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January 12, 2014

Boys can still be boys

DUNCAN — You know, the past was seldom as blissful as viewing it through the eyewear of nostalgia makes us believe.

That said, though, I do believe being a young boy in the 1950s and ‘60s — and probably further back than that — was more fun than it is today.

What got me thinking about this is a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys, a 2007 best-seller I rediscovered while recently moving into a new office in Waurika. Years ago, I’d bought the devilish book by British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden and was captivated.

“Recapture Sunday afternoons and long summer days,” says the book cover. “The perfect book for every boy from 8 to 80.”

And, indeed, it is an almost-perfect book. I call it “devilish,” because the Igguldens knew the way to a boy’s heart is through water bombs, homemade contraptions, disappearing ink and adventures that have a hint of danger.

The book carried me back to boyhood; when summers seemed to last forever and there was something to do virtually every day, because boys knew how to create fun for themselves, and rightly or wrongly, they were allowed to.

I wallowed in the joys of The Dangerous Book for Boys when it first came out. However, I also remember reading an essay on the book in Newsweek, which was entitled The Myth of Boyhood. The gist of the review seemed to be that The Dangerous Book conjures up a version of boyhood that never really existed; that such remembrances are nothing more than a figment of males’ nostalgic yearnings.

My reaction to the essay then and now is: Well, phooey! I’m fortunate to know such a time was very real. I lived it — and I’ll bet an overwhelming majority of males over 40 did as well.

Regardless what some modern sociologists may say, there really was a time in society when a parent’s entire daytime interaction with a child often consisted of two words: “Go play.”

It was an era when adults didn’t structure every move their child made, when “unsupervised play” wasn’t synonymous with “child abuse,” when there were no Amber alerts or youngsters who were video game drones.

Back then, parents chased kids out of the house and into the neighborhood, where we encountered the world — without an adult chaperone or bodyguard.

My brother and I grew up in a small rural Illinois community where we had the best of both worlds — town and country. We roamed with a gang of boys — and a couple female cousins and neighbors — who only needed a vacant lot, a pasture, a swimmin’ hole, a park or even the front steps of somebody’s house to have a venue for fun and creativity.

Give us a ball of any kind, and we could be satisfied from sun up to sun down. Give us a woods, and we could fill a day with adventures — building forts, poking under brush piles for turtles and snakes, digging caves, damming up creeks and seining minnows, playing army or cowboys and Indians, building treehouses, swinging on grapevines (smoking them as well).

Give us a bike and a wagon, and we could go on heroic journeys down streets and blacktops and gravel roads, where the treasures of the universe were to be found.

In those days, “stranger danger” had not yet paralyzed parents. They might not have laid eyes on us until supper time, but my parents usually knew where we could be found, even if we thought it was a secret. Parents in that era didn’t operate from worst-case scenarios, but rather from a basic belief that kids can entertain themselves — and be OK.

That’s the type of thinking The Dangerous Book for Boys is clearly meant to rekindle.

There are chapters on carpentry and woodworking, nature and exploring, hunting and fishing, science and experiments. There are stories of great inventors and daring explorers. And because the authors recognize that, secretly, boys do love to learn, there are chapters on grammar, Shakespeare and the solar system.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is a magical manual for helping boys learn to be boys. If you know a 21st century boy, give him this wonderful book — after you pry the video-game controller from his hands.

jeff.kaley@duncanbanner.com

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