I was thinking back about Christmas mornings when I was a kid. The fresh cut tree, the colored lights and gifts all wrapped. Santa coming and the stories of how close he was and what would happen if we did not get into bed. The idea that Santa was coming was almost overwhelming. So good, so sweet.
Those years, the early years were very transformative for me. I soaked up everything boy. I remember walking in the buoys of Houston catching frogs and snakes. We travelled in and out of underground drainage pipes under the city. There was one time my brother had caught a large snapping turtle. He held it to my face and I challenged drawing in even closer. Wham, the turtle clamped down on my chin with the force of a bear trap. I was lucky a few well-placed slaps on its head and I was free. Wounded pretty good but free. We capture some water moccasins one day and called the Houston Zoo to see if they would buy them. I wonder what they were thinking on the other end of the phone when some young boys called them with that question.
I see today how powerful those years were for me. Tree forts, running around the woods, always outside. Always. Christmas was one of the times of the year we would get the gear and the adventure toys we desperately wanted and some we did not know at the time would inspire us our whole lives.
I remember watching my dad build things. He was good. He built a full size play house, maybe 20’ x 20’ with a shingled roof. Which I burned down playing with matches. A story for another time. He built a go-cart from an old edger motor and a wagon. He laid a brick patio and built a smoker and flower beds from the same brick. He built a wooden framed cabinet that help cardboard cigar boxes as drawers and each drawer held a surprise. Screws, wire nuts and mechanical trinkets that fueled my imagination.
I loved to get screw drivers and hammers at Christmas. The old saying, “give a boy a hammer and everything look like a nail,” was so true. I don’t ever remember getting in trouble for pounding, building or I am sure, destroying something (except the burnt down playhouse). The gift of tools was a big deal and said something to my young male heart.
There were a handful of boy toys that became staples. These days they have changed a bit in materials they are made from but are solids for a young lad. Example, Tonka trucks, cranes and bulldozers. Big, metal, working toys that fostered hours and hours of digging dirt and rocks at our construction sites. We did not buy jeans with holes in them, we wore holes into them from playing hard. To this day when I see a big piece of machinery working I am distracted. One of my favorite man toys is an old, rough, well-worn Bobcat tractor I have.
The Red Ryder Daisy BB Gun is of course another. I don’t know how much copper is in the yards around our old house in Houston but I am sure it would be considered a toxic wasteland today. I won’t list the types of varmints and birds that were taken during those years. It was a lot. Boys shoot things when they are training with firearms, they just do.
My mom tells me stories now of what was going on in those days I never knew about. My dad was beginning to drink quite a bit. He was unfaithful to their marriage vows. He treated her poorly.
I had no idea. It was years before I suspected anything. The first time it emerged we were on a family camping trip across America. We had left a National Park and stopped for a night at the Holiday Inn. A huge treat in those days. That night I was awaken by the sound of my mom and dad arguing. Dad had gone out after we all went to sleep and got drunk at a nearby bar. Someone took his wallet and mom was pissed. I look back now and that was the first time I saw or thought maybe something was not right.
But alas each year Christmas and birthdays came, the Tonka trucks were unveiled for the construction projects ahead. Our BB supply was refilled and hand tools were distributed. We got telescopes, rocket kits, electronic radio building kits and Erector sets. Good, hands on boy training gifts.
I worry about the boys of today who do not get mentored in the way of the tool or outdoors. I saw a commercial recently that had a young man and his male friends calling his mom as he stood next to his car with a flat tire. He had no idea what to do, luckily he could call his mom for help. What can the wives of tomorrow expect? A husband who can’t work a wrench, a circular saw a screwdriver or change a flat tire.
Morgan Snyder with Ransomed Heart Ministries and Becoming Good Soil talks about how not knowing these skills weighed heavy on his heart. It was something he went to find. He was intentional to seek men to train him in all types of areas. Hunters, carpenters even repair men hired to fix things at his home or on his cars became mentors. He pushed into the lessons they taught. The builder, fixer and provider. Growing as a man of confidence and strength.
Snyder says, “Almost every culture predating the modern world had a process of initiating boys into men. In some cultures, male initiation was intentional, deeply ritualized, and publicly celebrated. In other cultures, male initiation precipitated indirectly but with equal effectiveness because the survival of the culture depended upon it.
Snyder references, “In Iron John, Robert Bly reminds us, “… The traditional ways of raising sons, which lasted for thousands and thousands of years, amounted to fathers and sons living in close—murderously close—proximity, while the father taught the son a trade; perhaps farming or carpentry or blacksmithing or tailoring…”
Time for boys to experience life with men is essential. Christmas toys for boys can be a catalyst for their hearts but it must be paired with training. Buy a bird house to build, but build it with them. A bow and arrow or BB gun requires training. Cultivating a boy’s heart with toy trucks and tractors can be lifelong investments in their confidence levels and ability to care for their family. So important.
With all the brokenness and heart aches my mom endured. With all the battles with the evil forces that taunted my father most of his life, they blessed me in a huge way. They let me be a boy. To this day I love to build things and have trained my boys with hammers and nails, saws and wrenches. I have a set of drawers in my garage full of screws and nails and wire nuts. We love the outdoors, hunting, fishing, adventure and a good campfire.
Gift giving to boys can be a powerful time if it is thought out. It may not be what they want but what they need. Even in the brokenness of my home God was working. God uses everything for His good.