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Recovering the Skills of Manhood

June 15, 2006

I can’t tell you how many letters I have received from men telling me that they grew up never developing the manly skills.
It may be a bias on my part. Okay, I will admit that it is. Although I know better, I do have this inescapable, underlying sense that a real man is one who can stand alone against the forces of nature and survive. There is great personal confidence and security in knowing that you are not dependent on the conveniences of civilization, that if for some reason you find yourself alone in the primitive wild, without so much as a knife, you will not be afraid or insecure. You will feel more like “you have come home.” You will find water, make tools ( a knife, hatchet, spear, etc.) and you will build a shelter before the sun goes down. You will find something to eat, and you will build a fire to cook it over. Within a week, you will be a well-equipped resident in command of your environment.
I know that God doesn’t measure us that way. Maybe it was just the way I was raised. Possibly, it is the Old South mentality, but I have seen the same perspective in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Texas, northern California, and many other places outside the reach of TV signals and cell phone reception. I know from a long list of personal acquaintances that there is a unique quietness and security exuded by men who possess some degree of outdoor skills.
When my boys (and girls, for that matter) first came into the world, I saw them as students. I wanted to impart all the knowledge and skills that I possessed, and much more. I wanted them to be competent in any situation, never at a loss for words, ideas, initiative, or skills. Never whining, never making excuses, and never blaming someone else. I worked to make them ready for anything the world or circumstances might throw their way. Whether it be academics, economics, general physics, or primitive survival skills, they must be prepared to triumph. This was not a decision that had to be put on a list and referenced. It was a consuming, constant passion. They were my charge, and I didn’t relate to them as if I had eighteen years to teach it. They must know how to swim a river by the time they are six, get out of a burning building, avoid being kidnapped, know their address and phone number and other personal and family information, be able to talk to an adult and ask questions, how to react to a wound or broken bone, how to gather and prepare food in the wilderness, how to build a shelter against the elements, how to stop an adult from assaulting them, how to recognize and avoid sexual advances, and any and everything that might come their way under adverse and unexpected circumstances.
Nothing on this “list” sprang from paranoia. It is born from the love of life, of overcoming, of enjoying the fruit of your own hands. I know that all my children are better for it. Their confidence and quiet poise is testimony to their inner security. From the age of seventeen, between the five of them they have traveled to primitive and war-torn countries all over the world, worked in orphanages, and worked one year in a ministry in Israel. They have stayed up at night with AK-47s and guarded missionary compounds to the sound of gunfire, nearly capsized on a ferry at sea traveling from Italy to Albania, hiked over the mountains into Turkey, ridden out storms at sea in small sailboats, boated up rivers in rain forests, been nursed back to health by primitive natives in distant jungles, survived malaria and dengue fever, hunted game in foreign jungles, eaten snakes, lizards, and live grub worms, and some stuff you would bury quickly to get rid of the odor. They have been awakened from sleep in a grass hut by a six-inch fuzzy spider dropping on their face. Together, they could nearly reconstruct a world map with the places that they have traveled. They have bagged game with bow and arrow and guns and traps. They’ve spearfished in the South Seas, off the coast of Thailand, in Central and South America, Australia, New Guinea, in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. They have learned primitive languages, translated Scripture, and smuggled Bibles into closed countries. I could go on, but you are beginning to get the idea. My kids are not backward, nor are they wimps. They have far exceeded me in their experiences. They have grown well beyond their parents’ accomplishments and it is a delight to see it so. Debi and I not only gave them life, we equipped them to live it to the fullest.
Gabriel is the biggest outdoorsman in the bunch. He is twenty-nine years old and has been concerned about the large number of homeschoolers who are “mama’s boys.” At every opportunity, he guides young men into appreciating outdoor skills. He has a vision to acquaint larger numbers of young men with the things he has taken for granted from his youth. Gabe has devised a program that he says will acquaint fathers and sons with the drama and beauty of outdoor life, and is inviting fathers and sons to join him and a dozen other outdoorsmen next February for four days of unforgettable outdoor experience. This event will take place on a nine-thousand-acre ranch located in South Central Texas, known to hunters the world over as “The Golden Triangle.” Professional guides will provide father and son with a gun and accompany them on a hunt that will surely end in success. Picture you and your son driving up on a four-wheeler with your deer strapped to the back. Under supervision, your son will skin it out with a knife you made from flint rock, just like the Indians used. Everyone will sit around the steaming, big pot of venison stew hanging from the rack over the open fire. Stories will be told and adventures recounted. Tomorrow morning, you will go quail hunting with a shotgun that is provided, and maybe later catch a mess of big bass out of the lake. At night, you may go out and shoot coyotes. The next day, perhaps you will go wild hog hunting and then join the crowd learning to throw knives and tomahawks, and finish off the day popping a few of those pesky jackrabbits. There will be outdoor camping, but for the dads who want to stay a “little bit sissy,” there will be a warm, dry indoor place to sleep and eat. Your son will go home having chipped out his own arrowheads, killed and cooked his own game, and learned to handle several varieties of guns provided by expert marksmen. It is going to be expensive, but it will be the best time of your lives – father and son, the hunters, the survivors. That young man of yours will never be the same. You don’t need to have previous knowledge or skills. This is a controlled and measured introduction to outdoor skills, both primitive and modern. This is not a function of NGJ, but my son comes highly recommended. If you can afford it, check it out at or contact Gabriel Pearl at [email protected] or Pearl Outdoors P.O. Box 309, Lobelville TN 37097.
Most of you won’t be able to afford a fantastic event like this, but then, I never could either. I took my boys into the woods and swamps at least once every week. We donned knives, machetes, and tomahawks along with our food and other gear we needed to hike, hunt, fish, or just explore. We learned together. It is all about sharing the experience of discovery. In the past, I have talked a lot about tying strings of fellowship with your children. There is nothing better than a good tale of conquest to unite father and son. You can climb a mountain, swim a stream, catch a coyote in a trap, kill a snake and tan the skin to hang in the den. It doesn’t matter that you know nothing. Get out and learn with your sons.
Michael Pearl

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