The tree towered over our whole backyard, or at least it seemed. We would climb it to see out across the roof tops and into the far-away yards. It is the tree I remember most growing up, if I think about trees. We called it a China Berry tree, it was really a Chinese Tallow. Those details don’t matter much. Back then we used it for climbing and the berries were rock hard. You could throw them or launch them from a sling shot and if you were a good aim they hurt.
I love the memories of climbing that tree. It was a staple of boyhood. So was throwing rocks and mud and sticks. I remember a time, for whatever reason, I was throwing mud balls at the other kids in the neighborhood as they rode by on their bikes. They were obviously taunting me and I took them up on the offer. Well, not obviously, that is just my disclaimer for being a little feral boy. Somehow, for some reason I was running low on mud ammo and decided to run out into the street and collect some of it back, that was when it happened. Bam. Someone ran over my head and sliced it open. I ran to the house as the blood streamed down my face. It was another trip to the emergency room and a few stitches. I was pretty proud of those stitches.
The reaction of a mother in a bump and bruise situation is loving and caring, hugs and cuddles. At least for most of them. From a dad it is, “Your gonna be okay, keep playing.” “That cut is far enough from your heart, you won’t die.” In many of today’s circles they would claim that to be insensitive and abusive. It’s not. It is training.
In recovering the wildness of a boys heart they need to experience all that it means to be male. A mother is unable to offer this to her boy; it must come from a man. A recent article in the University of Texas magazine rebuked young college men for embracing their masculinity. They don’t want young men to be male? Our boys are getting confusing messages and it is hurting them.
The next generation of men, those who will lead and protect our daughters, our country, us as older folks are who we are talking about. It is critical to train them as men, good, strong, Godly men. They need the confidence it takes to face down evil. They need the knowledge of manhood, a hammer, a knife, a gun, a lug wrench. They need to know the feel of rope, how to climb, how to help someone in need. How will they know this if they are not taught?
Scientific fact, if you gather a group of boys together, lead by a bunch of men who love to engage their own boyish hearts, things will happen. One Saturday during our KOZ we set up a challenge course. It had jumps and ropes and mud holes. The obstacles were relatively simple but it didn’t matter, the boys loved it. One obstacle was a rope swinging over a water tank. It was a short swing and just a few feet off the ground. About halfway through the day one of the little guys swung out and slipped as he crossed the water tank. He tumbled to the ground and almost immediately started crying.
I guess I can have a tendency to minimize things in an emergency situation. I say it is just staying calm, my wife says I can be insensitive. I ran over and scooped him up. He said his elbow hurt and I felt around it – did it pop out of socket? The team rushed him down to the fire station at the end of the road, they said go straight to the hospital. It was broken. Later that day I went to the hospital to visit him. Actually I was pretty reluctant. Were his young parents going to chastise me for not being sensitive or watching over their boy. “Oh TJ don’t worry about us, we read Wild at Heart. We know about boys. Thank you for caring about our little guy.” Thank you Jesus. I was so honored to know this young family and how they were truly looking to raise their boys to know their wildness.
Boys who do not know what to do with the driving force they are born with, who do not have a mentor to teach them what it is and how to use it are going to have trouble. That inherent design comes out in gangs, violence and confusion. They take drugs, use sex or even sexual confusion as a way to try to define what they think they feel.
Jesus was the true example of a man. Tender and firm both. Radical and smart. Hard working but knew when to retreat to still quiet places to be with His Father. He loved the men he walked with and appreciated the women who cared for Him. He is our example; He is the story we tell our boys. The stories of how He trained us, how He rescued us. The adventures of our youth and what to do with the feelings and desires that overcome us as guys.
I went back several years later to that small GI house I was born into. The house seemed tiny. The tree out back was gone. I sat in front in my truck and the surreal feeling of once having been there and the memories that came flooding back. As I drove off that day I felt sad and serene both. Those days as a boy were good. My boyhood taught me a lot of things that made me who I am today. The stitches and scraped knees mattered. The tools my dad taught me to use and the burnt fingers from playing with matches. I was allowed to experience wildness and for that I am thankful.
T. J. Greaney