Happy Birthday. Now shoot me!

by Donald Wilson on January 11, 2012


Ive taken a better picture, but I don't think the ducks are very happy about this photo either!

Andrew likes guns.  No, Andrew loves guns.  He loves guns the way a man loves the idea of a woman.  Not the reality of family life with a woman, but the romantic idealization that has immortalized many a siren in paintings or literature.  He loves the way they look, the way they feel when cradled in his arms, even the mechanics of the way they come together and the parts that seem like they are just for show and esthetics.

It doesn’t end there.

Andrew loves to shoot guns.  He likes the tension of pumping the action back and hearing the ammunition drop into place.  He likes the way he can unlock the safety with one finger and the click of the trigger he is pulling back with another.  A gun with a little real blowback sends a shiver down his spine and I’ve seen his eyes glaze over in an almost religious ecstasy after popping off a round.

With targets placed strategically on boxes or pedestals, he has spent hours on the side of the house shooting expertly past the unsuspecting tomato plants that he knows have a protected status around the house.   Blind folded apples and oranges, on the other hand, are free game.

This predilection for intermittent target practice and popping off rounds of ammo is not one I share with my son. In fact, his preternatural understanding and love for weapons is something that used to scare me like a 4 am sale on Black Friday:  I just knew that nothing good could ever come of it!

As a dad with more than his share of childhood development under my belt, I rationalized the drive for guns through the lens of modern psychology and stages of growth.  However, Andrew spent many of his foundational years on the meanest streets in Los Angeles and his neighbors had real guns that they played with.  Secretly, I feared that his love of guns was less Freudian and more preparation for taking over the house in his teenage years.   Still, I decided that psychology was my best weapon and. that like most things kids want, putting up a fight would only create more desire.

I would let him play with toy guns and “get it out of his system.”

It turns out that Nerf Guns are the gateway drug of the gun world.  Oh sure, they say that a little marijuana won’t hurt and then “BAM” you are living in a tent on skid row with a crack addition the size of Texas.  I now believe that Mattel is a secret branch of the NRA: The National Rifle Addiction…  I mean association.

This is how it goes.  Nerf turns into high-powered water guns.  Water guns turn into laser tag.  Lasers turn into paint ball and then finally, you have the Airsoft gun.  It’s the Holy Grail of the toy gun world and just shy of being the real deal. In fact, these guns are so close to the real thing that laws are in place that require a very bright orange end piece to make sure that Law enforcement doesn’t’ shoot first and ask question later.

Understandably, I was just a wee hesitant when Andrew asked for one for his birthday.   Obviously, I said, “NO!” with a big emphasis on the “NO!”

Then secretly I got on the Internet to see what all the fuss was about.  Just the price tag alone was enough to scare me, but all the gear that went with it made the sites seem more like a weapon pornography site for Idaho compounds (no slight intended for my gun slinging relatives living in Boise).  This was real “get ready for Armageddon” style gear.

I had all the ammo I needed and my resolve was set.

Then Andrew looked at my Internet history and with that “I know what you’re getting me for my birthday” grin asked me what I was doing looking at Airsoft sites.

“Research.” I told him and then before I could figure out how it happened, Andrew and I had spent an afternoon sitting on my bed doing more “research.”  By the time we finished, I knew who the best manufactures were, what the air speed of different models meant, and even where kids went to have Airsoft birthday parties.  It turns out that you’re supposed to gather in big groups and shoot at each other.

They call this fun.

I knew where this was all leading and there’s no sense keeping you in suspense.  I purchased a gun over the Internet and sent out the invitations for Andrew’s friends to celebrate his birth by shooting each other in some warehouse in East Los Angeles.

To my surprise all the parents said yes.  Perhaps sending your teenage son to be shot at all day was an acceptable term for a day without Hip Hop blaring around the house.

Even more to my surprise was the realization that this was the first real birthday party that Andrew would have since he came to live with me.  Of course, I had celebrated his birthdays, but he had never really had a large enough social group of his own until now and it typically meant we celebrated with family and perhaps his one childhood friend he kept in touch with.

Andrew’s group of high school friends are all good athletes, straight A students, and genuinely kind and caring boys.  They are a testament of the amazing growth that Andrew has made in a few short years and the kind of young man he has become.

If they want to shoot each other, then so be it.   The party was a success and the car chatter coming home that night warmed my heart.  Andrew was beaming and later that night after the lights were dimmed and I was lying in bed with a book, Andrew came into my room to say good night.

Sitting at the edge of the mattress he had one more piece of ammo ready to shoot straight into my heart, “Hey Dad, thank you for an amazing birthday.  It’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.  I mean that.  It really was the best.  You’re an amazing dad and I love you.”

Well, there it was in a bullet shell.   This was not the teenage boy trying to persuade me to do something he wanted, but a sincere appreciation for me trying to bend and grow with him as he figures out who he is and where his passions will lead him.

For now one of his passions is for guns and marksmanship.   There will be others.  Some I will understand, some I won’t.

As I inch my way towards my 50th birthday this year, I even think Andrew may be on to something for my next party, because every time I get another notice from AARP that I can soon join, I think to myself “Happy Birthday, Now Shoot me!”


Seared Duck in a Green Peppercorn Sauce


Duck in a Green Peppercorn Sauce

My sister called me up a few days before Christmas and told me that her friends had gone hunting and had a bag of Pintails waiting for me.  It turns out that they love to hunt duck, but don’t love to eat them.  They heard that Andrew and I do love to eat duck, so here I am, lucky me, with a surprise gift of seven not so lucky ducks.  Of course, I’m used to a more prepackaged variety, but I was more than willing to make sure these ducks didn’t die in vain.

It had been 35 years or so since I plucked and gutted a chicken, but I was sure that it was like riding a bicycle and decided to hop right into it.    In fact, it was a lot like getting back onto a bicycle after many years; that is, if you got on the bike after 30 years and decided to ride for five or six hours in 20-degree weather, without gloves, knowing that at the end of the ride you had to stick your hand into the inside of a dead animal and remove all of its guts!

Okay, so I need a different analogy.

The plucking was actually not so bad, but it took forever.  I’d give instructions on how to accomplish this, but I know that most everyone reading this will never attempt it.  If you do, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to walk you through it step by step.  I’m also going to pass over the gutting part in deference to my more squeamish reader – namely my sister.

Plucking the Duck

Still, I have always believed that if you are going to be a meat eater it’s important to fully understand that what we eat was once a living animal, and I’m proud to say that Andrew actually plucked and gutted one of the ducks.  The final outcome was one nice roaster, a few breasts with skin and bones, and quite a few breast fillets.

I think I will be a butcher when I grow up

We have a long-standing birthday tradition at Casa Providencia (see March 11 for more info on our living arrangement) that goes back at least ten years where every birthday meal is Steak Au Poivre (peppercorn steak) with French fries and a salad.  This tradition came into being as it is a very celebratory meal that can easily be prepared on a weeknight with little fuss, but smashing results.   This meal was a play on our birthday celebration and the fries were replaced with potatoes fried in duck fat and finished with black truffles and sea salt.

Duck Breast in a Green Peppercorn Sauce

(This recipe is for two, but can easily be doubled or tripled)

2 large duck breasts, skin on

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon green peppercorns in brine

1 cup beef or veal stock

4 tablespoons butter

Freshly ground pepper


¼ cup cognac or brandy


Score the skin of the breast lightly with X’s.  Next, generously pepper and salt them.  You should always pepper first as it will stick better when it goes on before the salt.

Heat the oil on medium high heat in a heavy skillet.  You don’t need too much oil as the skin from the breast will render enough fat for cooking.   Place the breast skin side down and fry until the skin is crispy and nicely browned, about 3 minutes.   At this point, turn the breast, add the green peppercorns and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or longer of you prefer your duck less pink.

Remove the breast to a hot plate and cover with foil.  Pour off most of the fat and add the cognac or brandy.  Light the brandy to burn off the alcohol and when the flames die down, add the stock and cook until reduced by about half.  Lower the heat and whisk in the butter a little at a time to make sure the sauce emulsifies nicely.

Slice the breast on the diagonal and serve by spooning the sauce over the breast.  This makes more than enough sauce for the breast and extra to drizzle on the potatoes.

Serve with any potato dish you like, but for a real decadent treat, slice up a couple of potatoes and fry them in duck fat until nicely browned.  Season them with sea salt and parsley and a bit of minced garlic.  If you happen to have a truffle, shave the truffle into the freshly fried potatoes, season with salt and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees








Janet Howard January 11, 2012 at 5:40 am

I laughed through my tears. Happy belated birthday to Andrew.

Mimi Bonetti January 12, 2012 at 2:44 am

What an amazing story teller you are- thank you! And let’s eat duck!

Jay January 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Wait… does my son know your son… (even know they are 3000 miles apart). (Also 1/2 of his friends seem to be named andrew)

Nurf, water guns, airsoft then paint ball was our sequence. (but we have paint ball fields with-in bike riding distance from home. )

ALway enjoy your posts….

Julian Canjura January 25, 2012 at 5:28 am

Dear Mr. Wilson,
My name is Julian and I am Susan Canjura’s son. Based on her recommendation of this blog I felt like it was imperative that I poked around a bit before I went to bed. I would just like to say that I think you are a great writer. I am sure you already know this, and that it sort of comes with the package of English major-ing, but hear it from a teenager that your writing is captivating and humorous. Instead of what would have been stories of a father and his son discovering important life lessons the hard way that would probably put a teenager into a state of boredom, you have crafted a narrative that uses language that makes it something else entirely. Thank you for making me laugh and my heart smile.
-Julian Canjura.

Don January 25, 2012 at 7:32 am

Hi Julian,

Thank you so much for your comment and for taking the time to read my blog. I can honestly say that your comment is one that I will cherish for a long time. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn as a father is how to grow and change the way I relate to my son as he matures and develops into an adult. Your response lets me know that I may be on the right track.

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