22 years ago, I carried within my body a male child. Little was I to know or begin to understand at that time that becoming the mother to a boy would change my outlook on many of life's viewpoints and challenge me to understand how gender differences affect one's approach to life.
Though I grew up with uncles who hunted, and I fished regularly myself, from a young age...
though I lived on a farm where regularly we took life to support life,
where what sat upon the table often came from the barnyard...
though I accepted these things from a young age, I labored over making parenting choices for a son.
I needn't have worried... it simply was not up to me.
In the under 2 year old time, the boy made a gun from his giant legos and fired happily away at the roadside cows as we traveled along the rural roads. How did this happen when he had carefully not witnessed his father's hunting at that time? It was among the first of the recognitions for me that there was an innate quality in males that prepared them for their role in life, that I was not in charge of at all.
I had to reconcile in my head the handing over of my son to the men in the family, whom I love and admire and trusted with this wee lad, to begin the process of his becoming all of the things that I admired most in them.
It was one of the most giant leaps of faith for a mother, who parented largely on 'learning as I went', as I was determined not to repeat transgressions that happened to me. There simply was not a way to deny the boy the right of passage of guns and hunting that went with being male, in the time and place that he was growing up.
My observations of the significant males in my late teens and early twenties were that these men, who all hunted, were conservationists, to a fault. They were men of great self control, self restraint and sound judgement. They did not run madly about the world being violent in any way, but considered their time in fields and forest as contemplation and provision for their families. They were to teach my boy wilderness survival skills that though he has never needed them, provided him with a confidence in himself that was visible by the time he was 12. We all steadfastly insisted upon the fact that anything that he killed would be taken with the understanding that it was food.
And the boy was, from a young age, in love with guns. Taught safety and proper care, he thrived upon the care and affection of his 'menfolk', who delighted in his interest and his skill with weapons.
The thing that has eluded him, until now, was taking a first deer. I have long believed that we have spent giant quantities of money on weaponry and gear enough to make a small army of boys look like a tree so that he could sit in the woods and commune with nature. I was grateful in many ways that he wasn't shooting anything that walked by. I can, with my own eyes, see the peace and repose that comes from coming home from the city, and heading most directly to the fields, forests and river of his truest home.
This weekend, this boy of mine, who is very much a grown man, took his first deer. An early morning shot pierced the silence as I sat with my first cup of coffee, followed shortly by a text message that said that he'd gotten a clean shot.
Were the old men in the family still alive to see it, great pride would be tempered with bemusement that a modern day electronic device made the announcement!
Kudos to the young lady in his life, whose courage in the face of watching some of this rite of passage was extraordinary. Her experiences have not been that of a romping wild woods country child, but her calm assurance and common sense approach to things warms the mother heart within me and makes me smile.
Her happiness at his celebration and her joining the frosty front porch party, clad in flannel and little bare feet tells me so very much. To share my son with her is a great delight.
A significant part of my parenting is largely instinct, which I believe is a blessing from God.
Another fairly significant part of my parenting has been in gaining knowledge from books. I have read and continue to read in order to gain insight and find understanding.
Books significant to this topic that I highly recommend are :
Raising a Son: Parents and the Making of a Healthy Man - Don and Jeanne Elium , now in it's third edition.
I found this book at a critical time when the first boy was presenting a challenge and found huge understanding within their description of a bridge that leads to manhood, where a young boy will stand and wait for a significant male to reach out a hand for the passage over. Another excellent idea from this book is an explanation about the changeable 'fences' necessary to keep boys safe as they explore and grow. These ideas made so much sense for my own two boys and many ideas from this book were incorporated into my parenting, more so than any other books that I read on the subject. (And I am a prolific reader!)
The Last Child in the Woods:Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder - Richard Louv
A compelling read. By the time this book came out, it was a moot point with my own children, who had been tossed from the house early on so many mornings, into the fields and forests.
From Boys to Men of Heart, Hunting as Rite of Passage - Randal Eaten, Ph. D.
A new book out by a wildlife biologist, with insight that speaks to what I have come to understand about this topic.