Monday, November 14, 2011

What Every 13-Year-Old Should Know

According to my father.

Many fathers, especially my own, view their roles as protector and provider as paramount. Unfortunately for every parent, they know the time will come when their precious bundles will grow up and have to fend for themselves. In order to raise well-rounded, functioning members of society, they must equip their children with all the useful skills and knowledge required to face the big, bad world.

These are skills my father thought every 13-year-old should know:

1. How to gut and skin animals.

Most children learn how to gut a fish, but my mother still admits how creepy she found it when she'd walk into the kitchen and see all her children gathered around a boiled deer head, learning how to skin it properly.

Given that we always lived in a city of over 20,000 people, this skill did not come in handy as often as dear Papi would have liked.

This is a low quality picture of my father and me spending some high quality time together skinning a sea-gull skull. Obviously.

2. How to make poisonous darts.

This skill would be used in combination with skinning and gutting animals. Before you can gut an animal, you need to know how to kill one.

This fulfilled a dual purpose, by teaching us some of our Colombian heritage: also, apparently, the best way to kill an animal in the wild is with poisonous, handmade darts.

3. How to set a snare.

As I write this, it has become clear my dad was obsessed with the idea that his children would, at some point in their lives, be stranded in the wilderness and forced to hunt and gather.

To make the most of our time in the wild, we were encouraged to set some snares that we could then come back and check after a fruitful (hopefully!) poisonous-dart hunting session.

4.  How to potentially kill someone in hand-to-hand combat.

Elbow them in the throat.

We were taught a series of moves that would disarm a person and leave their throat exposed, so that if we were attacked, we could elbow them in the wind pipe, collapse it, and cease someone's breathing...forever.

5. How to knife fight.

Everyone knows suspicious activities can sometimes take place at high school: doing drugs or drinking in the bathroom, schoolyard run-ins, but...knife fighting?

I think parents have a hard time accepting the events that signal their children are growing up. So when I started going to the high school for a few classes a week, it occurred to my dad that I might be challenged to a knife fight by some angst-filled teenager.

An eye-roll and a sigh was the only reaction my mother could offer when she walked into the living room and saw father and daughter positioned in a mock knife battle.

6. How to get out of an attack, without killing someone.

Gouge their eyes out.

If the situation didn't call for the other person to die (i.e. kill or be killed), then a simple eye gouge would do.

"Stick your thumbs into their eyes," he would say. "If stuff isn't squishing out of their sockets and running down your hands, you're not pushing hard enough."

7.  How to harvest worms.

Apart from the basic survival skills, my father also knew that he wanted his children to be business savvy. So he built us a worm farm. Instead of teaching us about responsibility with a reasonable pet, like a dog, we had to learn to care for worms instead.

He began by constructing two big wooden boxes in our basement, filled them with dirt, and threw in some worms. We had to collect all the compost and bury it in the worm crates. We were then taught how to recognize pregnant worms, worm poop, and egg cases.

The worst part? We had to market the worms to our friends. One way to gain an awkward reputation in kindergarten is by trying to sell 30 worms for a dollar to other 6-year-olds. Trust me.

8. How to get rid of the hiccups.

This one actually works 100 per cent of the time. Sadly, my friends will never allow me to use this miracle hiccup cure on them because it basically involves choking them.

Oh, and sometimes you pass out.

This fail-proof way of getting rid of the hiccups involves having someone push their thumbs into your neck (cutting off part of your airway) as you take deep, slow breaths. Providing you don't push too hard the hiccups are cured after a few moments and no one loses consciousness.

As well as knowing how hard to push, other precautions must be taken.

For example, don't do it in public.

On one of the two occasions I did faint from having this done we were in a movie theatre. Luckily for my father, no one was there to witness him choking a 6-year-old and then shaking her awake.

Another time he led my mother into the corner of a pub, where he was caught with his hands around her throat. The man who stumbed into this potential murder scene tried to "save" my mother by soothingly telling my dad "it isn't worth it".

9. How to salsa dance.

No matter how Canadian we are, we were all born (Daniel was fake born) in Colombia. And every self-respecting Colombian knows how to salsa.

I'm sure many other teens would have been embarrassed to see their fathers shimmying and gyrating their hips in the general direction of uncomfortable, white seniors during community street parties. But it was always a source of pride for me.

What isn't a source of pride for me is how my middle-aged father is a better dancer than I am.

10. How to care for your family.

We all know there is nothing my father wouldn't do for his family. Even with all the crazy survival, entrepreneurial, and good-to-know skills, we can always return to home-base for help when needed.

And, when the time comes when we can't, he made sure we can turn to each other.

So whenever my father goes off on yet another crazy, long-winded explanation on how to heal wounds with maggots (they eat the rotten flesh), we just sit and listen dutifully.

Because there isn't much we wouldn't do for him either.

 My dad sewing sequins onto one of my dance costumes. He was the family sewer. 
I included this just because it's so cute. 


  1. If only I knew it all when my son was young. His tragic path in life could have been avoided if only we had bonded over animal skinnings. So funny!!!