"Please!" they children asked. One of the kids, an 11-year-old boy that had helped build the ballista, then showed us a stick. I took it and turned it over. He had taken a cottontail he had found in the fields at the farm we were staying at. He had used some wire to attach the top of the cottontail to the stick. To his credit, it very much looked like an arrow. The stick was straight, other branches had been carved off it, and the tip was secure. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty damn impressed with the arrow.
"We made a bunch of them," he said.
"Oh my gosh!" the mother's responded.
The dads though began to appreciate the workmanship and gumption of the children. I mean, come on, they made arrows.
Together as a group, we are quite large. Five families, sixteen kids and one farmhouse in the middle of Kansas. The youngest kid is three, our oldest is twelve. We have ceased to be a dads group at this point and are now into cult territory. Each year we rent a place out among the fields and the cows, relishing the quiet and space.
The kids get to run around the farm, discovering turtles and the kittens that always show up every summer. They can get dirty, roughhouse without breaking too much, and build those memories that I am after so much.
The parents get to sit around and talk about adult things, like politics and interest rates. But mostly we just sit and sip drinks while looking at the stars. Sometimes one of us will remember that the kids are around somewhere and should go check on them. That's probably a good idea because each year I also build a siege weapon from 2000-year-old plans.
Two years ago we built a trebuchet, launching baseballs 70 yards down into the tall Kansas grass. Last year it was a torsion style catapult that didn't shoot it's projectiles of potatoes and eggs as far as the trebuchet. This year was the ballista.
For those that don't know what a ballista is, it's basically a very large crossbow. The kids help me build it right before we go to the farm. While we cut the wood and twist rope, I will get into the mathematics of the machine and why it works. Halfway through this lecture, they will stop helping. I will yell "The arm has to be 3/4's the length of the base! Do you know why! Let me tell you why!" They just keep walking. One day though I'll get them to understand how math helps their everyday lives.
For those that are asking "Why" I build these things, you can go ahead and close your browser now, you don't get to read about the ballista. You have lost your turn if you can't appreciate it. The answer is obvious, it's a ballista. It shoots things. That's why you build it.
I looked at the arrow more closely, letting the weight slide around in my hand. The kids did a damn fine job, it even feels balanced like a proper flaming arrow should. But would it light? Would the fire go out once we launched it? Not if I used a little bit of lighter fluid. We are dads at a farm, I'm sure there is lighter fluid somewhere around here. Probably not a fire extinguisher, but defiantly some lighter fluid.
The moms would never go for it of course. They spent the first day a the farm telling horror stories of the diseases you can get from the turtles the kids found. Two of the moms are doctors so you have to take them a little bit more seriously than the WebMD moms you find on the internet. Salmonella, hospital visits, flesh-eating bacteria. Moms sometimes like to crap on a good time. Last year it was the danger of ticks and Lyme disease.
So the dads, and I mean me, made an executive decision.
Can we shoot flaming arrows from the ballista?
You are god damn right we can. I mean, it's a ballista, it's built for this type of thing!! We have to ratchet down some of the power though, we have to be sensible about this type of thing.