If you give a kid a fishing rod…

Camping is my favorite.

Our escapes into the Wild are always a beautiful adventure. The moment we get out of the car and breath in that naked mountain air, it feels like we’ve come home.

While much of our time is spent splashing in the waterfalls, indulging in the freedom of the forest, and dancing with the flames around the firepit, it’s not nearly a vacation of relaxation. To be honest, it’s a lot of work. But good work. We have to work for our comforts, which somehow makes them all that more enjoyable.

My son was eight weeks old the first time we took him camping, and my daughter, eight months. Being exposed to this type of vacation from such a young age, they don’t recognize what we do as ‘work.’ Instead, they see it as part of the routine. Each year, they are given a little more responsibility in helping out around the campsite. With each responsibility, we’ve laid a tool in their hands and taught them to use it respectfully.

Of course, I’m always very calculating with this. I won’t hand over anything too dangerous until I’m sure they are mature enough to use it. But I still always find myself a little nervous each time.

When they were very small, their first tool was a flashlight to find their way in the dark. Would they run down the battery or blind themselves?

When they got a little older, they were allowed access to a hammer to set up the tents. Would they take out a toe when pounding in the stakes? Or use it as a weapon?

Later, they were given the lighter to start the fire. Would they set their hair aflame… set the campsite aflame?

While I’m always a bit scared, I love handing over these tools because with each, I not only hand over my confidence in them, but allow them to grow confidence in themselves. And I have to tell you, the best tool I’ve handed over was the fishing rod. (Mind you, not without the image of a hook piercing one of their little lips).

But my kids like to fish.

No… they Love to fish.

Over the years they’ve learned a great deal from fishing.

They’ve learned diligence. They know to bait a hook so that the trout can’t just take a nibble and dash away.

They’ve learned strategy. They know when to cast into the rapids and let it ride, and when to sit in still pools.

They’ve learned patience. They know that it may hours to reel in the keeper.

They’ve learned perseverance. They know they’ll hook their share of minnows before finally catching that juicy 14-incher.

But this year, I took it a step further and taught them about the work that goes into preparing a fish after it’s caught.

You see, when they were younger and hooked a healthy trout, they typically reeled it in and didn’t see it again until it was coming off the frying pan. I’d allow them the excitement of the catch and then rush the fish out of their sight. I’d take it up to a quiet, flat rock away from them. I’d whisper a quiet apology and gratitude before rendering it unconscious. I’d then gut it and throw it into the cooler. But this year I decided to not only allow them to watch, but to participate in the nitty gritty. And I can’t tell you how proud I was of the way they rose to the occasion.

When they reeled in a keeper, my son was swift in grabbing the nearest rock and knocking it out. I handed my daughter a sharp knife and she took no time to behead and gut it (should I be worried?). And they both watched on as we marinated and fried the catch.

Now let me tell you, I love going to a fancy steakhouse. I love sitting down at a white linen-clad table set with more silverware than I know what do with. I love the gorgeous spread of marinated meats, perfectly roasted veggies, and unpronounceable sauces.

But when that Brook Trout was placed on the table with no more garnish than a fire-heated pita, it felt more luxurious than any five-star restaurant. We feasted like kings!

Kings of our own making.

Kings of the Wild.

We all know of the ancient Chinese proverb; “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day… Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” While this occasion is quite literal, the essential meaning was not lost in the experience.

We can give our children all the spoils to survive, but just handing things over doesn’t teach them survival. It’s only when we surrender our doubts and fears and offer them the tools to obtain the spoils on their own will they truly understand and appreciate the means of survival.

You may not be a camper. May not be a fisherman. But if somewhere you let go the reel and allow your children to take hold and flay whatever challenge is set before them, you’ll unleash a source of empowerment within themselves.

I doubt my kids will ever Need to depend on a fishing rod, or any other tool for that matter, to survive. But I love knowing that if it came down to it, they could. And they would. They would take the tools I’ve laid in their hands and face the Wild with knowledge and respect of the power they hold at their fingertips.

So… If you ever get the chance, give a kid a fishing rod… And maybe… just maybe… they’ll reward you with a satisfaction that far outweighs your fears.

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