Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dads' Thoughts on Free-Range Kids

Michael Chabon and Roger Ebert wrote recently about free-range kids. Bad Dad has shared some thoughts that he should post on his blog. We will see if he does it any faster than the other things on his honey do list.

Here are some excerpts from Roger Ebert's Raising free-range kids, but you should really go read the whole thing.
Certainly today we take for granted things that we never imagined in our own childhoods, like child car seats, bike helmets, bottled water, security guards, sunblock, hand sanitizer and childproof bottles. I mentioned my childhood memory that we boys would pee behind trees, shrubbery, or garages ("If you run home, your mom might grab you and make you do something"). I forgot to mention that one of the reasons we needed to pee is that when we got thirsty we drank out of garden hoses--our own, and anybody else's.
I don't know what the solution is. I really don't. What I do know is that something fundamental has disappeared from the American landscape, and that is the sight of girls and boys running around and playing. In 1957, there was a best-selling memoir about childhood titled, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did you Do? Nothing, by Robert Paul Smith. These days, a kid had better have an answer ready for that question.
Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood awakens a yearning for the wilderness of my youth. Again, read the whole thing.
Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That's because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story, whether that story is imaginatively or factually true. We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life.

This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.
What frontiers will my daughter map? I guess that is why I take her to Lair of the Golden Bear each summer.

Where the girls are...
Free Range Kids series
Lair series

Breathing Treatment took this picture of Bad Dad and myself while we were kayaking on Pinecrest lake this year.


  1. I've not read the Roger Ebert piece yet, but Michael Chabon had me yearning for the wilderness of my youth as well. I am certain something critical has been lost, but am totally confounded at how to get it back.

    I also remember how my parents would go to a state park, put up a tent and let us run wild in the woods, on the trails, and everywhere else; the only requirement being that we be back for meals. Oh the adventures we had and the stories we told.

  2. Water used to taste great out of hoses.


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