What Tough Guys Do

My American brow rose when I came across a piece in the Telegraph online recently entitled “Fabulous, Fun Ideas to Get Your Grandchildren In The Garden”. It was by a Brit named Adam Lee-Potter. Adam? What kind of a man would publish an article like that?  So I looked him up and found he had cycled 15,000 miles around the world, flown in a bombing raid over Kosovo and broken into a Balinese jail… been attacked by a Polar bear, robbed at gunpoint in Syria, and contracted mountain sickness atop Gokyo Ri.

Not exactly your run of the mill Viola tricolor var. hortensis.

Then I wondered why I was surprised. Great Britain has a tradition of some pretty tough men writing about or for children. You can start with Hugh Lofting penning Dr. Dolittle in World War I’s indescribable trenches or similarly A.A. Milne writing Winnie The Pooh. Later on Michael Bond, author of Paddington Bear, began writing while in the British Army in Cairo during World War II then of course we know that Roald Dahl author of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and many other popular tales was an RAF fighter pilot and an ace. And we cannot fail to mention J.R.R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings who was a veteran of the Somme.

And it didn’t get any tougher than the Somme.

Even Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Captains Courageous, while never a soldier (although he would lose a soldier son in war) was an adventurer sent off to earn his own keep in India at the age of sixteen and who then rambled a circumnavigation before returning to England and becoming the most celebrated writer of the time.

But okay – writing about gardens?

Passing strange because what we Americans prefer are yards we can bulldoze flat and plant with grass. But then before I can click off and go about my business I find Mr. Lee-Potter has stretched a nasty length of booby-trap wire across the posy, lilac scented path of his piece, it catches my ankle and I face-plant in the fallen leaves.

To paraphrase:

Find a quiet, shady spot in the garden with your grandchildren and set aside time to read your favourite old books about the great outdoors, such as Just William by Richmal Crompton or Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.

Now suggesting Crompton and Ransome, that is, a boy’s book for boys and a girl’s book for girls is not only delightfully unpolitically correct but the idea of getting them outside with a book is something we Americans don’t do, never do and by golly -- should.

First because it’s the one infallible way to pry little Susie and Ralph Junior away from their soul-destroying iPads and iPhones. Second, because while we might not occupy an island that lends itself to little people, talking donkeys, pixies, lost boys, messing around on riverbanks with moles and boats and of course, elves -- we do operate on a pretty grand scale. We have places still so wild people disappear into them for years, bears, mountain lions and wolves, thundering herds of cattle and buffalo, Area 51, alligators and Bigfoot, the Rougarou, the Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow and -- our own prolific writers.   

Yet not a job for parents, I believe you must agree. Otherwise it would be done already. After all YouTube is replete with video of parents with their nose in their own iPhone walking out into traffic, falling into water fountains or down open manholes.

Parents are part of the problem.

But what Adam Lee-Potter suggests is that grandparents are another animal entirely. After all parents, public school teachers and the government do tend to underestimate us. View us very condescendingly. We’re old, over the hill, beached -- we might own a computer but half the time need help turning it on.

My wife visits a new doctor recently and she’s sitting on the examination table when the sawbones walks in and pats her on the shoulder. “Did anybody come with you today dearie?” “What’d you do?” I asked. “I told him that if he calls me dearie and pats me with his hand again like that I’ll tear it off and stuff it down his throat.” “Did you really?”  “Well, almost.”

But the really big mistake that normal people make about grandparents is that as long as we’re not going to drive them anywhere, they trust us to watch the kids. What fools because what they forget entirely is that we often have backyards. Maybe even with enough bushes in it to conceal some very strange goings on.

And so want to save the world or your grandchildren’s soul? Take the hint from Adam Lee-Potter. Out of sight of the road, maybe even just behind a fence, throw up a tarp, a tent, a lean-to fort like you used to build when you were a kid.  In front of it a few rocks for a fireplace. Build a fire -- there isn’t a kid living who can resist a campfire. Then explain we’re taking our lunch or snack out there and once you get them seated and they’re poking at the embers explain how bad your eyes have gotten. That you’ve been trying to read again, this book from your own childhood and could they help you out? Read you the first few pages out loud?

Please you ask in your best senior citizen quaver.

Then hand them Huckleberry FinnMaybe Drums Along the Mohawk or Little Women.  There are tens of thousands to choose from. For real life adventure nothing touches the Landmark Series of books and there are over a hundred of those written by famous authors for young men and women.

A few afternoons or early evenings like that and they’ll never smell wood smoke again without thinking of you and what you taught them about life and love and adventure. About their heritage and the much wider world which exists beyond the apps on their phone.

Do it, it’s what tough guys do.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD See it Here.  He lives and writes in the colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York, blogs here and can also be reached at miniterhome@gmail.com

My American brow rose when I came across a piece in the Telegraph online recently entitled “Fabulous, Fun Ideas to Get Your Grandchildren In The Garden”. It was by a Brit named Adam Lee-Potter. Adam? What kind of a man would publish an article like that?  So I looked him up and found he had cycled 15,000 miles around the world, flown in a bombing raid over Kosovo and broken into a Balinese jail… been attacked by a Polar bear, robbed at gunpoint in Syria, and contracted mountain sickness atop Gokyo Ri.

Not exactly your run of the mill Viola tricolor var. hortensis.

Then I wondered why I was surprised. Great Britain has a tradition of some pretty tough men writing about or for children. You can start with Hugh Lofting penning Dr. Dolittle in World War I’s indescribable trenches or similarly A.A. Milne writing Winnie The Pooh. Later on Michael Bond, author of Paddington Bear, began writing while in the British Army in Cairo during World War II then of course we know that Roald Dahl author of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and many other popular tales was an RAF fighter pilot and an ace. And we cannot fail to mention J.R.R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings who was a veteran of the Somme.

And it didn’t get any tougher than the Somme.

Even Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Captains Courageous, while never a soldier (although he would lose a soldier son in war) was an adventurer sent off to earn his own keep in India at the age of sixteen and who then rambled a circumnavigation before returning to England and becoming the most celebrated writer of the time.

But okay – writing about gardens?

Passing strange because what we Americans prefer are yards we can bulldoze flat and plant with grass. But then before I can click off and go about my business I find Mr. Lee-Potter has stretched a nasty length of booby-trap wire across the posy, lilac scented path of his piece, it catches my ankle and I face-plant in the fallen leaves.

To paraphrase:

Find a quiet, shady spot in the garden with your grandchildren and set aside time to read your favourite old books about the great outdoors, such as Just William by Richmal Crompton or Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.

Now suggesting Crompton and Ransome, that is, a boy’s book for boys and a girl’s book for girls is not only delightfully unpolitically correct but the idea of getting them outside with a book is something we Americans don’t do, never do and by golly -- should.

First because it’s the one infallible way to pry little Susie and Ralph Junior away from their soul-destroying iPads and iPhones. Second, because while we might not occupy an island that lends itself to little people, talking donkeys, pixies, lost boys, messing around on riverbanks with moles and boats and of course, elves -- we do operate on a pretty grand scale. We have places still so wild people disappear into them for years, bears, mountain lions and wolves, thundering herds of cattle and buffalo, Area 51, alligators and Bigfoot, the Rougarou, the Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow and -- our own prolific writers.   

Yet not a job for parents, I believe you must agree. Otherwise it would be done already. After all YouTube is replete with video of parents with their nose in their own iPhone walking out into traffic, falling into water fountains or down open manholes.

Parents are part of the problem.

But what Adam Lee-Potter suggests is that grandparents are another animal entirely. After all parents, public school teachers and the government do tend to underestimate us. View us very condescendingly. We’re old, over the hill, beached -- we might own a computer but half the time need help turning it on.

My wife visits a new doctor recently and she’s sitting on the examination table when the sawbones walks in and pats her on the shoulder. “Did anybody come with you today dearie?” “What’d you do?” I asked. “I told him that if he calls me dearie and pats me with his hand again like that I’ll tear it off and stuff it down his throat.” “Did you really?”  “Well, almost.”

But the really big mistake that normal people make about grandparents is that as long as we’re not going to drive them anywhere, they trust us to watch the kids. What fools because what they forget entirely is that we often have backyards. Maybe even with enough bushes in it to conceal some very strange goings on.

And so want to save the world or your grandchildren’s soul? Take the hint from Adam Lee-Potter. Out of sight of the road, maybe even just behind a fence, throw up a tarp, a tent, a lean-to fort like you used to build when you were a kid.  In front of it a few rocks for a fireplace. Build a fire -- there isn’t a kid living who can resist a campfire. Then explain we’re taking our lunch or snack out there and once you get them seated and they’re poking at the embers explain how bad your eyes have gotten. That you’ve been trying to read again, this book from your own childhood and could they help you out? Read you the first few pages out loud?

Please you ask in your best senior citizen quaver.

Then hand them Huckleberry FinnMaybe Drums Along the Mohawk or Little Women.  There are tens of thousands to choose from. For real life adventure nothing touches the Landmark Series of books and there are over a hundred of those written by famous authors for young men and women.

A few afternoons or early evenings like that and they’ll never smell wood smoke again without thinking of you and what you taught them about life and love and adventure. About their heritage and the much wider world which exists beyond the apps on their phone.

Do it, it’s what tough guys do.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD See it Here.  He lives and writes in the colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York, blogs here and can also be reached at miniterhome@gmail.com