The great majority of my outdoor adventures are predominantly male-dominant, testosterone-driven experiences shared with like-chromosomed relatives and friends.
My father taught me most of what I know about hunting and fishing. Likewise, I’ve done my best to pass similar instruction to my own boys.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course, and I suspect it may be widely viewed as the natural order of things. But because I paid attention in middle school sex ed classes, and am an attentive listener to female dialogue in my own home, I understand that behind every outdoorsman there’s at least one woman of equal or better worth. My wife asserts I’ve at least two.
My mother didn’t teach me how to hunt. To be fair, I’m not sure she could tell the difference between a shotgun and a rifle, but she always supported our passions and trusted us, Dad and me, confident we’d look after each other and return to her as we left.
She cooked the game we occasionally brought home, never batting an eye, although one might stare back as she dropped it into the iron kettle. Without Mom, men like us would have likely roasted our prey on a wooden spit, using nothing but our teeth and rocks as utensils, our loincloths for finger wiping.
Instead, she patiently demonstrated the difference between salad and dinner forks, and positioned our hands to make a small letter “b” and “d” to establish bread and drink locations on the proper sides of the plate. Slurping soup was frowned upon, too, as was substituting pants and shirts for napkins – no matter how convenient or effective.
Mom doesn’t know, but she also taught us the importance of balance, and how it so desperately needs to share space with the primal.
“There’s more to life than hanging a deer in the garage,” she’d say, advice that bounced off my adolescent, hunt-obsessed brain, until a midlife divorce left her standing alone, with two kids to raise. Her subsequent resolve was a model of courage and resilience, but exposed the extreme fragility of emotions – sadness, joy, despair, love. It was profound, yet temporary, and for the first time I understood what she meant about “more to life.”
Mom shared things with me about women that no man could, providing a peek into the complicated, inner workings of females, revealing how perceptions could differ so greatly between the sexes.
While likely not her intent, I exploited this knowledge as a young male to court, not only girls, but also their parents. Earning the father’s trust was important enough, but because of the strong female bond, I knew having the ear and heart of Mom was critical.
I’d talk hunting prospects with Dad first, then deftly switch gears to trade recipe secrets with Mom while clearing and washing dishes. Strangely enough, my dates’ parents often loved me longer than their daughters, and I still hunt some choice spots to this day.
Despite Mom’s sound guidance, though, I found myself sleeping on her couch at age 41, divorced with kids, running a similar gamut of emotions I’d witnessed long ago. Whether a deer or a marriage in the cross hairs, pulling the trigger can sometimes be an unpleasant or deeply painful decision, but Mom was always there, waiting for my return.
I recently asked Mom, curious, why she’d never taken up any outdoor pursuits. She just shrugged and told me, “Your father taught you how to tie a fly. I showed you how to tie a tie. You turned out pretty good. And that’s enough.”