published Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Kennedy: Shotgun DNA and other parenting challenges

My 10-year-old son has decided he wants to play drums and shoot shotguns.

I have no problem with this. Every male child goes through a guns-and-drums phase. Still, I suspect there's more going on.

Our son is aware, for example, that his mom was a champion trap shooter as a teenager and that his dad went to college on a percussion scholarship.

Secretly, I think he would like to master both skills in an afternoon, shrug and have a drink of Gatorade. He's like that: Sweet and quietly competent on the surface but a smoldering competitor on the inside.

One of the fascinating parts of being a parent is watching your kids mature, and, at the same time, coming to a deeper understanding about yourself. For example, I've never considered myself competitive. Shy, yes; nervous, yes; but competitive, no.

... Well, maybe a little.

Through the time machine called YouTube, I found a video clip of a college drummer playing an audacious snare drum solo called "Tornado" that I once played at a competition in high school.

Suddenly, memories of my 17-year-old self started flooding back. I remember practicing "Tornado" for hours in a basement until my whole body trembled. I remember squeezing a rubber ball all day until my forearms were as hard as hickory branches.

My son saw a $600 drum set at a surplus store the other day and immediately began begging.

"I'll make you a promise," I told him. "Let me give you lessons for a year on a single snare drum, and then I'll let you audition for me. If you're good enough, you'll earn a drum set."

He nodded "yes," enthusiastically. Now, at night I can hear the patter of drumsticks on a down pillow coming from his bedroom.

On a trip to his grandfather's house on Thanksgiving weekend, he got to shoot a .22-caliber rifle for the first time. Pa-paw lined up some clay targets on a grassy embankment and showed him how to load, aim and fire.

After a few rifle shots, he said, "Pa-paw, I want to shoot a shotgun."

At first, Pa-paw was reluctant, fearing a 10-year-old would quickly become frustrated trying to shoot target clays as they whistled out of a trap house at about 50 mph.

But the boy shouldered a little .410-bore shotgun and shattered the first four clays as they streaked across the November sky. In a set of 25 targets, he broke about two-thirds and called it a day.

Flush with success, he announced he was ready to retire from soccer, baseball and track -- and presumably elementary school -- to pursue competitive shooting full-time.

Um, no.

Winning, as we all learn eventually, is not a recreational drug. It's a catalyst for hard work, a way of honoring hours of tedious practice.

That said, a competitive mindset is a durable life skill.

Something tells me that, one way or another, there will be earplugs in our future.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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