Yesterday, I took my two boys fishing. It was a perfect summer day. The air smelled of warm pine. The sky was cloudless. Dragonflies skimmed the lake and perched on our rod tips.
My boys are both old enough now to fish by themselves. They bait their own hooks. They cast their own lines. My ten-year-old likes to catch snakes while he waits for his bobber to drop. My seven-year-old prefers frogs. As for me, I like to find a log where I can sit back and watch.
I still help out here and there--fetching an occasional wayward cast from an overhanging branch--but for the most part my boys negotiate the tangles and snaged lines without me.
I've read that the Norwegians use the word friluftsliv to describe time spent in the outdoors. They believe it builds character and fosters grit. Friluftsliv is intentional in Norway, a way of life, and a point of national pride.
I like to think that catching a stringer of trout is a fair approximation of friluftsliv--an Idaho spin on a Nordic idea.
I too want my boys to be resilient. I want them to have courage and inner-strength. They need challenges, and they need to solve small problems on their own. They need to see that success comes from hard work.
But I know these lessons need to be nurtured and can't be forced.
My boys also need to know that their fishing line will occasionally get tangled in a tree. And sometimes the fish won't bite.
Of course none of this is easy to teach, and I'm not a perfect parent. But the Norwegian's aren't perfect either. And yet, statistically speaking, they outpace the rest of the world in nearly every measurement of well-being: Crime rate. Graduation rate. Health. Longevity. You name it.
Is it friluftsliv?
I hear some people say that American kids are getting soft, or that they can't stay focused, or that they're turning into "snowflakes."
It's a popular narrative, but I don't think it's fair or true. When I look at my boys and my nephews and nieces, or I think about all the kids I came to know over twenty years of teaching high school, I don't see snowflakes. I see potential.
And while it's oversimplifying things to suggest that all every kid needs is more bracing hikes or overnight camping trips, I think it's a small but crucial part of a bigger discussion. Kids, to a large degree, mirror the landscape that surrounds them. If we want to raise resilient kids, kids who are strong and determined, then we might do well to take a page from the Norwegian play book.
At least that's how I felt yesterday.
When we left the lake, I let my boys walk in front of me with their stringer. They took turns carrying it. I could tell that they were proud; it showed in the cadence of their walk and in the way they kept looking down at the trout--their trout.As I watched them, I realized that I was also feeling proud--proud to be a father, proud of my boys, and fortunate to live near mountain lakes stocked with willing trout. It was a nice moment--the two of them together with their fish. It was one of those moment that I think I'll remember for a long time.
I like to think they'll remember it too.