There are many firsts in a boy’s life that mark important milestones. His first fishing rod, first dog, first fight, first hunt, etc. One of these important firsts for many boys (especially in country areas) is his first pocket knife. In the same way that a dog teaches a child responsibility for something other than themselves, a pocket knife teaches them that sometimes they have to solve problems by themselves, that mum and dad won’t always be there to help them… And a knife, as one of humanity’s most basic tools, is an item that fills a hundred roles.
This knife was my first. It was given to me by my uncle on my eighth birthday. A Victorinox Camper – a genuine, stamped, cross emblazoned Swiss Army Knife, not a dollar shop knock-off like some of my friends had. I guess my uncle got tired of me always borrowing his knife (a big old stockman that I only just had the strength to open) and decided that it was time for my own. I knew at the time it was a significant moment and that it was a symbol of the faith my parents and my uncle were placing in me. The responsibility to use it as a tool (not a weapon), to carry it folded safely when not in use, to not take it to school, to not lose it and to always cut away from me with my thumb behind the blade. But at the end of the day, boys will be boys…
My hands still bear the scars of the steep learning curve metered out by this knife. Years later I confessed to my father that I never told him or my mother that I’d slipped with the blade, no matter how serious the cut, for fear that they’d take it off me. His reply was that they knew and my mother wanted to take it off me but he told her that it was the only sure way I would learn (God bless him).
This knife is an imperfect tool, but it was all I had growing up and I always made it suit the task. The main blade has been reduced to about ¾ of it’s original width by improper sharpening techniques, the Victorinox symbol is almost worn away, the handle scales have slight burn marks from where I dropped it on hot coals and the leather pouch has been scratched and scraped from falling off my bike and sliding down rocks.
I carried this knife for 14 years. Up until about the age of 22 at which point I decided I needed a new Swiss Army Knife, and when my sister asked what I wanted her to bring me back from her round the world trip, I told her that a Victorinox Traveller from Switzerland would suit me just fine. I then carried this knife on my own travels. Now the Victorinox Camper is retired, as it’s value to me is just too great – I would never forgive myself if I lost it.
In the age of political correct parenting, cotton swaddling of children and the media’s portrayal of violent youths, most people would baulk at the idea of giving an eight year old child a knife. Hell, even when I was in high school and I was going on a two day D of E hike my teacher told us we couldn’t take a knife (to which I replied that if she thought I was going into the bush without one she was certainly mistaken). She ended up coming to me to ask to borrow the exact knife she forbid me from taking. The point of the story is that when the time comes, I for one will be a parent that gives my son - or daughter if she shows an inclination towards the outdoors - a pocket knife when he/she is ready. To hell with the nanny state, my son will grow up to be a real man who can handle any situation that man or nature can hurl at him.