A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
It’s Not About the Deer: 3 Reasons to Take Your Son Hunting
December 16, 2014
It’s not about the deer, or birds, or rabbits. It’s about our sons, and what they need from us, their fathers.
My youngest child, a boy of 3 years, has been begging to go hunting with me this year. It gives me occasion to reflect on the challenge of raising sons, especially today. Having taught at the college level now for over twenty years, I have ample occasion to observe the travails of boys facing the transition to manhood.
We wonder about boys’ seemingly endless energy, or their lack of it, the temptations they feel, and fall prey to; and why so many seem angry, lazy, self-indulgent, or sullen. I’m not a psychologist, and I do not purport to know all the causes. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that we focus on one thing in particular. Dad.
The human person who can best show boys who they are and how to live is for whatever reason often not around to do it. The result seems to be, among other things, palpable unhappiness of epidemic proportions. Mom can’t fill the hole; sisters can’t fill the hole; brothers and friends can’t fill the hole.
It needs to be Dad. Our sons are experiencing even if unconsciously an urgent need for more meaningful contact with us their fathers.
It goes without saying that fathers and sons do not need to hunt together. There are certainly other great father/son activities. The key is that we do need to do more of something together. And some somethings are better than others. From time immemorial certain activities seem custom designed to fit the bill, to fit the forest-sized hole in our sons’ experience. Hunting—like fishing, gardening, and carpentry—is an archetype of the kind of activity that fathers need to do with their sons. A few things about hunting then are worth noting.
It is time for the child to be alone with Dad.
How easy it is for us to feel like we’re giving enough time to our children—even when we’re not. We compare ourselves to absentee-fathers, workaholics, etc. But often we ourselves can and should be doing more. And those of us blessed with a number of children have the special challenge to do things with each individually.
Time—especially time alone with the child—is the most direct way to communicate the one thing he most needs to hear, and to feel:
“It is important to me—your father—that you exist.”
It has been suggested that this is the single most important thing that empowers a child to feel at home in the world. That he has a place. That he is someone: someone who can hold his head high. Just because.
Others may say or think what they will; I know what my Daddy thinks of me.
It is an activity that is at once challenging and useful.
Lesser actions can be worthwhile, just for the sake of doing something together. But when the actions are more intrinsically meaningful then they are likewise better ways of being-together. Experience bears this out. When a boy is able to perform some evidently ‘manly’ action well, under the tutelage and in the company of his father, there is profound satisfaction and enjoyment.
And this is in part due to the unique sense of accomplishment and self-worth engendered by such actions. Little can compare with bringing home the fruit of his labor and presenting it to the woman he and his father love most. “Look Mommy at what I have done for you.” Here the very “I’ is one conceived and born in a unique way through the shared experience with his father. I do like my Daddy does.
It is an opportunity for mentoring in stewardship, and appreciating the natural order.
Boys are always observing what their fathers hold dear, and what principles they live by. Deeply held convictions of what is true, or what needs to be done—these have a defining power for the child when they are enshrined in the father’s actions.
Hunting embodies many life lessons, and many principles to live by, all of which are shared from father to son primarily by doing them; little needs be said.
“Only take a shot that you know will reach its mark.” “Only harvest what will be eaten.” “Always minimize pain for the animal, even at inconvenience to yourself.” “All animals are a gift to be received with gratitude.” “Hunting should foster the good of the species hunted.” “The safety of others is always the top priority.” “Harvest with respect; eat with gratitude.”
Hunting is also laden with seriousness, if not excitement, from beginning to end. Every action has real consequences. There is no pushing a ‘new game’ button here. A boy feels this; and it keeps him close to reality—to the real world around him. It also will tend to keep him close to his father.
Perhaps the most obvious reason to do such activities with a son is the simple fact: he will not forget it; even long after Daddy is gone.
John A. Cuddeback is a chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com. He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children—and a few pigs and sundry—in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah.
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