For the last few days, I’ve been nearly obsessed with a book entitled The Dangerous Book for Boys. It appeals to me on several levels: a father who loves to do stuff with his son, a person interested in frugality, and a person who loves fun projects. I saw mention of it on The Colbert Report a short while ago and when I saw it on the shelf at a bookstore, I felt the need to leaf through it. And before I knew it, a half hour had passed and visions of tying knots, making paper airplanes, and constructing bows and arrows floated through my mind.
For those unaware, The Dangerous Book for Boys is basically a compendium of hands-on activities and thought fodder intended to get children to engage in, for lack of a better word, analog activities. Things like making your own bow and arrow, making your own paper airplane, how to catch and skin a rabbit, how to tie lots of different knots, how to grow a crystal, and so on.
So why am I mentioning this here? I grew up quite poor, but during the summertime I was never, ever bored (winter was sometimes another story). There were always things to try and do all the time, from making my own fishing pole and trying to catch a fish to re-enacting the Battle of Pea Ridge in the backyard with five boys and a pile of sticks.
These activities were what made childhood great for me. Most of the time, the only thing I really needed was my mind and whatever spare things were laying around. My dad would pop in, come up with a great idea of some sort, and send me off down some great path where I would spend four days trying to make a rubber band catapult out of an old pile of rubber bands, a discarded two-by-four, and a saw from the garage. I even had friends that were pretty well off who would come over, expecting to be bored because I didn’t have a Sega Genesis, and before they knew it, we were out in the yard trying to determine the most effective way to catch a grasshopper. My mind and body would be occupied for days with things like this. Not only was there a certain magical innocence about it, it taught me countless lessons about various things and it was largely free – I never really wanted a high-tech toy because I was having too much fun doing these other things.
This book captures that magic, that special mixture of long summer days and imagination and working at some activity and not realizing I was learning a lot while having the time of my life.
In the end, I guess, you don’t really need this book. A well-worn copy of The Boy Scout Handbook that resides still in my bedroom would suffice, as would my copy of David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, also on my shelf.
I guess my real dream here is to give my child the freedom of exploration that I once had, because it made me into the person I am today. And I plan to be right there with him, watching his failures and successes as he figures out how to move a hundred pound block using nothing but some wooden wedges.
If there are any frugal people out there reading this, I honestly cannot conceive of a better Father’s Day present for the father of any boy, because I can’t think of anything better than opening my child to the experiences inside. I hope that I receive it myself.