An hour and a half later, I had learned two things. First, that I'm an awesome, dedicated father -- willing to ignore his son for long stretches in order to get him what he wants. And second, I learned that I was a better carpenter at the age of eight.
Of course, back then I had access to better power tools, including a band saw and a belt sander.
Remembering this got me to thinking about our Culture of Safety.
When I was five, I got my first machete. I found it in the mud by the lake, and my parents let me keep it. My dad helped me sharpen it up to a razor's edge, reminding me that a dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp one. A year later, I sliced into my toe with it while hacking down a sapling, and had to scream bloody murder to get them to agree to butterfly strips, instead of stitches.
Man, that machete was awesome.
Growing up in the Amazon was inherently dangerous. There were stingrays and piranhas and dysentery in the lake, poisonous snakes and insects in the jungle, and all the general hazards of a world where nobody thought anything of riding at break-neck speeds in truck-beds, and hauling around on roller-blades behind taxis on the pavement in town.
Still, I don't think that's the only thing that made my younger life a lot more exciting than what kids experience today. I think the whole world has changed, as safety's been moved front-and-center on the List of Rules for Good Parenting.
Not only has playground equipment become rounded and plasticized, but parents often don't let their children outside at all, preferring the better-known hazards of video-game addiction and the adverse health effects of a sedentary lifestyle to the unknown threats lurking in every forest and on every city street.
Corporations have stoked the fires of this culture of fear, and have gotten rich doing it, because the only thing that sells better than sex is fear.
When I was a kid, I spent hours making beautiful, multi-shot repeating rubber-band guns, engineered in the fertile soil of my childish creativity. This I followed up with endless hours of rubber-band-gun war -- a thing my quasi-Pacifist Self now shudders at, but that at the time was exhilarating. And all it cost was a little scrap wood and a packet of rubber bands.
Nowadays, the Fascist Corporational-Dictators of our Shiny New Lives make bajillions informing us that a three-year-old car seat is no longer sufficient because somehow the plastic has degraded and has no more tensile strength. And we -- believing their carefully legislated lies and terrified to be the careless parents who caused our children's deaths -- continue to purchase brand-new car seats every year, propping up a false economy and a false sense of security all at the same time.
Don't get me wrong... I generally think that an increase in concern over safety is a good thing. People shouldn't be careless with the lives of children, and letting an eight-year-old make complicated cuts with a band saw is probably a really, really bad idea.
Nonetheless, I think there comes a time when you have to recognize that what you are buying with your obsession with safety is nothing more than the illusion of control, and that what it's costing you is something you can't really afford to lose -- your peace of mind.
The fact is, life does not come with a Safety Guarantee. The only guarantee you get is taxes and a rough pine box. That's it.
If you want to be free of fear, you have to accept this. You have to understand that you are not in control -- that Safety Consciousness is nothing more than a useful mindset. Your children are small and -- like all young creatures -- vulnerable.
You cannot legislate, elbow-pad, or pray away the chance that they might get hurt -- and badly.
Either you have Faith that this reality you live in is Okay, and will turn out for the best, or you don't. But either way, the only thing you get for all your worries is ulcers and a lot of bad debt.
It's time to let go.
It's time to live.