Friday, June 21, 2013

The Man Crutch

"When are you coming home? I want to go to the range."

This quote is real.

I said it.

I was barely twenty-one years old and hadn't been shooting very long. My husband was out of town on business and to that point I had never been to the range without him.

His response was pretty classic, "You know you CAN go to the range by yourself."

Of course I knew I could go to the range by myself. I even knew that eventually, with how much my husband had been traveling, in order for me to have any practice whatsoever I would have to go to the range by myself. The problem was that I didn't want to do it. Going by myself intimidated me. It scared me to think that I wouldn't be under his tutelage, that I would have to take full responsibility for all of my gun handling. I was new at this. I hadn't done much handgun shooting to that point.

I knew there would be a range full of guys watching me, maybe even asking me questions I wasn't able to answer. Maybe someone would even see my guns and would target me for them because I was alone. What if I had a malfunction I didn't know how to clear? What if I did terribly and everyone laughed at me? What if someone was mean to me?

I hid behind my husband and I darned well knew it. After all, that was kind of the point. I felt safe behind him. And we all like safe.

There were so many fears and what ifs and maybes that I could offload on him when he was with me but being alone meant that I would have to face them. 

And male or female, there is a certain amount of comfort in being able to say, "He told me to do it that way" if/when you screw up.

But I'd made a commitment to continuing to move forward in my training and I'd learned the joy, pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with facing one's fears.

So, I collected my things and headed to the range.

The range officers put me on the center lane, right in front of the window facing the store and watched my every move with a pair of binoculars.

I shook like a leaf. I had a knot in my stomach the whole time. I felt the eyes of the range officers burning into my back. I was self conscious. And, yes, I did terribly.

But I did it.

And the next week I did it again.

And the week after that I did it again.

Eventually the awkwardness went away and before long I was on a first-name basis with the staff. My shooting improved. My confidence improved. My gun handling improved. I was trusted with my own lane away from the window and a month later I was asked if I wanted a job. 

Stepping out on my own became a stepping stone to the rest of my entire life. If I never took that step I don't think I'd be where I am today. I don't think I'd be running off to gun classes and matches by myself and comfortable going up against men in any variety of self defense classes. I don't think I'd have been comfortable selling guns and learning my own style of shooting and carry. And I certainly don't think I'd be out there teaching!

Now, I look at the demographics of my followers. I know that 80% of them are male between the ages of 25-40. So..

  • I'm going to talk to you guys first

And I'm going to tell you this:

It's okay to be a crutch. But don't let yourself become a wheelchair. 

My husband married a hot mess of a woman. And, bless his heart, he knew it and took me on anyway. Considering my issues with trust and self image and everything else it could have been easy to pass me by or to mold me into a woman who relied totally and completely on him for everything.

Some men like that. They like the idea of being so needed that their woman cannot function without them. Some women like that arrangement as well.

I'm not in the business of telling people how they should construct their relationship dynamics but it doesn't take much imagination to see how a dynamic like that could cause problems. Someone who is so reliant on someone else may not be able to defend herself. There are levels of dependance of course and we are all dependent on others at least to some degree (unless you are truly out there building your own home; growing, cooking and storing your own food; raising and slaughtering your own meat and so on) but there are some things that everyone should know how to do. Defending her or himself, I believe, should be on that list.

It's getting less common in this generation but even my mother admits to not knowing a thing about defending herself. "Your father has always taken care of us," she'd be quick to say. And while that is true and there is a certain amount of romance in the image of a man defending his woman and family there's not a whole lot of practicality in it, especially if the man isn't always present in the home.

But, pushing a woman to do something she is not ready to do can also cause contention. There are learning curves. There are times when she does need support. Throwing someone in the water (so to speak) and expecting them to swim may work in some cases, but in others the person just might drown.

So, my husband did a good job of being my crutch for as long as I needed him. He helped me learn the basics and guided me to finding resources beyond himself I could trust. He was always there to help but not above saying, "You can do this by yourself," when the time came. He didn't let himself be my wheelchair. He didn't let me rely on him completely and when it came time to have me take my shooting to the next level he took the crutch away.

Yes, it helped that he was out of town, but I have no doubt that eventually he would have encouraged me to step out on my own anyway. He married me knowing that he was going to have to be careful not to enable me. I had a tendency to hide behind the familiar and I was seeking someone who would challenge me. He took the roll seriously and has always excelled in pushing me to take on more responsibility, independence, personal strength and individuality.

There comes a time when, if a woman is serious about defending herself, she needs to step out from behind you, or her girlfriend, or her coach, or whatever crutch she is holding on to. 

Encourage her to that end.

Yes, you want to shoot, too. Yes, you want to make sure that she is safe. Yes, you want to be there to help her if she has any questions. Yes, you want to show her that you are supportive and will be there for her. Yes, you want to make sure she doesn't drop your $700 gun and get a huge scratch in the side. Yes, you want to be there to feel that sense of pride when she hits the bullseye at 20 yards for three shots in a row. I commend you for wanting to take an active roll in her training.

But eventually she has to do it on her own.

Back off and let her go by herself. 

Sign her up or let her to go to a class without you. 

Once she's demonstrated that she can follow the rules of safe gun handling, that she knows the workings of her firearm and that she understands the rules of the range, it might be time to sit back and say, "Honey, how about you take some time for yourself and go shooting without me? I'll even pack your range bag for you!"

If she doesn't want to, that's fine. Go with her, but take a less and less active roll in her shooting. Encourage her to troubleshoot on her own. Encourage her to get her own shooting lane and set up her own targets. Let her load her own magazines and work her own gear.

And then, when you think the time is right, encourage her to go by herself again.

You love her. You want what's best for her. That might mean letting her do her own thing.

I'll close this point and open the next with a story about my parents:

My father loves my mother and wants to protect her. He's always said that she needs to learn how to use a gun for self defense. This year he bought her a gun.

When I went home to visit my parents my mother asked me to show her how to use it. I took her down in the basement with her new gun and we had a very impromptu, dry-fire gun lesson. I taught her what a semiautomatic was versus a revolver. We went over grip and stance. We talked about sighting and trigger control.

My mother was really excited.

There was only one problem; my hovering father.

Every other sentence he would jump it, "Well, what you need to do is hold the gun like this," "Well, I think you should be able to sight like this," "No, no. You need to rack the slide like this."

No matter how many times my mother or I told him to leave us alone he would not back off. Yes, he wants my mother to be able to defend herself but the idea of backing away and letting her do it all on her own seemed like almost an affront to him and it was as though he physically could not leave her alone to learn separate from him.

She told me later that it was the first time in her life she felt like she was really getting it and that we'll have to try again when my Dad cannot interfere. I agree.

  • But that leads me to my second point and that is to address the ladies!

Ladies, you can do it! You should do it!

If you are using your man as crutch for self defense or just for shooting, recognize you are doing it and then make a conscious decision to wean yourself off of him.

Make the decision to take a class without him. If he's like my Dad and can't seem to keep his nose out of your training then use an all female class as an excuse to ditch him for the day. If he won't let you go to a class or the range without him, even when you want to, then I'd say that you have some deeper issues in your relationship that you may need to address and are outside of the purview of this blog post.

Yes, it's okay to go with a girlfriend or just go and watch for the first couple of times. It's okay to ask questions and get help. But eventually you will have to just knuckle-down and step out by yourself.

Trust the knowledge and experience you have received to that point. Follow the four rules of safe gun handling and do it.

Yes, you may feel uncomfortable. Yes, you may feel intimidated or scared. It's okay. Think of it as mental training. Defending yourself is going to be uncomfortable. Probably even intimidating or scary. Learning to face those discomforts head-on is good practice.

  • To the initiated, I say: Let her be! 

That's right, oh-helpful-range-officer. You, Captain America, who cannot resist trying to "help" every individual who happens to share the range with you (especially if she's a she!). You, the instructor who's just there plinking and cringing at her stance. Mr Critical who has some choice things to say about the gun she's shooting and how much you don't like its trigger. Unless you see something that is unsafe, close your mouth and leave her alone.

Let her take the steps to self-discovery.

She probably doesn't want your phone number. She likely doesn't need your advice. She certainly doesn't need your criticism. You're not doing her much good by making yourself available as another crutch. At worse you don't want to intimidate her into never coming back.

  • Finally, I'd like to address the people who grab life by the horns!

You know who you are. You are the type of people who know no fear. Someone says, "Hey, you should try this!" and you jump in with both feet without a second of hesitation.

You didn't wait for someone to hand you a gun. You went to the range with no prior training or experience and without a twitch of doubt or worry you stepped up to the firing line and did it all on your own.

Good for you!

I've seen and worked with your type. You are some great people! People I secretly envy.

But you sometimes don't understand people who are inhibited by their fears. It's easy to look down on them. Make fun of them or even undermine them.

Careful! Acknowledge that it took some doing on your friend/girlfriend/wife/brother/mother/sister/whoever's part to get up and do something they weren't comfortable doing.

Encourage them!

Lastly, while I wrote this blog in a very gender biased tone I realize that the opposite is certainly true. Men can be just as intimidated by a solo range session as a woman can. And I realize it can be even harder for him to admit it. I've talked to more than a few men who have former military or law enforcement or just spouses that were raised in a more gun-friendly environment and is more than comfortable going to the range and shooting or carrying a gun and he is the one who is afraid to enter that world. It's easy for those men to feel embarrassed or belittled or intimidated because of it.

The same sort of encouragement applies.

The crutch doesn't have to be spouses. I have girlfriends who won't go to the range unless I'm with them. I am their crutch. And I'm okay with that for now. Some of them are very new. They like having me there to make sure they are safe and to reenforce good habits and encourage them. But my goal is to get them to a place where they are comfortable without me. I'm honored to help them along that road. 

This kind of hesitation can be applied to other areas of life. I'm putting myself through the uncomfortable process of facing my fears of the weight section in our local gym. I'm still very uncomfortable and, yes, I DID hide behind my husband the first time I went. I hid behind a girlfriend the second time I went. But I understood the need to get away from my crutches and face my fears and my third time was completely solo. My hope is that any future uncomfortable situation I face I'm able to plow into with even less hesitation. Maybe one day I'll be that fearless person!

So, in closing.....

Don't let yourself be a permanent crutch!
Don't use a crutch forever!
Don't make yourself a secondary crutch!
And Don't poke jabs at the person using the crutch!


  1. I took my first step towards going to the range myself. My dad hasn't shot in about 15 years, he was in the Army and is very comfortable with a rifle, but hasn't held a semi-auto pistol probably since I've been alive. So I showed him some of our pistols and took him to the range!

    Yes, I admit I still wanted someone else there, but this time I wasn't the one being instructed. I was showing my dad how to use the pistol. Showing him the tricks of the speed loader (bless the person who invented that).

    I'm probably still a few range visits from going on my own, but I'm progressing! Baby steps are still steps.

    1. Exactly! Baby steps are still steps! I don't begrudge anyone taking their time easing into something like firearms, especially if they are just doing it for sport. But if you're serious about self defense you HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE to eventually learn how to step out on your own and learn how have confidence in your gun handling by yourself. That will go a long way to building confidence in how you carry and shoot and train!!

      Keep up the good work!!

  2. Good stuff... as I've said before on several occassions about me and the gals ove at my blog... my wife and I have a simple philosophy for raising our daughter... "We're raising and training-up a Christian daughter to want a man in her life, but never need a man in her life"... if is you understand the simple, yet overall premise of that statement... it mirrors what you're talking about... today she turns eighteen... in August she heads to college... no more crutches... she's standing on her own two feet... and running at life with self-confidence, skills, common sense, education, abilities, and compassion...

    Although Dad will always have her back... she is now her first responder...

    Dann in Ohio

    1. I saw the pictures of her. Great job! I like your philosophy. Hopefully we can do the same with our daughter!

  3. LOVE it. Great style and it's clearly very personal. Bravo!!

  4. I've been reading many of your blogs for nearly a year, and I can totally relate to your life experiences. I took my first NRA safety course before the age of 12, so I could go hunting with my dad. My husband took me shooting while we were dating, and he called to let me know it was him coming in the drive ever since. He worries when he's away, but he also knows I am capable if the need arises. I prefer company at the range, but there's also the times when I want to have a me-moment.

    Please keep spreading the word! Thank you for putting into print what many of us feel.

  5. Great post, with great advice. I know I had made my decision to go to the range alone, after shooting with males friends for the entire time of my shooting experience not for the reasons you stated but because I wanted to prove to myself that my interest in guns and shooting was mine alone and not to impress my male friends. I felt similar to what you said, for me, there was that nervousness of what if's but I reminded myself that my teacher (not professional or certified) had taught me how to deal with all things, including jams, etc. and he let me do this on my own while just watching. I think what was even more harrowing was taking a newbie to the range by myself. I was so afraid I had missed some point of gun safety, handling and range rules but she did fine and I did fine, so that second part is probably another experience that one should have as well - take a newbie to the range (spread the love ;))

    1. That's a good point! There is a time when you might be called upon to go even further and initiate someone else into the world of guns and, yes, that can be quite the experience!! But a good one!