Learning From Risk-taking

Mar 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I was reminiscing last night with some of the other parents on my son’s baseball team about how risky and carefree our childhoods were compared to how careful we have to be with our kids today. We can’t let them go over to a friend’s house without running a background check on all of the occupants of the residence and maybe a few of the neighbors. We can’t transport them anywhere without a 6-point harness. I wrote last week about hiking through town to my brother’s baseball game with my two younger brothers (we were six, five and four years old, respectively) and then thumbing a ride home when we discovered the game wasn’t a home game. I don’t think I even wore a seat belt until I started driving. Two of my first three cars didn’t even have working seat belts.

Even within the industry, safety practices were more of a recommendation than a requirement. I used to tag along with my brother-in-law when he first started driving a tow truck, when I was a teenager, and more than once I hopped out and rode on the back of the truck to make room for customers when there were more than two people in the vehicle we were towing. A few times it was raining. A few years later, when he was my supervisor, we impounded a small boat on a trailer with no ball hitch. It was lightweight, so we lifted the hitch up onto the boom and put the trailer wheels in the wheel-lift. Because it was so light, he was worried it might bounce up and down on the boom and cause some carnage so I rode on the bed and held it down.

Many, many times we walked alongside, rode in, or hovered near vehicles we were recovering to make sure it tracked straight or to keep branches from hanging up on it, or just to keep an eye on the load and the cable connection. We were probably in harm’s way, but when you’re young, you’re invincible right? I can remember being in a stolen truck — with no engine, transmission, steering or brakes — being pulled up an incline so steep you could hardly walk up it, holding onto the steering column bolt with a pair of vice grips trying to keep it tracking straight. If the winch cable had broken (and we were trying, believe me) I’d now be part of the landscape under the power lines off Skyline Road.

I won’t even begin to go into some of the insanity that took place on an almost daily basis during deer season. Multiply the danger by four and toss in loaded rifles. My daughter, now 18, can’t stand hearing stories about what we were doing at her age out in the woods “hunting” because she knows it’s a different world now and she’ll never have the opportunity to live like that. I’m fine with it. She’s not.

I wonder, with all of our precautions and protective impulses, if we are depriving our children of the opportunity to get themselves out of a pickle, or to make a snap decision, or be the voice of reason within a group of unruly hooligans. I can honestly say that I have the confidence in myself to get out of a seriously dangerous situation that I did not anticipate. I am wise enough now to avoid those situations but if I stumbled into one, I believe in my improvisational skills. That’s because I’ve had to do it. When I say “had to,” I don’t mean what got me into the pickle in the first place wasn’t within my control. I mean that once I got myself there, it was pretty much up to me, and maybe an accomplice, to get myself out. I understand why we protect our kids. It is a different world out there, and the result of a bad decision seems like it can be so much worse now than it used to be.

Maybe it’s all a figment of my imagination. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing — the kids who took risks become parents who play it safe and vice versa. In which case I might get to swap stories with my grandkids someday. I think what happens is that because communication has drawn us all together so closely now, the solution to a problem becomes a blanket solution, and it’s held in place like a ratchet. Situations are no longer handled on a case-by-case basis. Someone figured out that small children were getting hurt in car wrecks and the data was shared, so authority groups mandated the use of child seats, and they clicked that regulation into place like a ratchet, and it held. When the data on child victimization was shared widely, authority groups mandated background checks for adults who work closely with kids, and it was clicked into place, and it held. I guess the big question is, will all of the accumulated prevention and protection strategies ever have a beneficial effect on the behaviors and circumstances that make them necessary?

I survived my youth, so I cherish some of the memories of risks I took. Not all of them, but some of them — especially the ones that I know I learned something from.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper

www.TowPartsNow.com