Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pocket Knives

Hannah and I have a joke that whenever I can’t remember when something happened during my childhood, I say that I was six-years-old. In this case, I really believe I was. But then again, I could be wrong.

When I was six years old my father gave me a knife. It wasn’t a sword, machete, or even a locking knife. It was a small, red Swiss Army knife. Complete with a key chain, tweezers, toothpick, scissors, blade, and file, I came into the possession of a 1½ inch multi-purpose tool.

At six years old I wasn’t the brightest kid or even the handiest. Dad made sure to teach me a few things about knives, such as always cutting away from your body, never using it to stab anything (a non-locking knife has the tendency of folding over onto your fingers), and never using it to harm anyone.

Though some people might question the wisdom of giving a six-year-old access to sharp and pointy objects, looking back I’m glad my dad did. I’m glad because it was one of my first lessons on responsibility and began the process of transitioning me from child to adolescent, and further on to adult.

By giving me the Swiss Army knife, my Dad was telling me that he trusted me with responsibility. Other boys my age may not have had one, but I was given one, and I was expected to use it appropriately.

I didn’t. Within a short period of time I lost the red knife and Dad wouldn’t get me another one. It wasn’t until the next summer, after the snow had come and gone, that I found it again. In first grade I took it to school multiple times, but I at least had the sense not to show it to anybody.

The knife was a sign of responsibility, a kind of rite of passage. By not showing myself responsible, I was taught a very important lesson: with responsibility comes accountability, and with accountability comes consequences. If I lost the knife, my dad wouldn’t buy me another one. Had I cut myself or hurt somebody I can only imagine what the consequences would have been.

I still have the knife. It’s kept in my wife’s jewelry box along with a few others I’ve picked up along the way, some given to me by my dad; a little bigger, a little sharper to indicate the increase in responsibility. My Swiss Army knife is a reminder of a lesson I learned, and the other knives indicate a path of trust and maturity. And I haven’t left any of them outside.