Deep inside the bowels of the Ozark Mountains—and the light went out. Like the oppressive weight of darkness had snuffed it out, leaving a black hole so dense you couldn’t have driven a beacon through it with Thor’s hammer.
My grandson Skylar, 13 at the time, and I were beating around the mountains for a few days, hiking, camping in the wilderness where I had grown up. Skylar is a city kid and, like many of today’s teens, more or less addicted to TV, video games and too much idleness. Except when he’s with me. Then I take him backpacking in the Rockies, climbing mountains, kayaking down rivers, canoeing at night for catfish. . .
I want him to be challenged and tested, to confront hardships that toughen his metal. In my opinion, too many boys grow up not knowing how to be men. A boy has to be tempered in order to develop courage, integrity, independence, a lust for and a delight in living.
For example, when he was being bullied in school, I taught him how to fight. (I’m a former professional kickboxer). No running in a whimper to the principal for my grandkid like some frightened wimp. A man takes care of things himself; that’s how it will be in real life.
In the Ozarks, the two of us came upon a small cave opening high on the side of a bluff. I dug out a flashlight and we ventured inside. There was walking room for a couple of hundred feet before the cave narrowed and the ceiling dropped. From walking through a labyrinth of stalagmites and formations, we proceeded at a crouch, then on all fours, and finally by dragging ourselves on our bellies along a shallow, cold water underground stream.
A couple of hundred yards inside the mountain we came upon a tiny chamber that allowed us to sit up to rest. That was when I flickered the flashlight to suggest weakening batteries. I turned off the light. Complete darkness enveloped and separated us. I wanted to see how Skylar might react at being more isolated than he had ever been in his life.
We waited together, he on one side of the chamber, me on the other. Silence continued for some time. Not a sound in the darkness, not even the dripping of water. Surprised at his calm reaction, I switched the light back on.
Some things you can learn about trust. “Pa-Pa,” Skylar said, “I knew you were there all along.”
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