I’m no big deal within Special Forces, but I am Special Forces. That is to say, I am SF qualified, Class 1-83, and have spent time on SF teams, active duty and reserves, and thus carry certain skills and orientations that are unique to most Americans.
I have three boys, one who is mid twenties and two who just entered their twenties. Over the years, starting when they were fairly young, I have tried to convey a few of the skills that I considered essential, or advantageous, for boys to know. My motivating logic was that situations come at you in life and I wanted them to able to handle as many of the hard and dangerous ones as possible.
Tracking was one of the first things I taught my first kid. We camped a lot and I wanted to get him ready early for hunting. I also wanted to stoke his interest in animals and to track something or someone a tracker must understand their behavior and physiology, the more the better. So, at an early age I got him a book of tracks and when in the fields or woods we looked for tracks. He was able by the sixth grade to discern a canine track from a raccoon or possum, and deer from cows, and feline from canine. I want my boys to understand that all activity leaves tracks, in both mud and in spread sheets, and that tracking works both ways, that anyone can track, or be tracked.
Gun safety and use was, of course, something that I taught all three of my boys. I am not a gun nut, but being familiar with bullet launchers is, I feel, almost a necessity. All my boys have fired pistols, rifles and shotguns, the common calibers. To of them have fired a Barrett .50 cal. Weapons have allowed me to teach broader lessons, such as cleaning, and taking care of their “stuff”. One of my mantras to them over the years has been, “Take care of your shit or your shit will not take care of you.”
Humans are hunters, at least we have been for the vast majority of human history, therefore all three of my boys had their hunter’s safety certificate as early as legally possible. Hunting is a great excuse to get into the woods and fields, to get muddy and cold, and to connect with our primal and basic roots. Before humans were healers, teachers or even soldiers, they were hunters.
SUT, or small unit tactics, was also something my boys were exposed to at early ages, especially the younger two. And I am talking fire teams, not squads. That is to say, groups of three to four. At very early ages I made games out of teaching them wedge, inverted wedge, diamond, Ranger file and on-line formations.
Once, in Memphis, my two youngest boys, when they were in high school, and their mom and I were walking through the center of Beale Street and it was crowded and things started to get a tad too energized. I said, “Wedge. Nick front. Ben left. Shelly center.” We went right into a wedge into the middle of which we shepherded Shelly and moved through the throng like that, with Nick the human tank at the tip of the wedge, and Ben and I on the flanks, where I could best watch my sector and all of them.
Knife skills were taught, how to hold and cut, to stand, starting in the kitchen, and eventually fighting. They also learned axes and hatches, also hammers and sledges. We played and talked at times about key concepts in facing an opponent with an edged weapon, literally and figuratively. Funny how knife fighting skills can come in handy in debate and arguments. Hope they retained some of that.
Land Nav was one of the more challenging things to try and teach my boys, as it is for most kids who do not grow up in the country or the mountains. Only one of them has a natural sense of direction. The other two used to get lost in parking lots. On family trips I used to show them maps and try to convey to them basic map elements and skills, then test and quiz them, trying to make games of it all.
I tried to expose all three boys to martial arts and found that doing so in the teenage years is better than the preteen years, when they get too cool. It was hard to get all of them, at various times, to focus enough to learn anything, like falls and punches. The younger two got punching gloves and mitts and learned the four basic punches before they were pre-teens. The upper-cut, in particular, served them well in later years, being able to end a fight with one punch to the gut, and not the face, and no one gets hurt or arrested. They all have spent some time in dojos and the younger two were outstanding high school wrestlers. I’ve tried to convey to them an understanding of escalation of force.
Fitness, of course, has since high school, and more so since SF, has always been a big thing for me, and I tried to impart that to my boys. But, I have made some mistakes in that effort. When my oldest boy mastered the bike, and his training wheels came off, I thought, “Great!” and took him and his tiny bike on a run with me. A long run. Too long. I ended having to walk the last mile or so and had to carry him and the bike part of the way. I did that more than once, and did similar miscalculations with the other two. Ouch. Oh, well.
Situational awareness and being observant are taught by lots of dads. But, an SF dad will teach that somewhat differently. And everyone who has been in the military, and many who haven’t, know the phrase, “Head on a swivel.” But, I’ve tried to teach my boys to pay attention to more than rooftops, but also to faces and posture, to positions and patterns. But, I tried to do so in non-direct ways that they would internalize and no roll their eyes. Again, stories and games are effective in this with kids.
The dark and the night are naturally feared by most people, especially, again, those who grow up and live in cities. I’ve taught all my boys to be still and listen when in dark woods or a dark room, to allow the eyes to adjust, and to detect anyone, or anything, that is nearby. Humans are hard wired to fear the dark, true, but SF people know that the dark can also be your friend.
Two of my boys are climbers, the oldest and one other. Besides the fact that I have long been a climber, rock and alpine, I believe that climbing teaches and conditions many good skills and traits in a young man or woman, such as controlling one’s fear, and trusting in one’s fingertips, and other body parts and abilities, and also things like ropes and knots that you tied yourself. Standing on a summit, pushing for that summit, and knowing when to turn back, are also important epiphanies and insights.
Languages are another SF cornerstone. The more languages you speak the more people you can speak to. And the better you understand all language and the concept of language in general the more you will understand language, and people. Effective strategy and tactics requires solid communications, and that doesn’t always mean just radios and satellites.
I’ve also tried to teach them not to fear school things, such as math, which has many masculine applications, and requirements, such as demolitions, indirect fire and carpentry. I have tried to teach them the importance of studying and understanding history, and science, and the human condition, and the power of story. We have had many discussions over the years about religion, how one must find one’s own faith and spiritual path, Understand what one believes in, or be just a leaf in the wind.
Right and wrong are things every parents tries to teach his and her kids. But, I have a slightly different view of that. Yes, there’s a right and wrong way to interact with people. One needs to be able to read people, to know when to smile and wave, when to nod and drink tea, when to withdraw, and when to lock and load and put finger to trigger. My goal was never to turn my boys into Rambos, but to prepare them for the world, both the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, the dark and the light.
All SF men probably wish that their sons, and maybe a few wish that their daughters, could be in SF, or the military, and live in and be trained in and be conditioned in that environment and culture, because there is no substitute, not better place to prepare one for the very bad times that are always just around the corner. And some do follow their dads into SF, and the military. But, that simply is not possible for all. Most of our kids will never be in the military, much less in SF. But, knowing that drives us to train, support and prepare our kids as much as we can. I have discussed this with numerous other SF dads.
I have done the best I could, just as every man – SF soldier, coach, teacher, father and grandfather – has done for me. There’s things not listed in this article that I taught them, and things I did not teach them that I meant to. But, all three of my boys are on their own now. I hope I am around to help them in the future, if need be. But, one never knows.
And I’m not done yet. Next up: the grandkids…