and making decisions as if they were.
    The implications of that are disturbing.
    We have, at some point, to trust that our children know what they are doing, that they know the difference between right and wrong, and that they are going to behave like sensible people. If we doubt this, then we are responsible, although God knows there are lots of other influences at work as well.
    Thank you for sharing this experience. I look forward to finding out how things went.


  16. “Our parents knew something then that parents today have forgotten: that young men sowing their oats, with freedom and a world of possibilities to explore were part of what made the west, particularly this continent, the place it is. Life is risky, but without ‘risk’ there is neither reward or progress.”

    That he came to you for ‘permission’ is simply beautiful. Masculinity, true masculinity is handed down from the father. 100% from the father. You have a golden opportunity here sir to give him permission to transition from being your ‘boy’ to being your young man. Let him go!


  17. Assuming he and his buddies have the requisite knowledge/skills and kit, then i say yes…

    I and my buddy would be dropped off at Emerald Bay/Lake Tahoe in the Sierras to go hike Desolation Wilderness area…we’d be gone 5-7 days at a time….Mind you were were what, 13-14 yrs old at the time.

    Now, we had been on several trips as part of groups led by experienced guides, so we soaked up that experience and knowledge too…So you tagging along might not be a bad idea as one poster commented…just sit back and let em take charge, lead the way as long as it not over a cliff…

    I was .mil brat, my buddies pop avid sportsman/outdoors-man and we were always traipsing in the woods, exploring/hiking and stalking small game w our .22’s…

    We were always prepared, kitted out.

    We had plans, maps-compasses and knew how to use em..One could trip over the contour lines on the maps though..very obvious one knew where one was…still we had the gear…

    Like many here, some of my co workers and friends, even wifey, marvel at the the things were were “allowed,” to do at such a “young” age, how we survived is anyone’s guess…

    ps….make sure they have PLB/SPOT device… insurance…


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