After observing his eight-year-old son’s anxious approach to trick-or-treating, Jonathan Last decided Cody needed a dash of adventure, he writes in Weekly Standard.
This summer, he took his son to Yellowstone “for a week of camping and communing with nature in all her brutal splendor.”
Neither a free-range nor a helicopter parent, he believes, Last sees himself as “a Predator-drone parent: always watching, but from a distance, often unseen, and able to call in close-air support as needed.”
He gave Cody a Swiss Army knife. He was entranced.
He stroked it, examined it, fidgeted with it. He picked through all seven of its tools, studying them individually, and then splayed them out at once like a peacock. He began inventing scenarios where he might use it: “If a tree falls on our campsite, I could use the saw to cut it apart,” he said. “And if a snake bites one of us, I could use the leather punch to drill another hole so we could suck out even more venom,” he said. “If a bear attacks us on a hike, I can use the knife to fight him,” he said. This last scenario burned so brightly in his imagination that he decided to keep the knife in a sheath on his belt. Just in case.
Even more than the knife, Cody loved the campfire.
He devises needlessly intricate methods of starting the fires. He burns everything he can find—paper towels, sticks, dried pine needles, bits of croissant. One night in Yellowstone he took the cardboard center from a roll of paper towels, stuffed it with pinecones and bits of newspaper, punctured air-holes in it with the corkscrew of his Swiss Army knife, and then dropped it in the fire. His face transformed into something resembling the ecstasy of St. Teresa.
Last told his son how to whittle, cutting away from the body, and how to douse embers of a fire, but tried not to hover.
Every day they hiked. One day, they heard a growl, which could have been a bear — or not. They pulled out their bear spray, listened to see where the growler was moving and hiked on.
After a few minutes, when we were clear, Cody looked up at me and said evenly, “Dad, that’s the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
And so I told him that fear is natural and that there’s nothing wrong with it. That anyone would be scared in a moment like that. But what’s important is that you put your fear to one side so that you can think clearly and do whatever needs to be done.
His son knows “about the fears that middle-class kids carry around these days — about making friends and fitting in and achieving whatever it is their parents hope for them,” writes Last. But until he came to Yellowstone, “he knew nothing about real fear.”
Mastering fear “used to come as a matter of routine to nearly every boy,” he writes. That was before middle-class parents “turned our country into one gigantic safe space.”