Pocket Knives and Rites of Passage

Tuck spent Saturday night at a sleepover birthday party with a couple of the guys on his football team.  It was pretty much the best night of his life, I think.


At football practice on Friday, the boys were talking about the party, making their plans.  In the girl world I grew up in, slumber party plans meant you carefully chose and invited who would sleep next to you.  That’s the one you would whisper into the morning hours with.


These boys were all talking big about the pocket knives they would bring along for the night.


Before you think I’m crazy to send my son to a knife party, here’s what I’m learning: boys have to do what boys have to do.  There are words they have to say.  There are bodily functions they must display and rate.  And there are rites of passage into manhood, and I don’t know them.  So I follow the lead of the men in their lives, men whom I trust and whom I know love my sons, and I learn the things boys have to do on their path of knowing their masculinity.


Pocket knives are one of these rites of passage.


I listened to the boys talking at football practice, comparing how long and sharp their blades are.  And I knew in my heart, it’s time for Tucker to have Robb’s pocket knife. Left to my own devices, I probably would have given it to him after he’s married.  But the kid has got to be a boy.  And I can’t turn him into a girly one.


Here’s the thing, though… the blade of Robb’s pocket knife has been open since he died.  I’m sure at some point I found it, opened it, had no idea how to close it, and wisely left the open blade in the pencil drawer of my desk.  Because I’m a girl who tends to be curious in the world of boy things, but I don’t know what I’m doing until someone is gracious to teach me what it’s all about.


(This has complicated various realms of my life, most harmlessly when I really, really wanted to play with the Transformers on the playground in second grade.)


I took the pocket knife with me as I took Tuck to the party, and I quietly slipped it to Coach.  Of course, he knew exactly how to close it, and he immediately engaged Tucker in the first rules of pocket knife safety.  Equally important, Tyler got to hold it, too.


The birthday party proceeded with fishing, swimming, a treasure hunt with clues in the woods, paintballs in slingshots toward a target, and – when that got boring – paintballs in slingshots to kill crickets in what they termed The Death Drop. Tucker came home with a backpacker’s survival kit, a sparkly new water bottle, a bag of loot from the treasure chest, and a whoopie cushion.  I am told it was a night of perpetual burping and farting, which equals tremendous success.


He brought the pocket knife home, and he now knows how to use and care for it responsibly.  And my favorite part is how proud he is of a treasured possession.


“This pocket knife belonged to my dad.”

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. The last line made me tear up a bit. How precious and sweet it must be for them to hold things their daddy held. Things are much more than just material items when there is sentiment attached. I have a very eclectic collection of things from past loved ones/loved ones’ pasts. A thimble helps me “see” my Nannie’s hands again~ busy with her sewing and mending. A quilt my Mimi made just for me brings a smile to my face that equals the one we both wore the day she presented it to me. Love is in every stitch. The medicine cabinet, table, and laundry hamper bring visions of my Poppa working in his wood shop. A woven basket made in a class my PoppaDad audited at the local college sits on my shelf, too. All of these memories are as priceless as they are precious~ as precious as the people who created/owned them. You gave your boy a gift larger than a mere pocketknife. You gave him a tangible piece of his daddy. He will never use it without thinking of Robb. 🙂

  2. There is so much about this that is great. For one your boys, that they are SO boy. Two, that you let them be that. You are an incredible mother who gets eye level with her sons and joins the adventure. And that’s precisely what they need in the absence of Daddy. God knew they would need someone like you in this season. I join Matt in his applause.

  3. Well said… This is surely a great story, I wish my boys were a little more responsible with their knives.

  4. This is beautiful! I think you’re doing a wonderful job encouraging their masculinity!

  5. As the father of a boy and long time Cub Scout leader, this does my masculine heart good. It did enormous good to Tuck’s masculine heart as well. I can’t understand how difficult this journey is for you, but I applaud you for knowing the need and doing whatever you can to create opportunities for men to speak into their masculine hearts.I pray that God continues to bring strong men into all your lives so the boys continue to grow in wisdom, stature, and favor. Great story!

    • Thank you, Matt. Those are beautiful words to read today.

  6. Great story. The world of boys… such a mystery.

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