Thursday, February 17, 2011

“A tool for life"

My son's Victorinox Explorer

I still remember that, for a kid, having a Swiss Army Knife was something special. A SAK invokes adventure, camping , carving wood, making holes, opening cans, and cutting some stuff to see what’s on the inside.
The first Swiss Army knife I ever owned only lasted me a few minutes. I was actually living in Boston at that time and happened to find it in the playground. Metal? bright read plastic? I must have been 5 or 6 years old and those things are hard to resist. Of course my wonderful possession was taken away from me as soon as the break ended and I innocently showed my treasure around. The kindergarten teacher took it away and actually threw it in a large trash-can. A child remembers those things, as that nice red knife fell into the trash, lost to me forever... That !#&!%*!, she could have given it to my mother at least, don’t you think? :-)

Anyway, back in those days I remember it was just cool to have a pocket knife, and if it was a real deal, original Victorinox Swiss Army knife and not one of the cheapo Chinese imitations then even better. What’s so special about it? Hard to say. I guess that for a kid, the color is a bonus. The blade is razor sharp right out of the box. The tools are numerous and at that age you think there’s nothing you can’t do with your SAK. Its an invitation to adventure and afternoons of exploration, unlimited possibilities for any kid with a bit of imagination.

Introducing kids to the Survival Mindset

Being responsible for a sharp tool is a good first step regarding dangerous tools. I see it as an introduction to later being responsible for larger knives and then guns. Along with the bushcraft skills in which it can be used, the SAK is a must, a first step into the survival and preparedness mindset. It helps that most survival manuals and books picture SAK of some sort. Kids feel they have THAT knife, the one in the book or magazines. The steel in the SAK is easy to sharpen the tool is easy to maintain and it can be sent for repair if it breaks.
In a way, the SAK is a symbol of independence and self reliance, the first steps into the path that will separate your kid from the rest of the sheep once they grow up.

A Kid’s first Swiss Army Knife

For as long as I remember I promised myself I would be a cool dad. I sure wish my dad had lots of guns, knifes, tools an gear in general. As I grew older though, I understood things must come at the right time so as to be appreciated and work their magic. Giving a child a USD400  Chris Reeve Sebenza makes no sense to me. You must start with the basics, learn and then the good stuff comes when you appreciate it. Following philosophy, up until now my son’s knife had been a cheap little plier mutitool. He loves that thing and he uses it for everything. He carries it in his pocket and offers it to me when I need a knife or some other tool. We’ve been sharpening it and the small blade does cut, but the rest of the tools are poorly made.
This week I decided it was time to get him a real knife. I also got one for my nephew who is 11 years old. My nephew is staying with us for a few days so I took this opportunity to work on that special relationship between cousins and cousin-uncle. I’m not close with my own cousins and know I’m missing something. I want my kids to have a better relationship with theirs. Its family after all, and if you have a good relationship then life is just better. Someone to share the good times and help during the bad ones. It’s also my duty as an uncle so I make sure they have the best possible time with uncle “Fer”.
After a quick visit to a local store I ended up with two Victorinox Explorers. These cost a bit over 50 bucks each. Amazon has them for $31.56.
Victorinox Swiss Army Explorer Multi-Tool Knife
That same day I gave the kids their brand new Swiss Army knives.
The results? Even better than I could possibly dream of. Its wasn’t just the expressions in their faces, or the continuous “Thanks Dad!" and “Thanks uncle Fer!"but the entire day was just full of wonderful, priceless moments. Giving kids their first knife is also a perfect moment to teach them lessons that will stay with them their entire lives, talking to them about the responsibility the gift comes along with. Never use it to play or hurt their brothers. Not leave it un supervised where his little brother could reach it. I also explained both of them how to use it, cutting away from their body and never towards it, mindful of their fingers. Never throw it. Never use force with the tools. Never cut over concrete or stone, but to use a wooden table or log instead. I explained that the tools are fragile and will snap if used improperly such as using the tip of the blade for prying. The boys listened to everything I had to say with unusual attention.
After the explanation, we did some feathersticks and I took the opportunity to teach them how to start a fire. They used it to cut plants, aloe vera leafs (they did some for of skin unguent with it), they used the magnifying glass to burn stuff and basically just spent the rest of the day in the garden playing with their new knives.
In the afernoon, they were reading some books with their knives next to them. As my wife walked by their room she said she overheard my nephew telling my son “ When we’re grown up, we’ll get together to have a beer and we’ll open them with the bottle opener in  our knives”. Man, you can’t imagine how hard I wished that would come true some day.
 During the entire day the boys kept saying thank you. At one point both of them came to me looking very serious and my son asked, “is it true that these knives are used by Swiss soldiers?”. I told them that yes ( actually its the Soldier model that is issued, but well, close enough...) and they looked at the knives in their hands with even more awe.
During dinner my niece (13 year old girl) asked her brother and my son what was the big deal about the knife, and what was it for.
My nephew thought for a second and said “Well, its a tool”. “A tool for what?” asked his sister.
“Its a tool for life” he said. I got goosebumps on my arms at hearing such an eloquent reply.
When the time is right, a Swiss Army knife is an important part of the initial transition stage between childhood and adulthood. That moment when you’re first trusted with some serious responsibilities (such as handling sharp tools) but still young enough to be full of dreams and an a rich imagination.
If the kid is lucky enough and the SAK survives without getting lost, it becomes one of his most prized possessions.
Take care folks.



Anonymous said...

The way my brother taught his son with his 1st knife (also SAK) was using only one blade a day, and covering the uses and do's / don'ts of the tool. The light finally dawned on the boy when he was taught this tool made other tools work. Carving a weinie roasting stick taught him this.

I'm glad to hear your son and his cousin are getting an education - a personal knife your Dad gave you is an awesome responsibility.

Tim said...

Alright I am getting a bit long in the tooth, but I got my first SAK at the age of 12 in 1973 and I still have it. I use to carry it with me around the world with me when I was a tech rep. I cherish my SAK.
Bigus Macus

Anonymous said...

Thought you and the kids would enjoy seeing Thomas Jefferson's SAK!

Anonymous said...

I have a whole bunch of SAK, have carried Victorinox Ambassador, great size, for years.

Funny, I had exactly the same experience when I was about 8 y.o. growing up in Dorchester, a part of Boston. I found a cigar box full of about 50 pocket knives, real old ones that are probably heirlooms now. Of course, I brought them home to my parents, who promptly threw them all in the trash also!! I managed to sneak out and save one small one and have kept it for almost 60 years as a souvenir. I sure wish they had been a bit more forward thinking and just kept them for me.


EN said...

I got my first SAK as a soldier in the 1970. I was never without one until I relplace it with a multi-tool in the 90s. I still carry one in my truck, BOB, and the small backpack I use daily.

Anonymous said...

Curious question...why purchase a SAK for the nephew, but not the niece? The male obviously got the importance of having such a fine tool, but her question alone urged me to write this posting. Males AND females should have such great opportunities to experience the beginnings of a survival mindset! Someday, she could become a prepper, too :)

FerFAL said...

Hi Anon,
I didn't buy one for my niece because she has no interest whatsoever in these things. I'm not her dad, I didn't bring her up. I love my niece but buying her a SAK makes as much sense as buying her a boat anchor, she coulnd't care less. I did get her a nice dress and she was thrilled. Again, love her but not my daughter and I can't change the way and mentality she was brought up with.
If she had even the slightest interest, I would have gotten her one as well. Its not a Male/Female thing.

wcy said...

My first SAK was given to me by my parents when I was 11 or 12. It, too, is a Victorinox Explorer. I carried mine for many years. It is in semi-retirement. I have been on some good adventures with that knife. I think I used the phillips head screwdriver on mine as much as the main blade and scissors. Good choice!