As a result of my parent's divorce when I was a preteen, I spent my summers with my baby brother in the lake country of North Western Ontario with our uncles. It was in this rough hewn country with rough hewn men that we ourselves learned to become men. Sometimes the hard way.
My Uncle Don, who passed on a decade ago, was a scout leader and our most strident teacher. We would spend all day out on the lake, looking to snag our dinner. When we succeeded, he would tether the fish live to the side of the boat, clean it the moment we hit the shores of camp and then cook it in a massive decades-old cast iron pan that he only wiped clean and kept upside down on a stump. The taste of fresh Pickerel is coded in my DNA as a result.
We were not always successful on the hunt. The first time this happened, our uncle cooked a chicken and boiled the potatoes he brought as a back-up for dinner. We had not eaten all day. When he placed the plates in front of us and offered us ketchup to enhance our meal, as city kids, we enthusiastically accepted his offer, only to watch in horror as he took take the food away. "You're not going to ruin the unadulterated food I've made with that shit." We learned later that every nephew went through this ritual.
My training continued the next morning when we went back out to fish and the boat that he asked me to tie up the night before was now in the middle of the lake. I spent the whole day practicing knots, but at least I got to eat that night. I never made either mistake twice.
My uncle was a very principled man who passed through this life in an uncompromising way. As the decades have dripped by since I was a kid, I've watched many lesser men breach their own values and toss away their integrity. We are a product of the people who raised us for better or worse and I feel honored that I had my uncles around to help me become a decent man.