Teaching My Son to Build His First Fire

December 13, 2016 / Category Tag, Firestarters

As a father I’ve always taken seriously the responsibility to teach my children well. There are a million little things I want them to know before they fly the nest and head out onto their own and a few big things too. How to behave around adults, how to treat other people with kindness and behave yourself with dignity. How to make your bed so that Mom won’t make you re-make it later, clean up after yourself, take care of the dog, pack yourself a lunch for school. When the time comes, I’ll teach them the stereotypical stuff – changing the oil and a tire, balancing a checkbook, how compound interest works – and some things I’ve picked up over the years – how to take time to breath when things get hectic, the importance of a good book and a long walk for mental health and the right way to handle a disagreement with a spouse or friend.

As time marches on, there are things I want them to know and want to teach them while I still can.

My oldest son Jack is 12, but it seems like every time I see him, he’s aged another year. In the morning, he’ll come down for breakfast and two things occur to me – he’s growing up faster than I’m prepared to deal with and I couldn’t be more proud. The need to teach Jack things, that burning desire to share with him the skills and lessons I know he’ll need, gets greater every day and, what’s more, he seems eager to learn.

So on a trip to the woods for Thanksgiving, I decided it was prime time for some instruction. We learned a couple things in the kitchen, a couple things around the house, but the crowning moment of the week, for me at least, was teaching Jack how to build a fire.

Jack's First Fire

We went outside into the frigid and snowy afternoon and huddled around the fire ring and talked about the five things every fire needs: Oxygen, a source, tinder, kindling and fuel. I told him about how to handle matches safely and how to stack the wood in a pyramid to ensure that air is able to flow at the base. We practiced blowing gently into the sparks to increase the burn and I showed him how to get in close to light the match so it wouldn’t blow out before he could ignite the tinder.

He seemed to hang on every word, enthusiastically asking questions and excited by the possibility of what he was about to do. When the time came, he struck a match and it blew out before he could touch it to the tinder.

“Too far away,” he muttered and course corrected without being told.

He struck the second match and it took hold. His face lit up and he began blowing gently on the embers, forgetting to drop the match and nearly burning his fingers.

“I guess I forgot to tell you that buddy,” I said. “Sorry.”

“No worries,” he said. “I’m learning.”

His first fire was burning strong in a couple of minutes, but his sense of accomplishment was immediate.  He and his cousin, Sam, tended that fire throughout the afternoon. They would take breaks from throwing snow balls or sledding down a nearby hill to add wood, warm their hands and stand shoulder-to-shoulder staring into the furnace, telling inside jokes and looking at what Jack had made.

I watched them throughout the afternoon, that sense of pride in my son beating its own pulse in my chest. And when Jack caught me in a quiet moment later in the day to thank me, I hugged him close, told he him he did a great job and thought to myself, there’s still so much I want you to learn.


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