Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 17

Revelations and Final Preparations

It took a while to adjust to not having Mark around. I had only known the boy for a couple of weeks, but in that short time, he had worked his way into my heart. I was happy that he was now living in a safe environment with his brother, but I was also sad that I wouldn't see him very often.

He had, however, left me the surprise of my life. When Josh and I returned home from dropping him at the airport, I went down to my apartment to catch up on some homework. I pulled out my desk chair and sitting on the chair was a coiled up length of thick, yellow nylon rope with a note attached to it. Puzzled, I picked up the note and read it. I was dumbfounded at what the note said:

"Dear Tommy (dad #2), you're probably wondering what this is for. I've told you many times that you've done a lot for me, but you really don't know the full story. Before I met you, I was depressed and I was feeling really bad about myself. Other than Josh, I didn't have any real friends. I always felt out of place and unwanted because of the weird feelings that I was having about other boys. When my father caught me looking at dirty pictures of other boys and beat me up, I felt worthless. I figured that I had to be a really bad person if even my own father didn't love me. That night, I went to the hardware store and bought this rope. I was going to use it to hang myself from the beam in the basement of my father's house. I spent a lot of time sitting in the basement with this rope in my hands but I couldn't find the courage to do it. On the day we met at the Y, I had finally decided that I was going to do it. I finally felt that I had no reason to go on. The love and kindness that you and Josh showed me changed my mind. I want you to know that I am alive today because of what you did for me. I also want you to know that I no longer feel like hurting myself. Thank-you again for everything. I love both of you and I will never forget you. You can show this to Josh, but please don't tell anyone else about it. Love, Mark (your other son)."

I sat down heavily on my desk chair and stared at the note. A million thoughts were going through my mind. I was sick to my stomach when I contemplated what might have happened had Josh and I not shown up that morning or had I not shown the boy those few simple acts of kindness. My dislike of Mark's father intensified to raw hatred at that moment. It was that monster's fault that such a wonderful boy damn near ended his life before it really began. Josh thundered down the stairs with a large bowel of popcorn and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me.

"What's wrong?" He asked. I could tell that he was worried that I was having another bout of depression over the shooting.

"Read this," I mumbled and handed Josh the note and the rope.

Josh looked questioningly at me for a moment and gingerly accepted the rope as if it were a poisonous snake. He furrowed his brow as he started to read and by the time he was done, his eyes were wide as saucers and the colour had drained from his face. "He was really going to kill himself?" Josh asked quietly.

"It looks that way," I replied. I could tell that Josh was just as sick over it as I was.

"I should have known something was wrong. I was his friend," Josh replied in a vacant tone.

"Josh, sometimes it's hard to notice the warning signs. Because of the abuse, Mark was ashamed of who he is. Because of that, he believed that he had to hide the true Mark from everyone, including his close friends. You see, when a parent mistreats a child, it has a profound effect on them. Mark's father made him feel worthless, so he believed it."

"But he isn't worthless. I would have missed him and so would his brother. So would you now that you know him," Josh said.

"I know Josh, but Mark didn't see it that way."

"There should be somewhere for kids like Mark to turn when things like that happen," Josh said firmly.

"Well, there are but they are often not all that responsive. There is the Kids Help Phone, but they can only do so much, and Mark might not have known about it."

"What would have happened to his father if Mark had called the Help line?"

"Probably nothing, Josh." I replied sadly.

"What? That sucks. A parent can drive a kid to kill himself and not got to jail?" I could tell Josh was angry. More and more, I could see a real fire in his eyes when he contemplated the injustice around him. "Someone has to change that."

"Unfortunately, it isn't a priority for most politicians. They'll budget token amounts to the Kids Help Phone and convince themselves that they're doing enough. Many people don't want to talk about teen suicide and even fewer want to consider the fact that parents may be responsible for a lot of it."

"Kids have to be the top priority. Kids are the future. What kind of future will we have if parents are allowed to turn their kids into basket cases or drive them to kill themselves?"

"I agree Josh, far too many kids do kill themselves and an unusually large proportion of those who do, are gay and lesbian teens. I hope that now that he's with Bryan, Mark can learn to accept who his is. He may or may not be gay, it's hard to tell for sure at such a young age, but I'm sure he will get the support he needs from Bryan."

Josh and I put the rope and the note in the fireplace and we burned them before sitting down on the sofa to watch TV. Once again, unbeknownst to either of us, Josh had taken yet another step towards his destiny that afternoon. I watched him as we sat on the sofa and channel surfed. I could see that while he was trying to watch the movie, his mind was going over the injustice and cruelty that he was beginning to notice in the world at large and desperately wanted to fix it.

Mark called my cell phone within minutes of landing in Calgary and he sounded like a whole new kid. The joy in his voice was obvious. He was with his brother and he couldn't be happier. Josh and I took turns talking to him and Bryan for a few minutes and just before we hung up, I had one final word with him.

"Marky, I found what you left me. I want you to know that if you ever feel like that again, you can call me day or night. You can also talk to Bryan - he'll understand and he will help you," I said.

"I know. I wanted to leave that with you because I wanted you to know exactly how much you really did for me."

"I'm glad. It would have been a real loss had you carried out your plans. I'm happy that I could be in the right place at the right time." We said our goodbyes and hung up.

As promised, the day after Mark left, I paid Arnold Callahan a visit and delivered to him his copy of the custody documents along with the $5,000 in cash. After reading Mark's note, it sickened me to do it, and it took all my self-control not to beat the shit out of him again. When he opened his front door in a drunken stupor, he actually flinched when he saw me. I was glad. I was glad that I had put such fear into his heart because it was at least one small measure of justice for what he had done to Mark. That same day, I shipped the four moving boxes containing the remainder of Mark's belongings west to Calgary.

Aside from attending our respective schools, Josh and I continued our preparations for the upcoming trip. We spent a whole week-end at the local Red Cross earning our Standard First Aid and CPR certifications. Both of us did really well on the course which wasn't surprising. I had previously been certified as a requirement of my position as a camp counselor, and I had taught much of the material to Josh. I also invested $500 in a fully loaded, professional grade first aid kit for the Jeep. It contained everything that could possibly be required to handle any medical emergency which we could potentially encounter on the trip.

Josh's driving lessons were going very well and by May, he was good enough that I'd have no fear riding with him on any highway. Of course, the plan was not to have him drive, only to be able to drive in an emergency.

I continued to see Dr. Pollard and while I was learning to deal with the shooting, I still had my good days and my bad days. For the most part, I was on a pretty even keel, but there were still sleepless nights and feelings of guilt and depression. Thankfully, those incidents were getting less severe and less frequent all the time.

Life was pretty much routine or at least as routine as it could be with Josh in my life. As always, he was a bundle of energy. I was busily acing my university courses and Josh was getting close to graduating from middle school. In the fall, he was due to start 9th grade - high school. He was both nervous and exhilarated at the prospect.

We were pretty well prepared for the trip. All that was left was the planned purchase of a couple of rifles. For that, I simply had to wait for the Canadian Firearms Centre to hurry up and process my license application.

It was the week before the Victoria Day holiday and I had just written my final exam, which meant that I was done with school until the fall. That afternoon, I returned home to an unusually excited Josh.

"Dad, we both got letters from the Governor General today," Josh said excitedly.

"From the Governor General?" I asked.

"Yeah, the return address is Rideau Hall in Ottawa," Josh replied as he waved the envelope in my face.

"Did you read yours yet?" I asked

"No, I was waiting for you so we could open them together. Lets open them now, I'm dying to find out what they say," he enthused.

I slipped off my shoes and Josh handed me the envelope bearing my name. I looked at the envelope and noted that it was constructed out of a high quality paper and it bore my full, formal name: Thomas Ryan Davis. I glanced at Josh's envelope and, like mine, his bore his full name: Joshua Michael Chambers.

We sat down together on the sofa and opened the envelopes. I read the enclosed letter, shook my head, and read it again. It took me a moment to comprehend what it said. The first paragraph of the letter read:

"The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is pleased to invite you to attend Government House in Ottawa, Ontario on July 15th 2000 in order to be invested with the Star of Courage for acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril."

It went on to include the citation for the medal which read recounted the basic facts of the robbery and the shooting.

"Does this mean they're giving us medals for what we did?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Yeah, buddy, it does. They're giving us Canada's second highest civilian award for bravery." I didn't quite know how to feel about it. I was proud that my country wanted to recognize my actions and those of Josh and Mark, but on the other hand, I was somewhat bothered by the continued attention.

"This is so cool!" Josh crowed.

"It's pretty amazing," I agreed. "Once we're awarded the medals, we can add the initials 'SC' after our names on formal documents and things."

"Are we even going to be in Ontario on the 15th?" Josh asked.

"I doubt it. I guess we'll have to make sure we get there," I replied. I wasn't about to cut short the summer adventure for any reason, not even to receive a medal from the Governor General. "I'd have to check the travel plans, but I think we're going to be in Alberta around the 15th. Mark will be going too, so maybe we can leave the truck and all our stuff at his place and we can fly to Ottawa for the ceremony and then fly back."

"SHIT!" Josh exclaimed.

"What?" I asked in a startled voice.

"What about Mark? They probably sent his letter to his father's house," Josh exclaimed.

"Damn! You're right. We had better get on the phone to Calgary and get Bryan on the case. The best bet is probably to have them contact Rideau Hall and get a new letter sent to the correct address." I had barely finished speaking when Josh pulled out his cell phone and began dialing.

I smiled as I listened to Josh excitedly tell Mark all about the medals and my idea of how to get us there. After a few moments, he handed the phone to me. "He wants to speak to you," Josh said.

"Hey Mark, how are you buddy?"

"Fantastic! This place is so cool. Bryan has a great house and I have a huge room. He took the whole week off work when I got here and he bought me all the furniture and other things I wanted to decorate my room. I miss you a lot."

"I know kiddo, I miss you too. Don't worry, Josh and I will be leaving for our trip in another month and we're going to get to see you and your brother when we're in the west." Mark and I chatted for a few more minutes and he filled me in on the details of his new school and the friends that he was making. He promised to fill Bryan in on all the details as soon as he got home from work and to get him to call me to work out the details.

"He sounds really good," Josh remarked.

"Yeah, he sounds like a new person. I'm glad. He's a special kid and he deserves to be happy."

"Oh, I forgot," Josh said as he slapped his forehead. "This came for you too." He handed me an envelope bearing the logo of the Canadian Firearms Centre.

"Cool! This is my firearms license," I said as I tore it open and removed the plastic card. "This means we finally get to go shopping for a rifle. After supper tonight, we'll go to LeBaron and see what they have. We'll load up on fishing gear while we're at it."

"Great!" Josh crowed as he jumped up and gave me a big hug. "I can't wait to learn how to shoot."

I could understand Josh's excitement. Boys tended to take to guns and shooting like ducks to water. I was hopeful, however, that having seen the effects of gunfire, he would be a safer, more cautious shooter.

That night, when Susan returned home from work, we showed her the letters from the Governor General. She was flabbergasted. "I'm so proud of both of you boys," She said. "I hope I can make it to Ottawa for the ceremony."

I truly hoped that she would be there for Josh. I hoped that some of my family could attend as well.

Bryan called and I explained that he would have to contact the Governor-General's office and explain Mark's change of address so they could resend the letter of invitation for him as well. Bryan was thrilled with the thought that his kid brother was a hero and would be receiving a medal. He assured me that it would be no problem for him to take his vacation time and accompany us on our trip to Ottawa from Calgary for the ceremony.

Before we departed for LeBaron, I called my mother and brothers and filled them in. To say that they were ecstatic was the understatement of the year. Andy promised to be there and so did my mom. James and Anne said they would do their best and that if they could make it, they'd bring the twins with them as well.

While I had James on the phone, I had a great idea. "Jim, do you have any plans for the long weekend?"

"Nah, Anne has me painting the outside of the house. Why do you ask?"

"How would you like me to take the boys off your hands for the weekend? Josh has been bugging me to take him fishing and I thought maybe I'd take him and the twins for a weekend campout and fishing trip," I replied.

"They'd love that!" James said with a chuckle. "It's fine by me, but I had better confirm with Anne. I doubt that she'll object. Where were you thinking of taking them?"

"I thought Trout Lake would be a good place. There's a camp ground there and a place where we can rent a boat. It's been a few years, but if the trout fishing is as good as it used to be, we'll all eat our fill of fresh rainbow trout."

"Oh yeah, Dad used to take us all there. The boys will love it. Hang on while I speak to Anne," James said as he set the phone down. I could hear the faint sound of voices in the background followed by James hollering up the stairs for the boys. The next thing I heard was a loud cheer from a pair of small boys who then raced to the phone.

"Uncle Tom, are you really taking us fishing this weekend?" Matthew asked. People often wonder how I could tell the boys apart. The truth was that while they looked the same and sounded almost exactly the same, each had a very distinctly different personality from the other. Matthew was the quieter more introverted of the pair and Richard was the more outgoing and adventuresome. Of course, I didn't have a favorite and I loved each of them equally.

"I sure am. It'll be the two of you, Josh, and me. We're going to camp out and everything, so you want to make sure that you pack all the fishing gear I bought you, your sleeping bags and some warm clothes."

"Cool!" Richard crowed. "Mommy wants to talk to you now."

"Hey sis, how are you?" I said with a laugh.

"I'm fine Tom, but I think you've lost your mind. Are you sure you can handle both of them?" Anne chuckled.

"They're little angels," I replied.

"They sure have you fooled. They sure love their Uncle Tom, I'll grant you that."

I spoke to Anne for a few more minutes and then finalized the arrangements before hanging up. I turned to head up the stairs to find Josh and ended up bumping right into him. He wore a mile-wide grin and his eyes were sparkling. "Did I hear that right? We're going camping and fishing this weekend?" He asked.

"You sure did," I said with a chuckle. Before I could say anything else, I had Josh wrapped around me administering one of his boa-constrictor hugs. All I could do was grin and hug him back.

When Josh finally let me go, I grabbed the LeBaron gift certificate and headed upstairs to speak briefly to Susan. Susan, who had plans of her own for the weekend readily agreed to let Josh go along. I thought his head was going to split open from his massive smile. I loved seeing him that happy; it warmed my heart.

We arrived at LeBaron about 20 minutes later. LeBaron was always THE place for outdoor sports. No matter what you needed, they could get it for you. They carried a large selection of rifles and ammunition, fishing gear and camping gear. I planned on stocking up on each of those things. The first order of business was rifles. At very least, I wanted to purchase a high-powered, large bore rifle that could be used for hunting as well as protection against potentially dangerous wildlife. We had no plans to do any hunting on the summer trip, indeed, not much would even be in season, but we would be in regions frequented by potentially dangerous animals and we wanted to be prepared.

Josh and I resisted the urge to stop and drool over all the displays of camping gadgets and made our way to the back of the store where the firearms were kept. Both Josh and I were gadget nuts and could easily lose ourselves in that store. Fortunately, on that occasion, we had a mission to keep us focused.

"Can I help you, sir?" Asked the middle aged man behind the counter.

"You sure can. I have this," I said showing him the gift certificate, "and I just got this," I continued showing him my new firearms possession and acquisition license. "I'm looking for a large bore, high-powered rifle for deer and moose hunting and also for protection against dangerous game in the arctic."

The man's eyes lit up when he realized he was in for a big sale, "Looks like you're all set and I think I have just what you're looking for," he said.

"I'm also looking for a .22 rifle to be used primarily as a less expensive practice firearm. It will also likely be used for small game."

"Well, let's start with the big boy," he said with a smile. "Any preference as far as caliber goes?"

"I've had a lot of experience with .303 British and I was in the military so I have experience with 7.62 mm NATO. If memory serves, the .308 Winchester is pretty much the civilian version of the 7.62. Ideally, I'd like something in one of those calibers."

"Good choice. They're both solid rounds with a lot of power and range to spare. Are you thinking semi-automatic or bolt action?"

"No preference really. Probably bolt action but I'd be willing to look at a solid, well built semi-automatic." Josh's eyes were large as he gazed at the wall-to-wall racks of rifles and shotguns.

"I think I have the perfect rifle for you," he said. "It's a semi-automatic .308 Winchester Magnum with a high powered quick-adjustable scope. It will fire the standard .308 Winchester or the .308 Winchester Magnum loads. It's also gas operated which reduces the recoil, making it more manageable for the young fellow to fire," he said indicating Josh.

"Sounds good, let's take a look." I could see that Josh was wearing a huge grin once again.

The man went to the gun rack on the wall behind him and returned with a gorgeous looking rifle. It was made out of blued steel and had a highly polished walnut stock. He removed the magazine and checked the action before handing it to me.

I shouldered the rifle and looked through the scope. It was extremely well balanced and it felt comfortable against my shoulder. The stock and fore-stock were perfectly molded and ergonomic. The rifle felt comfortable to hold.

"It's the Benelli R1. It has a six round capacity and it's designed to be fired by right handed shooters only because of the ejection port on the right hand side. You can fire off all six rounds just as fast as you can pull the trigger. It's an extremely reliable rifle."

I handed the rifle to Josh. "Try this out, Josh. Make sure you point it in a safe direction," I said. I had pretty much decided to purchase that rifle, but I wanted to make sure that it would be suitable for Josh to handle. It looked like a good fit. Josh handed it back to me and I handed it back to the salesman. "Looks good to me, how much?"

"Well, this one's top of the line. It'll set you back $1,059 plus taxes."

I didn't even have to think about it. "Done. I'll take it. I also want 3 extra magazines, two boxes of standard load Winchester .308's and two boxes of Magnum load Winchester .308's. I also want one of those little Remington .22 semi-automatics," I said pointing to a compact .22 rifle on the rack behind the salesman. "I'd like two 500 round boxes of .22 long rifle ammo for the Remington and hard shell carrying cases for both rifles as well as a secure gun safe with ammo locker."

For a second, the salesman stood there gape mouthed. I was pretty certain that he expected me to look at a less expensive rifle. Instead, I not only agreed to but the top of the line rifle he offered, but also a second rifle along with all the accessories for both. "Hot dog! This is going to be a record month for me," he said with a smile.

As he began the paperwork, Josh and I went into the main part of the store and loaded up on new fishing and camping gear. We picked out new fishing rods, matching fishing vests, and Cadpat style 'boonie caps'. We also picked up a new Coleman gas stove with six propane cylinders, a new cooler, a new set of camp pots (with plates and cutlery) as well as a bunch of smaller gadgets. By the time we left the store, my Jeep was loaded down and I had dropped almost $2,000.00.

The first order of business upon returning home was installation of the gun safe. The floor of my apartment was concrete so we had no trouble drilling down and firmly anchoring the safe in the back corner of my closet. I set the digital combination lock and stowed the rifles and ammunition away. Jason, the sales rep, was so happy that he doubled the order of ammunition for both rifles and threw in cleaning kits for both at no additional charge. Having a military background meant that I was almost religious about keeping my rifles clean and that was a habit that I fully intended to pass onto Josh.

"Okay kiddo, tomorrow we'll hit the range and do some shooting, but tonight I have to teach you about firearms safety. First, I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but you must never handle these or any other firearms without proper supervision."

"I know, Dad. I know they aren't toys. I saw what happened to that guy you shot..." He stopped himself right there when he realized what he had said. "Oh shit. Sorry Dad, I didn't mean it like that," he continued gently as he leaned into me and gave me a hug.

"It's ok Josh, I know what you meant. I'm glad that the shooting gave you an appreciation for the danger firearms pose in the wrong hands. Let's hope that neither of us ever has to see anything like that again," I said wanly.

"I should have thought before I said that. I can see that it upset you a bit."

"Don't worry about it. Let's just get on with the lesson. When it comes to handling firearms, there are a few golden rules. The first rule is this.... you must treat every single firearm as if it is loaded until you see differently with your own eyes. That means that if I pickup a rifle, see that it is unloaded and then hand it to you, you must check for yourself before you accept that it is actually empty."

"Got it. That ensures that nobody makes a mistake, right?"

"Right. No matter how much you trust the person who told you it was unloaded, you must always check for yourself. The second rule is that you never hand anyone a loaded firearm. If you are going to hand a rifle to someone, you must remove the magazine, ensure that no rounds are chambered, put it on safe and then hand it over."

I could see that Josh was taking me seriously and was committing the rules to memory. I was glad because following these simple rules can prevent most accidents.

"The third rule is that you never point a firearm at anything that you don't intend to shoot. The fourth rule is that you always be sure of your target. Never shoot at anything that you haven't positively identified as a valid target and never shoot unless you know you have proper backstop in case you miss."

"Make sure that nobody's in the way, right?"

"That's part of it, but you also want to make sure that you're not about to fire in an unsafe direction. For example, you would never fire a high powered rifle in the direction of a busy highway."

"That makes sense," Josh said with a smile.

"The fifth rule is that you never store a firearm which is dirty or loaded. When you're done shooting, you unload the rifle and store the ammunition separately from the rifle. You also have to field-strip the rifle and clean it completely before you put it away. A dirty rifle is an unreliable rifle, especially when you're dealing with semi-automatics like the ones we bought tonight."

I spent the next hour teaching Josh how to safely handle firearms. I went through the complete operating procedures for both rifles and taught him how to break down and reassemble both. I even tried to trick him a few times when it came to checking the rifle each time I handed it to him or he picked it up, but I never caught him. Finally, I went and got Susan and brought her down to show her how much Josh had learned about firearms handling. Susan wasn't all that enthusiastic about Josh handling rifles or about having them in the house but by the time Josh and I completed our safety demo, she was a lot more at ease.

"Still don't like those things, but it looks as if you're doing a great job of teaching Josh how to handle them safely. I'm glad that he's learning from a professional," Susan said before she went back upstairs.

I took a moment to call Robert Harris, a friend of mine from school who was also a member of the Brampton Gun club. I had previously spoken to him about my desire to purchase rifles and he had offered to arrange for Josh and me to use the club range. He was agreeable to meeting us at the club the following day (Thursday). He was quite excited about the Benelli and wanted to try it out.

Before retiring for the night, Josh and I spent about 45 minutes properly cleaning both rifles and removing the excess packing grease. By the time we were done, both rifles were cleaned and ready for use. The only thing left to do was to sight in both scopes. We'd have to be on the range to get that done.

"Good night, Dad," Josh in a sleepy voice as he gave me my goodnight hug and a peck on the forehead.

"Good night, son," I said warmly as I returned both his hug and forehead kiss before sending him on his way.

The next day seemed to drag on. I was looking forward to hitting the range just about as much as Josh was. Other than the shooting incident, I hadn't done much shooting since leaving the military and I missed it. I had always been an exceptional shot, and I was looking forward to passing on the art of marksmanship to Josh.

We were both just about floating by the time we pulled into the parking lot of the gun club and met Robert.

"Robert, how are you? Thanks a million for arranging this for us. I'd better take out a membership myself in the near future," I said as I shook hands with my friend. "This is Josh. Josh, this is Robert."

"Nice to meet you," Josh said as he offered his hand to Robert

.

"So this slug's gonna teach you how to shoot, eh?" Robert joked.

For a second, it looked as if Josh as about to try and defend my honour, so I put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a subtle look. Given my relatively fragile emotional state after the shooting, Josh was more than a little protective of me.

We went inside and Robert got us signed in, then we made our way to the large bore rifle range. The plan was for me to sight in both rifles and then teach Josh how to shoot. Once that was done, we were all going to do a little target shooting. Robert was really looking forward to trying out the Benelli R1. Much to my excitement, he had brought along his FN rifle. The FN set the standard for battle rifles. It was a solid Belgian made rifle that fired the NATO 7.62 mm round. It had been the standard rifle of many armies from the 50s all the way to the late 80s. It had been retired from Canadian military service in 1989. Robert had purchased a British version just before it became prohibited under the new firearms laws. Under a grandfather clause in the rules, he was allowed to keep it. I was looking forward to firing it.

The range bay in which we were situated had a small rifle rest that we could use for sighting. We setup a checkered sighting target and sent it down range. Josh was going to man the spotting scope and call my shots for me. I started with the Benelli which would be sighted in at 100 yards. I demonstrated the procedure for loading the magazines to Josh and then loaded and cocked the rifle.

We were all wearing ear defenders all ready so it was time to shoot. Josh and I were in the prone position and Robert was standing behind us with binoculars watching the target. I aimed the rifle, steadied my grip, took a deep breath then let it partially out and held before gently pulling the trigger. The big rifle bucked hard in my hands and I felt the familiar and not unpleasant kick of a high-powered rifle.

"Two inches high and 4 inches right," Josh said and Robert agreed.

I adjusted the knobs on the scope and fired a second round.

"One up and one right," Robert said.

"Same here," Josh replied.

I made another adjustment to the scope and fired again.

"You're just a fraction low and about half an inch left," Josh said.

"Just tap it this time, Tom," Robert said.

I made a couple of tiny adjustments to the scope and fired a fourth round.

"Bull's eye!" Josh said excitedly.

I fired the last two rounds in fairly rapid succession and Josh called "Bull's-eye" both times. I set the safety on the rifle and removed the empty magazine. Josh handed me a second while Robert reloaded the first. I fired all six rounds in fairly rapid succession scoring a bull's-eye each time.

"Nice shooting, Dad!" Josh said excitedly.

"Not bad at all, Tom. Good to see you haven't lost it!" Robert said.

Robert changed targets as I prepared to sight in the .22 rifle. Given the smaller size and significantly lower power of the .22 round, we decided to sight it in at only 50 yards. I could see that Josh was chomping at the bit to try his hand at shooting. "Don't worry Josh; this just takes a really steady hand. You'll get a turn in just a few minutes," I said to reassure him. He rewarded me with his wide, dimpled grin. It took me all of five minutes to get the Remington sighted in. After firing the Benelli, the Remington felt like a BB gun but it was a solid and accurate rifle.

"It's your turn now, Josh," I said with a smile as I handed him the Remington. I smiled with pride as I watched him properly prove the rifle after he accepted it from me. I could see that Robert was impressed. "Okay Josh, do you remember when I told you about a concept called 'Habit'?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think you said it meant holding, aiming, breathing and trigger control."

"Bingo, exactly right. I'm going to teach you to shoot from four different positions. The easiest is prone." I adjusted the position of his legs and torso and got him into a proper prone position. "This is the prone position. It's the easiest position to shoot from because it gives you the most stability. No matter what position you shoot from, 'HABIT' always applies. First, relax and hold the rifle firmly but don't tense up. Tuck it right into your shoulder and pull it into you. It'll give you more stability."

"Like this?" Josh asked as he adjusted his position and pulled the rifle in tight.

"Right. Now, to aiming a rifle with a scope is easy, all you do is put the crosshairs over the target. One thing to keep in mind is distance. Scopes are sighted in for a particular distance. If you are shooting from a different distance, you need to compensate. Depending on the distance to the target and the type of round, you'll need to aim higher or lower. With the Benelli, if you're very close or very far from the target, you'll need to aim higher. Over short distances, the bullet will have a very flat trajectory to the target and will be below the aim point at the time of impact. Over very long distances, the bullet will arc up into the air and will drop below the aim point before the moment of impact. The scope on the .308 has a distance adjustment feature but it can be tricky to use so we'll save it for a later lesson. Right now, we're sighted for 50 yards with the Remington and 100 with the Benelli so we're right on."

"Next is breathing. Aim the rifle at the target and watch what happens as you breathe," I instructed.

"The sight moves up and down," Josh observed.

"Exactly, so that means that you need to hold your breath just before you fire to keep the rifle on target. I like to take a deep breath and let it about half-way out before I adjust my aim and fire." I watched as Josh tried it.

"Excellent. Now the final consideration is trigger control. You want to use just the very tip of your finger to pull the trigger and you want to gently squeeze it rather than pull it. If you pull it too hard, you'll throw your shots off to one side or the other."

"I think I've got it," Josh said. "Can I shoot now?"

"Go ahead and load a magazine and then fire when ready. Take your time and try to get a good grouping. One more thing, don't get too close to the scope. If you do, you could get a nasty eye injury from the recoil. A .22 doesn't have much recoil but the Benelli does."

Robert and I watched as Josh loaded the rifle like a pro and began to shoot. His first shot was a bull's-eye but the next few were a little wild. I could tell that his excitement was getting the better of him. He got three more bull's-eyes before he exhausted the magazine.

Robert reeled in the target.

"Not bad, son," I said. You got four bull's-eyes and your grouping isn't too bad. It looks like your breathing is good but you're pulling the trigger a little too hard. Try another magazine," I instructed.

Josh reloaded the rifle and fired another 10 rounds. This time, he got seven bull's-eyes and the other three were close. "Nicely done," I said and patted him on the back.

"This is so cool," Josh said with a grin. I'd never met a boy who didn't enjoy shooting, and Josh was learning really fast. Every time I taught him something, he picked it up immediately. It was sometimes scary how quickly be learned things. I knew he was intelligent, but I was beginning to realize that he might actually be far more than just above average. Shooting is very much a mental discipline and after only 20 rounds, Josh was shooting better than the average person.

We let him burn through another 50 rounds and he managed perfect scores on the last two magazines. It was time for him to graduate to the Benelli. "Ok Josh, it's time for the big boy," I said with a smile.

"Cool," Josh replied with a smile.

"Remember, the principles are the same but this is a larger and far more powerful rifle. It will kick a lot harder so you have to be prepared for it and you have to be careful of the scope."

Josh accepted the rifle and I handed him the first magazine. He slipped it into the rifle and cocked it. His first shot was perfect - dead centre but the recoil surprised him a bit. His next five rounds were a little wild. It was as if he was flinching a bit in anticipation of the recoil.

"How do you like that one?" I asked.

"It's cool but it kicks hard," Josh said as he rubbed his shoulder.

"Just tuck it a little tighter and don't flinch - that's why your shots were a little wild."

Josh nodded and inserted a fresh six-round magazine. He began to settle down quickly and by the time he'd fired 20 or so rounds, he was doing just as well with the Benelli as he was with the little Remington. I looked at him and thought that the grin on his face was permanent.

I took half an hour or so to teach Josh how to shoot from sitting, kneeling and standing positions. He did well from all of them but he did best from prone. The other positions would just take practice.

I gave Robert chance to fire the Benelli and he let Josh and I fire his FN. The FN had iron sights so I took a moment to explain how they worked. Josh was amazed when he watched me score 10 near-perfect bull's-eyes from a standing position. He fired from prone and despite the greater weight and lack of a scope managed four bull's-eyes.

Before we packed it in for the night, I loaded up a few magazines with the .308 Winchester Magnum rounds just to get each of us a feel for the heavier loads. They performed just about the same and the recoil was only slightly stronger. I was happy to see that Josh would have no problem handling the more powerful rounds.

On our way out, I completed the necessary paperwork to apply for a full adult membership for myself and a youth membership for Josh. Robert signed off on both applications to attest to the fact that he had observed our safety and shooting skills and that we met or exceeded club standards.

Like a schoolboy bringing home drawings for his mom to hang on the fridge, Josh brought a number of his best targets home to show Susan. He was understandably proud of his accomplishments. I was, as always, proud of my son.

When we arrived home, I reminded Josh of rule number five and we spent the next hour cleaning the rifles before locking them safely away in the gun locker. Josh was amazed at the amount of carbon that built up inside the rifles in such a short period of time.

I spent most of the next day getting ready for the camping/fishing weekend. I wanted to spend a lot of time with my nephews because I knew I wouldn't see much of them during the summer, and I was going to miss the little tykes. Some people find it tiresome dealing with such small kids, but I loved my nephews a great deal and I enjoyed spending time with them. James was a dad in every sense of the word, but he was a lot less adventurous than I was, so the twins didn't get to do much outdoorsy stuff unless Andy or I took them. I had to live up to my billing as the fun/favorite uncle and they were getting old enough to enjoy the outdoors, so I decided to make a point of taking them camping as often as I could.

I went to the grocery store and bought all kinds of camp food that the boys would enjoy. I figured we'd end up with plenty of fish to eat but I also stocked up on hamburgers, hot dogs, and all the necessary ingredients for a nice lumberjack style breakfast each morning.

With the Jeep loaded, I headed off to Josh's school. He was waiting for me out front and virtually jumped into the Jeep. "Hi Dad," he said happily as he leaned over and gave me a big hug.

"Hey bud," I replied and gave him a brief peck on the temple.

"I've been looking forward to this all day. I could hardly concentrate in class," Josh laughed.

We drove to James and Anne's house and were met by two very excited twins. We barely got out of the Jeep before they set upon us. Richard launched himself at me and wrapped his small arms around me in a big hug while Matthew did the same to Josh.

"Hey little buddies, are you guys all ready to go?" I saw Anne walk out of the house smiling and shaking her head. She was carrying the twin's backpacks.

"You boys be good for your uncle Tom and Josh, ok?" She said firmly.

"We will!" my adorable little nephews replied in unison as then went and gave their mom a hug and kiss.

"Jim's still at work," Anne said. "You guys have a great time and be careful." It was the first time that the boys had been away from her for more than a day or so. I could see that it was a little tough for her.

"Don't worry, sis. They'll have the time of their lives," I said with a smile as I gave her a kiss on the cheek and said goodbye. By that time, Josh had loaded the twin's gear into the back of the Jeep and figured out how to extend the built in booster seats and get the boys strapped in.

By the time we pulled out and started the nearly two hour drive, Josh had fired up the GPS and plotted out a course to get us to our destination. Josh did his best to keep the boys entertained during the long drive and we stopped at MacDonald's for dinner just beyond the halfway point. If I had thought the boys could have waited to eat, I would have delayed stopping until we passed Webber's a little farther along. People came from all over the place just to stop at Webber's for their famous hamburgers.

Webber's was located right along side the highway and was so popular that some nut-cases would actually run across the highway to buy their burgers! The city finally installed a pedestrian bridge over the four-lane highway to allow people to cross and buy Webber's burgers.

We finally arrived at Trout lake and setup camp. We got the tent put up and setup our sleeping bags. We put the twins side by side in the middle with Josh and me on either side. We took a few minutes to go to the campground office and purchase some firewood and to rent a boat for the next morning. By the time everything was set up and ready to go, it was getting a little dark so I built a big campfire. It was still a little cool at night so we all changed into long pants and long sleeve shirts for the evening.

The four of us sat around the campfire and roasted marshmallows while I regaled the boys with ghost stories. I also told the twins all kinds of stories about growing up with their dad and they got a real kick out of hearing about their father when he was a little boy.

Eventually the twins were starting to nod off so we decided to put them to bed. I picked up Matthew and carried him to his sleeping bag while Josh did the same for Richard. Carefully, without waking them up, we got them changed into their pajamas and tucked them in.

Josh and I sat outside by the campfire for another hour or so after tucking in the twins and just enjoyed each other's company. We sat snuggled up together on the bench of the picnic table and talked about life.

"I can't believe it's only another month before we leave on the trip," Josh said.

"Me either. This is going to be the adventure of a lifetime," I told him.

"I have a feeling that there will be more to this trip than just a vacation," Josh said thoughtfully. "It almost feels like something that we're meant to do. It feels more important than just a vacation."

"You know something; I get the exact same feeling. I can't quite place it, and I can't explain it, but I do feel some greater purpose in this trip."

As we chatted, Josh began to get drowsy and before long, I had another sleeping boy to carry to bed and tuck it. After I got Josh undressed and tucked snugly into his sleeping bag, I hugged him and kissed his forehead before going to put out the fire.

With the fire safely out, I returned to the tent, climbed into my own sleeping bag, and zipped up. I was asleep before I knew it.

The next morning, I awoke and realized that I was not alone in my sleeping bag. I looked down and saw that Richard had climbed in with me and was cuddled up against my side. I looked over at Josh and saw that he had Matthew snuggled up with him in his bag. I figured that the boys must have been a little cold at night and sought some extra warmth. I didn't mind and I doubted that Josh would mind either.

Carefully, without waking Richard, I climbed out of my sleeping bag, dressed, then made a quick stop at the bathroom facilities before starting breakfast. Within two minutes of dropping the bacon into the frying pan, Josh was awake and poking his head out of the tent.

"Smells good!" he said with a grin.

"Morning Josh! Throw some clothes on and then give me a hand," I said

Josh grinned and did just that. "Morning Dad. I love you," Josh said as he climbed out of the tent and gave me a hug.

"I love you too kiddo," I replied. "How does bacon, scrambled eggs, beans and English muffins sound for breakfast?"

"Sounds great and smells even better," Josh replied. "I'll get a fire going."

As I continued to prepare breakfast, Josh built a small fire. It was just after 6:00 AM and we didn't plan to be on the lake until 7:00 or so. We had planned to let the twins sleep a little longer. Of course, being boys, the smell of cooking food worked better than any smelling salts available and they were wide awake in no time at all.


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