A Son's Identity
Part 3
(an archive selection)

Original Dateline: 10 July 2005
Repost Dateline: 1 August 2016

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I discussed how boys seek role models and that these role models shape a boy’s identity. I also pointed out that godly fathers must not only endeavor to be a godly role model for their boys, they must also provide their boys with wholesome alternatives to the sorry examples of manly role models that the popular culture provides for our children.

Now, finally, I want to tell you about a wholesome character-building, identity-shaping, resource that I believe is an incredibly effective tool that fathers can use to help their boys mature into wise and well-adjusted men. But this is not just a resource that fathers can use. It is something that mothers and grandparents and, even, close friends and relatives can give to a young boy and it will make a difference for good in that boy’s life. And I think young girls will like it too.

I discovered this resource three years ago, when my two youngest boys were 7 and 10. Christmas was coming and I was surfing the internet, looking for unique gifts. I got the idea that some books-on-tape would be good for the kids. It would be an alternative to television (which we do not watch a lot of) and videos. I bought a couple G.A. Henty books on tape. Then I found a tape series called Sugar Creek Gang. I read the description of the series and the testimonials and I decided to part with the money to give the first 12 tapes in the series a try (there are 72 recorded stories altogether). I also bought each of the kids a $12 tape recorder from WalMart.

Come Christmas day, the kids opened their books-on-tape gifts and were not exactly thrilled. They were polite and thankful and set the tapes aside so they could play with the more exciting gifts. Later on, they gave their recorders a try.

Now, here we are three years later. The Henty tapes were listened to once. The “more exciting gifts” have been forgotten. But The Sugar Creek Gang tapes are still being listened to.... every single day! I kid you not. 

My kids listen to the stories on these tapes (I’ve purchased 4 volumes out of 6, so far) every single day. They listen to them in the car when we are traveling. They go to sleep at night listening to them. My two youngest boys absolutely love these tapes.

The tapes are narrations of the original Sugar Creek Gang books written by Paul Hutchens, starting in 1939. They are based on Mr. Hutchens’ own boyhood days growing up on a farm in Sugar Creek township (near Thorntown) in Indiana. Mr. Hutchens was born in 1902. The stories are a wonderful celebration of agrarian life. Hutchens had six brothers and two sisters. His childhood memories were the inspiration for the books.

The tapes I have are narrated by Paul Ramseyer, who does such a good job. They are fast paced, exciting and boy do they ever teach good things! When I hear my boys saying bible verses, singing portions of hymns, and quoting poetry (i.e., “Barefoot Boy With Cheeks of Tan” or “Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree” ) that they picked up from these tapes, I am delighted. When my youngest son asks me, “Dad, do you know what a Quaker Blessing is?,” and then tells me when I say no, I’m impressed. And when these boys want to help their mother in the kitchen or me in the garden, because of the influence of these stories, I’m grateful. 

I simply can not say enough good about these audio recordings!

I asked my youngest which Sugar Creek Gang stories he likes best. It was hard for him to decide, but his top three are “The Timberwolf,” The Treasure Hunt,” and “The Killer Bear.” I asked him what “The Killer Bear” was about and he told me it is about how “Little Jim” shoots an angry bear with “Big Jim’s” rifle. Big Jim is fifteen and the leader of the gang. Little Jim is only 8 years old. I won’t tell you how he does it. Wow! What a story! 

When I asked my 14-year his favorites, he thought awhile and said “The Lost Campers,” “The Trapline Thief,” and “The Blue Cow,” but quickly added that they were all good.

Marlene says I should tell you that Bill Collins’ father (the book’s are written from Bill’s perspective) is not portrayed as a bumbling idiot, like fathers are portrayed in the media today. Instead, this father is a good Christian man who leads his family with wisdom and compassion.

I purchased these tapes on the internet from Beloved Books. They are worth every penny of their cost. I know this sounds like an infomercial. Let me officially say that I do not have any any financial interest in any way with Beloved Books.

Today I am ordering volumes 5 and 6 for my boys. I should not have put it off. I see that Beloved Books has a special introductory offer. You can get two hours of listening to “The Swamp Robber,” for $4.95, postage paid. I encourage you to at least get this tape and listen to it. Do it today. You’re going to enjoy it as much as your kids!

This concludes my 3-part series on A Son’s Identity. Thank you for reading it.

2016 Update

It has been 11 years since I first posted this essay. My boys are no longer children. My two youngest (who were 7 and 10 when I first bought them those Paul Ramseyer cassette tapes of The Sugar Creek Gang) are now 22 and 25. They haven't listened to the audios in a lot of years. But if you ask them about those stories, they will still tell you how much they loved them.  Now, of course, the audio recordings are available in CD format.

I believe those audios from Beloved Books were the the absolute best educational and character-building resources I ever bought my kids. I thank God I found them. 

There are also Sugar Creek Gang books and there is a relatively new DVD series. But I'm persuaded that these old audios by Paul Ramseyer are uniquely special. They engage the imagination far better than a film can do. Hutchens just has a way of telling the stories so well.

You can see what I mean for yourself by listening to the first story in this audio series now. Just go to this link: A Free Gift From Beloved Books

One more thought... Times have changed. My kids didn't have phones and Facebook when they were younger. And I did not allow any video games in my home. Will Paul Ramseyer's audio readings of The Sugar Creek Gang still appeal to young boys now in 2016? 

Probably not all boys, especially not those who have been well mentored by popular culture and the peer conformity dictated by popular culture. But if you can introduce these stories to boys at just the right age, I think they can still resonate. There is still the potential to make a tremendous positive difference.

A Son's Identity
Part 2
(an archive selection)

Original Dateline: 9 July 2005
Repost Dateline: 31 July 2016

This immoral fictional character was 
one of my biggest boyhood role models.

In A Son's Identity: Part 1 I explained how all young boys look for role models they want to be just like. When this happens, the boy, in a very real sense, allows these role models to shape his identity. Then I told you how, as an 8-year-old boy, I wanted to be a super secret agent, like Derek Flint and James Bond.

Having read all the James Bond books when I was a boy, I can tell you the lifestyle of this man is one of materialism, womanizing, gambling, and substance abuse (alcohol and tobacco). Sure, there are all kinds of thrills in 007's life, but thrills do not lead to fulfillment. Look under the glamour and you'll find a shallow, self-centered, and vain man whose life is void of substantive meaning. In short, Bond is a desperate and pitiful human being. He is a product of, and a classic example of, the modern industrialized man.

So how, you might wonder, did I make the transition from idolizing to indicting this fictional paragon of vainglory foolishness? Well, it's a God thing, really. I became a Christian, grew in my faith and, eventually, caught the vision of God's archetype for manhood, which is pretty much the complete opposite of the 007 example.

And then there is the Agrarian connection. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, my family moved from our suburban tract-house outside Syracuse, N.Y. to an old farm house on 25 acres out in the country. This was a significant life-changing experience for me. I was not a complete stranger to the country. My grandfather (another role model I’ll talk about one day) was a retired potato farmer in Northern Maine, and I have wonderful memories of summers spent visiting my grandparents. But I was not a country boy. And our family’s move was not a visit. It was for life. I’m still here.

I am firmly convinced, from my own experience, that there is no better place for a boy to grow up than out in the country. Agrarian life at its best fulfills a boy’s deepest yearnings and can ignite his imagination in countless wholesome ways. The little adventures and experiences that come from living in close contact with the woods, fields, streams, wildlife, and work of a simple rural farm or homestead are also incredibly valuable when it comes to instilling character and integrity in a boy.

But Agrarian life does not, in itself, provide a boy with the positive identity-shaping influences he needs. Within the Agrarian framework, there needs to be an example of a real man. I’m not speaking of a hollywood super hero or a sports star or a rock musician or any of the sordid subculture icons that vie for a modern boy’s attention and, in reality, his life. I’m talking of a real, reach-out-and-touch-him-talk-to-him-and-do-stuff-with him man. This man should, preferably, be the boy’s father (but a grandfather or other man can fill the role).

A father who lives, and loves, and leads in a wholesome, God-glorifying manner will impact a boy’s life like nothing else. If a son sees the good fruit of a godly father, he will, 99.9% of the time, embrace the beliefs of the father. I believe a father’s primary ministry and work in life should be to his family. A father must not only provide a godly example, he must protect his children from the influence of unwholesome role models. And he must provide his children with other examples of wholesome role models.

This is what I believe to be true. This is what I endeavor to do in my family with my boys. I am not the best at it, but I’m aware of the importance of being and doing what I’ve just told you, and I believe, with God’s help, it is making a difference in my children’s lives. My boys are thriving in this kind of environment. They are having a far better childhood than I ever had. They will, I trust and pray, grow up to be better men than I.

I have one more thing to say along the lines of this subject, but I have decided to save it for the next entry. I will tell you about a resource for young boys (and, to some extent, girls) that is a powerfully effective, wholesome, identity-shaping and character-building influence. It is something I discovered three years ago and I have seen it bear remarkable fruit in the life of my two youngest boys. 

Stay tuned.......

A Son's Identity
Part 1
(an archive selection)

Original Dateline: 7 July 2005
Repost Dateline: 30 July 2016

James Coburn as Derek Flint

All boys seek out and identify with role models that they want to be just like. It is part of the process a boy goes through to find his identity. I do not understand the psychology behind it. I just know it to be true. It is true with every single boy. No exceptions. I suspect it is true with girls too. But it is especially true with boys. This is a very powerful truth. It is something that every father needs to understand.

I want to explain this a little better by giving you an actual example of what I’m talking about. When I was a boy, I lived in a housing development outside Syracuse, New York. I enjoyed reading Hardy Boys and Brains Benton mysteries. These books were not bad but they did not inspire my young mind in ways that were as good as could have been the case with better books.

I believe those books prepared me for that fateful day in 1966 (I was eight) when my stepfather took me to see the movie, Our Man Flint, starring James Coburn. Flint was a super secret agent who, with a bevy of buxom beauties fawning over him, nonchalantly saved the world from a nefarious bad guy. He did it again the next year in the sequel, In Like Flint. I thought Derek Flint was the coolest man on earth. Never mind that those movies were a total spoof of the whole secret agent “thing” that was a part of popular culture at the time. I took the Flint movies very seriously. I wanted to be Flint.

I idolized this fictional invention of Hollywood to the point that I would not allow anyone to take my picture. How could I ever be a super secret agent if there were photographs to identify me. My parents thought this was cute.

A boy who rode my bus (he was four years older than I) bore a remarkable resemblance to James Coburn, or so it seemed to me. I secretly observed this kid’s every move. I noticed that sometimes the muscles in his jaws would ripple. I thought that was very cool. I figured out how to repeatedly clench my teeth so I could do the same thing. I wanted to be just like this kid because he was the closest tangible example of my secret agent idol. This is the way young boys think and act. (This is also the way they get into trouble).

Then came James Bond. My dad took me to see my first Bond movie in 1969 (I was 11). It was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby as Bond and Diana Rigg as the Contessa Teresa Di Vicenzo (a.k.a., Tracy). She was the daughter of a European mobster and became 007’s wife. Right after the wedding, Earnst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bundt machine-gunned Tracy to death. I had a new idol to attach my identity to.... I wanted to be James Bond.

I never missed an opportunity to watch a Bond movie. But I didn’t just watch them, I absorbed them. I used my reel-to-reel recorder to tape the movies when they were on television. I thank God there were no VCR’s back then. But there were James Bond books. I read them all. I can tell you these are not the kind of books you want your impressionable pre-teen reading. None of this was good for me.

It is because of this experience of mine, innocent as it was compared to so many others, that I am very conscious of identity-shaping influences in the lives of my boys.

I see the ungodly popular culture around me as a destroyer of boys who, but for the lack of proper identity-shaping influences in their lives, would grow to be men of incredible virtue, honor, and responsibility. The world sadly needs more men like that, don’t you think?

In the next installment of this Blog, I will tell you why I did not become a super secret agent. I’ll tell you a little about what I think a boy needs in order to one day become a man in the best sense of the word. And I’ll tell you about an incredibly powerful and totally wholesome identity-shaping resource for young boys that I discovered three years ago. Stay tuned.....

Advice For
Soft, Fat & Weak Americans
From A Nigerian Survivor

Dateline: 16 July 2016 AD

Slim pickin's in Nigeria

All reliable indicators tell us that the American economy is in decline. Many people in the know say the now-unfolding European banking crisis will have a further deleterious effect on America's economy. The good news is that America is not as bad off as Nigeria.... yet. 

With the recent drop in oil prices, Nigeria (the world's 6th largest oil producer) has been hard hit. The unemployment rate is 70%+. Some government workers have not been paid in months. The best areas of the country may get electricity for only two hours a day. Robbery is common. 

If Americans were faced with a crisis similar to what is now occurring in Nigeria, they would die. That's because so many Americans are "soft, fat and weak." That's what Joshua Sheats, host of the Radical Personal Finance website says in this podcast interview: Think You've Got it Tough?

The interview is a discussion with a Nigerian man who has a survivor mentality. He is managing to make a living in a very tough economy, without expecting the government to help him. 

What I found most interesting about the interview is near the end, when Joshua asks the man if he has any advice for American's who may be experiencing trouble finding a job and making money. His advice is full of useful wisdom and encouragement.

If you are without a job, or you know someone who is looking for a job, this interview is well worth listening to. 

Bucket Irrigation
And Part 2 Of
My Stewardculture Interview

Dateline: 10 July 2016 AD

I've cranked out another YouTube video. This one is on the subject of Whizbang Bucket Irrigation For Gardeners. The video has information about a new strawberry-growing idea I'm trying this year. I also show my tomato plants on a string trellis, and Whizbang tire sidewall cloches.

As some of you know, I'm not blogging here much this summer, but I am posting fairly regularly to my Whizbang Gardening Facebook Page. Stop on by sometime.

My Stewardculture 
Interview: Part 2

Stewardculture magazine has now morphed into a much more user-friendly blog and is being hosted at the Sustainable Traditions web site.  And you can go there right now to read Part 2 of my Stewardculture interview... Herrick's Stewardculture Interview, Part 2.

An Early Summer Tour
Of My Garden

Dateline: 3 July 2016 AD

First An Update...

Last month this blog passed the 11-year mile marker.  Occasionally, I'll go back and read something I wrote long ago and had completely forgotten. I can't help but see that my early writings were undertaken with much more skill and contemplation. That was the case, no doubt, because I had far more  time to think and write when I worked at my state prison job.  Though I do not miss that job at all (3.5 years after leaving), I do miss the contemplative opportunities it afforded me.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't blogged here much lately. I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging here in the future. For this month of July, I may dig up some of my posts from past years and repost them. We'll see.

About The Garden Tour...

I decided that I would create a simple video tour of my garden here in early summer. That's it up top of this page. It's a simple production. Some will find it too boring to watch through. Others will stick with it and, hopefully, come away with some possible ideas to use in their own gardening pursuits.

My garden is, essentially, a large kitchen garden. I am growing primarily for two people. Marlene cans and freezes quite a bit. I usually grow enough onions, garlic, and potatoes for us to last the year. I try to get enough carrots planted to last us a whole year too. Our objective is not to grow all the food we need, but to grow a lot of wholesome, healthful food so we can, hopefully, have wholesome, healthy bodies that continue to work well for years to come.

In the event of a significant social/economic crisis, you can bet my gardening efforts would ramp up in response. Every square foot of available and suitable yard space would get planted and seriously tended ( I would also establish garden areas on our 16-acre field, which is a short hike away from our house). 

I've developed the needed gardening skills over the years (I've gardened since I was 16), and I have the tools and materials to expand.  I also have tools and materials for my sons, who are not, sad to say, much interested in gardening at his point.

My Next
 Gardening Book

I am in the very early stages of putting together another book on the subject of gardening. Specifically, I'm working on the outline. The book will not be out anytime soon. I am thinking it will be published in the spring of 2018 or 2019.  

So many gardening books have been written over the years, and there are so many gardening books being published all the time. I own many of them in either pdf or hard copy. None that I've seen thus far have been written from the perspective, and with the specific focus, that my next gardening book will have.  That's all I'll say for now.

Book Giveaway...

Speaking of gardening books, there are only 3 days left in Planet Whizbang Giveaway #4.  I'll be giving away 3 copies of the above book, which is a great book for anyone who has an interest in gardening. Go to the web site link above and get yourself entered. It's a simple thing. No strings attached, as they say. You can enter once a day if you wish, and that will, of course, increase your chances of winning the book.

An Economic Note

From my perspective as the owner of a small-scale mail order business, I see evidence of economic decline. My sales are definitely down from previous years. It may be due, in part, to more people now selling the products I sell. But there is something else going on, for sure.

It's not a crisis for me to have reduced sales. We have no debt.  We have some savings. We don't live high on the hog.  And we have land to draw more sustenance from (than we already are). I'm more concerned about all the others "out there" (average Americans?) who are in debt-slavery and almost totally dependent on not only the industrial providers, but a continually expanding economy to keep themselves and their families sheltered and fed.

The fundamental problem is, of course, that we now have an economic system that is based on ever-expanding debt that can never be repaid, AND the system is predicated on the premise that the economy will always be expanding.

There is no precedent in nature or history for continual expansion. The natural pattern of life is growth and decline, followed by growth and decline.