Dave Salmoni, the host of ABC’s Expedition Impossible and a lot of Animal Planet shows, is all man. When two captive-bred Bengal tigers were returned to Africa, Dave taught them how to be wild again. Then he spent three months without human contact, living with a pride of lions. What I’m saying is that Dave Salmoni is a man who doesn’t care how he smells. Which is even more impressive when you realize how rarely he wears a shirt.
Dave was kind enough to try to teach me how to be a man. Because after I found out we were having a boy, I freaked out over the fact that I am in no way equipped to raise a boy since I don’t know how to camp, fight, drive stick, fix things in my house, throw a football, catch a football, or watch other people throw and catch footballs.
I went on a series of adventures to learn to be a man so I could keep up with my son. I went on a weekend trip with a Boy Scout troop and earned my first badge. I fired a tank after doing three days of Army boot camp. I fought UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture for one round. And I wrote a book about it called Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, which you can conveniently buy here.
Dave was an excellent teacher of masculinity. He taught me how to drive stick; he forced me to use power tools; he slept in a very small two-man tent with me and farted; he made me stand next to a bear as it walked by; and he punched me as hard as he could in the face. Dave, who had worked as a bouncer, really enjoyed the face punching.
I still am not sure what I was supposed to learn from the face punching. So, even though he’s not a dad, I asked him for some more advice on fatherhood.
Q: I let you punch me in the face. Hard. What was I supposed to learn from that? Other than that you’re a dick.
A: You were supposed to learn that a punch in the face isn’t as bad as the thought of a punch in the face. A man needs to be able to stand up for himself and his family. By lessening your fear of getting punched, you may have become more likely to stand up for your wife, who you described as “confrontational.”
Q: Did letting you punch me make me a better dad?
A: The puncher’s intention was that the punch would instill more confidence in you as you interact in confrontational situations. Remember: Behavior is one part learned and one part genetic. The child’s behavior will be shaped by both your genes and your decisions.
Q: How old were you the first time you got punched? What did it teach you?
A: I am pretty sure my older brother was one of the first people to punch me, and it would have been pretty early in my life. It was the beginning of learning that being prepared for the worst is better than fearing and avoiding dangerous situations. This is the lesson that allows me to follow my passions running around the world with some of the most dangerous predators in the world.
Q: Do I need to make sure my son gets hit in the face? How am I supposed to do that?
A: I don’t think it is a father’s job to get their son punched in the face. I do think that not treating your son like fine china might be a positive parenting technique.
Q: Do I have to get my son a dog? I really don’t want a dog in my house. Animals should be kept outside.
A: If you feel so strongly about the fact they should be kept outside, I think it might be better to avoid getting a pet.
Q: You lived with a pride of lions. What are lion dads like?
A: Lion dads know that their role is protection and controlling territory. They will fight to the death to get the territory that has the most food or to protect their offspring from a rival male. A lion dad in a good mood will play with his cubs and in a bad mood would kill them for trying to eat his food.
Q: What lessons from animals will you use when you’re a dad?
A: My parenting skills will be all animal. I am fearful that I will try to train my children rather than parent them.
The one lesson that I have learned in the wild is that there is a fine balance between being a compassionate father and a father that allows their young to learn from the school of hard knocks. Both are needed in order for the young to grow to be self-sufficient.
Q: How old were you the first time you went camping? How old should my son be?
A: Before I was out of diapers. My camping memories with my father are some of the best times of my life. There is no better bonding time than being removed from all distractions of normal life and just hanging with dad.
Q: What’s one thing you’ll make your son do, whether he wants to or not?
A: I would force him to eat his vegetables. I feel like an unhealthy diet for a child is almost child abuse.
Pre-order my book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, (out May 15) on Amazon.
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