THE WILD SOUTH PODCAST

Episode 5: Dave and Eddie on Raising Kids in the Outdoors

The hosts have a candid discussion about sharing their outdoor passions with the next generation—what they’ve done right, what they wish they’d done, and what they’ve learned along the way

Two photos showing two sets of siblings in the outdoors

Photo: T. Edward Nickens; David DiBenedetto

On the left, Eddie’s kids, Markie and Jack; Dave’s kids, Sam and Rose, with their Labrador, Story.

About Episode 5:

This time, it’s all about Dave and Eddie and their efforts as dads to raise kids in the outdoors. They talk about successes, challenges, and where they’ve sometimes fallen short. As Eddie says, it’s “not all that easy to raise outdoor kids in the modern world.” They also discuss how as youngsters they learned the ins and outs of fishing and hunting—including, for Dave, one painful attempt to land a trophy bass. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you might pick up a few things that could help influence a young person in your life. The Wild South is presented in partnership with Duck Camp.


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Also see:

Garden & Gun articles by Dave

Garden & Gun articles by Eddie

Books by Dave

Books by Eddie

photo: T. Edward Nickens
Jack with a boss jack crevalle in Ascension Bay, Mexico.

Transcript of episode 5:

Eddie Nickens (00:00):

I am absolutely convinced that Markie’s lifestyle of making informed choices on food and clothes, all that stuff is rooted in sitting beside me in that deer stand, shoulder to shoulder when the sun comes up, or camping with the family and cooking breakfast over a campfire, and being immersed in how the real world works.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:32):

Welcome to the Wild South Podcast. I’m Dave DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief of Garden and Gun Magazine.

Eddie Nickens (00:38):

I’m Eddie Nickens, contributing editor for Garden and Gun.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:41):
Together, we’re talking with the most impactful outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen in the South and far beyond.

Eddie Nickens (00:48):
Quail hunters and duck hunters, trout anglers, and redfish fanatics, musicians, scientists, writers, wild game cooks, and frankly, a few wildcats we dig up along the way.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:59): 

Legends and legends in the making.

Eddie Nickens (01:02):
All with unforgettable stories of life way beyond the sidewalk.

Dave DiBenedetto (01:07):

But today we’re mixing things up a little. We want you to be part of a conversation that Eddie and I have had for 20 plus years. It’s the one thing we’re probably the most passionate about, and that’s raising kids in the outdoors.

Eddie Nickens (01:23):

That’s why Dave, the big daddy, speak, as you’ll hear, Dave and I go way back into the last century, to tell you the truth, it’s a relationship that’s deepened into a decades long friendship. And over all those years and honestly hundreds of hours of conversation, Dave and I kept coming back to our kids and how it was so important to us. And frankly, just not all that easy to raise outdoor kids in the modern world. At first, you know, it was all about my two kids. They were both born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. My daughter Markie, my son Jack, also known as “The Larva”.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:01):
Eventually my Sam and my Rose came along. My wife Jenny and I are raising them here in Charleston, South Carolina. And I just wanna be clear here, this is not a conversation about how great our kids are.

Eddie Nickens (02:14):
Or what awesome dads we were or not.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:17):
It’s about being a parent. And that means it’s about trying, succeeding, and sometimes failing.

Eddie Nickens (02:24): 

Many times, failing.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:26):
To bring them up in a way that helps ’em not only love the natural world as much as we do, but to become meaningful citizens of that natural world.

Eddie Nickens (02:36):
So we’re gonna get into it, what we’ve done right, where we screwed up and what we’ve learned.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:41):

Even if you don’t have kids, listen up. There just might be a young person in your life or even an adult who hasn’t discovered the wonder and the delight of the outdoors. You could be that person who makes all the difference to the kids in your house or the neighbor down the street.

Eddie Nickens (02:59):
Which is exactly what happened to me.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
A teenaged Markie after a kayak camping trip in Ontario.

Dave DiBenedetto (03:03):

I know that story and it is a great one, and I know folks are gonna want to hear it. Thanks for joining us. Alright, so Eddie, we are gonna talk about raising kids in the outdoors today, which is a topic that you and I have discussed since we first met. Speaking of when we first met, let’s talk, let’s go down memory lane a little bit. 

Eddie Nickens (03:32):
You know, you were my first editor at Men’s Journal Magazine. You remember the old trouble column that I wrote for Men’s Journal.

Dave DiBenedetto (03:39):

I had been a fact checker, and that was the first column I was an editor on. So it was a very special column to me. That was the first time I got to edit anybody or anything, sadly for you, not me. You made me look good.

Eddie Nickens (03:52):
I followed you through your meteoric rise in the magazine industry from Men’s Journal to you went straight to Field and Stream, right?

Dave DiBenedetto (04:00):

Yeah. Wrote a book in between but went to Field and Stream and then where we really worked together a lot. Then I went to Saltwater Sportsman where we worked together and then came down here to Garden and Gun, Charleston in 2008. And obviously I’ve been working together since that day. You were working me pretty hard once. I remember you sent a letter that was the pitch, and you included a couple of wood duck feathers.

Eddie Nickens (04:23): 

I did that?

Dave DiBenedetto (04:24): 

You did that. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (04:25): 

Man, that was good. Wooh.

Dave DiBenedetto (04:29): 

You are, you are good.

Eddie Nickens (04:31):

That kicked off this long period of these conversations that we would have about being southerners, being in the publishing industry. That was the start of it. I think that was in 97. Yeah, I had a 1-year-old kid, Markie my daughter at that point in time. Jack had not burst onto the scene quite yet. I remember we had crazy long phone conversations, right. But we’d never met. Right. And then there was that one year at the shot show in Las Vegas.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:03):
Yeah. This, so we’re talking like 10 years of long conversations and missives back and forth to each other, but never had met in person.

Eddie Nickens (05:12):

Never had met. So we were gonna meet and the Venetian there on the strip in Las Vegas. And I remember, I mean, I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin. I mean, it was like a blind date. Like, you know what, if this guy doesn’t think I’m as cool as maybe he thinks I am by a phone, you know? And I remember you were leaned up against a pool table. I mean, this is crazy to think about this bromance, but, and that was the first time we met. And I think, you know, it didn’t take us long to realize, all right, neither one of us are, are fakers. Yeah, this is gonna work.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:42):
I just remember like, how can this guy have such a deep voice and not be six eight?

Eddie Nickens (05:46):
I know. You know, just six one that surprises everybody.

Dave DiBenedetto (05:53):

Yeah. So, you know, I would say all of those years you and I have discussed kids in the outdoors, raising kids in the outdoors. In the early days, I had none. I didn’t get married until 2008. So there was a good span where I was a single guy living vicariously through you raising your kids. And you know, I remember when Jack called me from a beach in North Carolina because he was behind the wheel of your Bronco or whatever it was. He was like five years old. And he said, I’m driving daddy’s car. I mean, you know, that was the kind of back and forth that we shared. It was more than just a work thing. I mean, I was, I felt like Jack’s defacto uncle.

Eddie Nickens (06:35):

Yeah. And he certainly still feels that way. Yeah. That was at Cape Lookout. I was actually driving my pickup truck. We’d been over on core banks where you had to ferry your vehicle. And right behind the first dune line, there was a sand road with two deep ruts. So, you know, once you get a truck in those ruts, I mean, you gotta fight to get out of it. So I would take the kids down there, both of ’em, sit ’em on a boat cushion behind the wheel. I’d work the pedals and we’d crank up Van Halen and they would drive. They tell people today that they learned to drive when they were seven years old, Cape Lookout. But yeah, good times, man. Good times.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:11): 

How old are they now?

Eddie Nickens (07:12):

Jack is 24 Markie’s, 27 Jack lives in Denver. Markie lives in Atlanta, and we’re still super close. Amazingly, it’s turned out that in their young adulthood, they think their parents are okay to hang out with.

photo: David DiBenedetto
Dave with Sam, Rosie, and a snapper.

Dave DiBenedetto (07:28):

And I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, which is really fun because I can lean on you for some advice. I have Sam, who is 10, and Rosie who is 8, and both of them have been with me outside their whole lives. You know, we are a fishing family first. And then any chance we can get to dove hunt, duck hunt, deer hunt, then we do it, or I do it. And I’m at the point now where I’m starting to bring them along. But when it comes to fishing, I had Sam out when he was probably around 3. I started taking him with me. And that meant really short trips. That meant lots of donut holes, I guess back then I thought it didn’t matter. As long as I exposed him to it, he would love it. What was it like? I mean, how quickly did you get Markie and Jack? How quickly did you get them outdoors? And by outdoors, I mean, how quickly did you get ’em in the field?

Eddie Nickens (08:21):

Yeah, the short answer is Markie probably was maybe seven or eight years old. Jack was a little bit younger. Jack went on his first quote unquote squirrel hunt with a red rider BB gun in the snow in 2006, I believe. So he was seven years old.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:41): 

Mm-Hmm.

Eddie Nickens (08:42):

The next year he was squirrel hunting with a shotgun. I’ve got photos of that first hunt. He killed a fox squirrel and a gray squirrel. And then the very next year, so he would’ve been eight years old. I had him duck hunting with a shotgun standing right beside me.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:59):

Yeah. So Sam’s 10 and Rosie, I said 8. They’ve both taken a BB gun into the dove field, but that’s the extent of it. Did Markie not want to go into the field?

Eddie Nickens (09:09):

She did. And she went with me for a number of years. She loved to go. I remember we used to do daddy daughter deer camp. We’d load up Markie and I, and we’d spend the night at Becky’s log cabin motel off.

Dave DiBenedetto (09:23): 

Sounds fancy.

Eddie Nickens (09:24):

Off the, oh yeah, off Highway 95 right there near Smithfield. Anyway, we’d hunt in the afternoon and we’d go to Ruby Tuesdays for dinner, and we’d spend the night at Becky’s and hunt the next morning. And she loves sitting in a tree stand and watching the bobcats, watching the squirrels. I I remember maybe our high point as hunting companions, one year on Friday night, I took a nice eight pointer and I remember her dragging that buck outta the woods with me on Saturday night. The two of us were in fancy dress. I was in a tux. She was in long white sleeves as she graduated from Cotillion. Cotillion is this course that young men and women take in grace and charm and how to dance.

Dave DiBenedetto (10:09): 

Very southern.

Eddie Nickens (10:10):

Very southern. As a matter of fact, on her wall, in her bedroom and on my wall right here in the office are two photographs of she and I dragging the deer out. And she and I dancing. And the caption for both is “Why Southern Girls Rock.”

Dave DiBenedetto (10:24):
Okay. But anybody hearing that story would probably assume that Markie still loves to deer hunt. Does she?

Eddie Nickens (10:33):

She doesn’t, she doesn’t hunt. She’ll fish a little bit, mostly to ride around on the boat, but it was not gonna be her jam. I don’t wanna say it was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was an adjustment. But I got really lucky as Jack and I grew older and he traveled with me all over the country hunting and fishing, and still does to some degree. Markie and I had the opportunity with Audubon Magazine and I learned early on, she loved being a little primitive, being a little rough in the woods. And I had the opportunity, I was traveling to Central America a fair bit during that time. She actually spoke Spanish. So she went with me on Audubon Magazine assignments to Costa Rica, to Honduras, to Nicaragua, Ontario, for long sea kayak trips. So we had that, that opportunity to be together as father and child in the outdoors.

Dave DiBenedetto (11:26):
So it just for background, you say raising kids in the outdoors, but you’re raising your family and have been since we met, since they were born in Raleigh, North Carolina, right?

Eddie Nickens (11:36):

Yeah, yeah. Been here inside the city limits just a mile from downtown the whole time that we had to be super proactive in getting the kids outside. And that could mean planning trips, but it also meant, I, I remember I wrote a, an essay for Audubon Magazine early on about laying down with Markie and Jack on the sidewalk in front of the house as the sunset. And watching the night hawks as they swooped overhead. Golly, they got so into it. You know, we did that a number of times. But just taking advantage of, of the opportunities that come your way. They don’t just happen. You gotta make ’em happen. How you make ’em happen is critical. I made some big mistakes, but that’s what you and I have talked about for years, is how to be proactive with that.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:24):

Right. Right. And I want to talk about the mistakes ’cause I think we all make those and we make them because in some ways, we assume these kids are our clones and not our children. Right. I’ll admit I get a little high off seeing them love what I love. It makes me happy, but that’s my ego talking. Right? They’re not our clone. They’re not our mini me. Even though we get a little bit of a jolt by seeing our kids practice what we love too.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
Jack with possibly his first crappie.

Eddie Nickens (12:51):

Yeah. We definitely wanna see them share our passions. Right. We know that that’s fertile ground for longer, deeper relationships as parents and kids. But there’s so much value that can be fashioned and built by having your kids outdoors, by having them learn how the natural world works, learn where food comes from, learn disappointment, learn success. There’s the social aspects you pick up in a lot of hunting and fishing. The interaction with adults that I think is critical to having healthy kids and having kids with a balanced view of what the world really is. That the world does not exist on a screen that not far from the sidewalk is a world of fabulous world that has little appetite for or concern about political causes or, you know, any of the things that ball us up. And I think that’s so important is to have them understand this broader world, have some opportunity to explore it.

Dave DiBenedetto (13:55):

I think what we’re getting at is we want our children to feel connected, connected to the natural world, and understand the effect that we have on it. I’ve loved the fact that in the last two years, three years, we’ve planted milkweed in the side garden and we call it a wildflower pocket. And to be able to teach the kids about how one small patch of milkweed will attract monarch butterflies, which will lay their eggs there. Then we’ll have the caterpillars. We watch them go through that cycle to the chrysalis and then watch the monarch hatch. They now realize that that’s the only plant that monarch butterflies can reproduce on. And without it, they don’t. And they also realize how simple it was to put a few of those in our yard and provide a place. But those are the lessons, right? That you can do small things, you can have a giant effect, or, or you can just do some smaller things that are gonna add up to bigger effects. But, you know, my kids, they, they won’t let a plastic water bottle be seen if we’re on the water or walking down the beach, or, I mean, we’re picking it up. That gives me as much pride as if I saw Sam knock a dove out of the sky at 30 yards.

Eddie Nickens (15:10):

Yeah, and as your kids grow older, you’re gonna see those young approaches to life choices manifest themselves in bigger ways. I mean, Markie has grown into the ecological conscience of the Nickens family. If she sees us using too many paper towels or I mean, we waged a family battle against my sweet wife Julie, and her addiction to a certain kind of flavored water that only came in plastic bottles, you know? Right. And now I am absolutely convinced that Markie’s lifestyle of making informed choices on food and clo, all that stuff is rooted in sitting beside me in that deer stand, shoulder to shoulder when the sun comes up, or camping with the family and cooking breakfast over a campfire and being immersed in how the real world works.

Dave DiBenedetto (16:03):

I totally agree. I don’t think there is a right recipe for the amount of times you can take ’em out. The way I had to think about it to change my mind was, I shouldn’t think of it as a success. If they want to fish or hunt. It’s a success if they are caring individuals who appreciate the outdoors and understand it. And what I’m learning is that the best thing I can do is expose it to ’em. I shouldn’t have an expectation that they’re gonna wanna love to hunt or fish, even though I do. I hope that they do. And it’s interesting to see Sam now who’s grown up fishing from three years old, and he can cast a spinning rod as far as you want. He can handle himself on a boat. And as his friends who didn’t grow up like that, who are, you know, they’re 10 years old, they’re just starting to appreciate these hobbies. And Sam’s like the star now because  you know, he’s been doing this and that’s gonna help, right? That’s gonna help him enjoy it more. And you know, I’m happy to have assisted in some of that, but.

Eddie Nickens (17:06):

Well, I think that notion of not having expectations dovetails with maybe the hardest lesson that I had to learn as a father, as a parent in this regard. And that’s to meet your kids where they are. And that was Julie’s line. I’m gonna give her all the credit because I was so deeply enmeshed in fishing and hunting from a vocation and avocation perspective that it was all I really wanted them to do. And you know, I I, I almost ruined Jack with the hunting for years. He sat with me as a young kid, a little kid in a deer stand. And when you’re six, seven years old, deer hunting, that’s just your daddy telling you to sit down and shut up and don’t move and don’t scratch. And then everybody’s off and you leave 45 minutes early.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:00):

You know, for those who don’t know, sitting in a deer stand is about being statue still for two and a half hours and swiveling your head very slowly. But that is about the only movement that you want happening. You’re surely not talking, you’re not playing video games. You’re, you can read a book up there, but it is a stock still time.

Eddie Nickens (18:19):
You did not read a book in the Nickens tree stand the father.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:24):
What happened to your vocation?

Eddie Nickens (18:25):

Yeah, the father, I was, you know, no box blinds. Oh, you’re a hard. You’re sick. I know you’re gonna learn how not to move. But Jack, he wanted to go with me. I didn’t realize it. I mean, Julie told me a couple years into this, you know, Jack was telling her how much he hated deer hunting.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:42): 

Wow.

Eddie Nickens (18:42):

But he was not gonna disappoint me. That little boy would sit there miserable, right. And lie through his teeth and tell me he was having a time in his life and he hated it. And I didn’t realize that. I couldn’t see through my own sort of vanity. You know, I remember the very first time he went duck hunting. We walked into the swamp. He was wearing waders, which he thought was the greatest thing in the world. Sun comes up and I’m looking over at him, and he is moving his right hand from his waist so slow, just incrementally slow up to his face.

Eddie Nickens (19:12):

I’m like, what, what is he doing? And he gets close to his nose and he scratches the tip of his nose, and then he lowers his hand slowly, you know, and it, it broke my heart a little bit seeing this. And I said, Jack, you know, when you’re duck hunting, man, you can scratch your nose. You can eat a biscuit. As long as the ducks aren’t coming in, you can move around. We can chitchat. And honestly, David, it was like the weight of the world just came off his shoulders at that moment. He like rose out of the swamp, and now the joke is, you know, Jack, just because you can talk in a duck blind, you don’t have to constantly talk in a duck blind. But that was me learning a really hard lesson. Right. That no, they’re not mini mes. Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (19:56):

I mentioned Sam has been fishing since he was three. And I’m always thinking, okay, if I could just get him a 10 pound redfish or a four pound sea trout, or man, what if he caught a giant jack crevalle? And early on he started to have this fascination with blowfish. You know, he calls him puffer fish and he’d caught one. And I showed him, of course, like I showed him how they blow up in your hand and you put ’em in the water and they’ll empty the air out and swim away. Well, it was only a successful day if that kid caught a blowfish. And at first I’m like, oh my God,  a blowfish. You just caught a three pound trout.  But then I realized, okay, I’m gonna embrace this, right? It shouldn’t matter. And I may be one of the few people in Charleston Harbor who has a few blowfish hotspots in my GPS, and we haven’t used, used him in a couple of years, but back then, when it was going rough, I would pull up to the blowfish hotspot and he would be delighted. The squeals of delight were all you needed. So but to your point, Eddie, it’s about meeting ’em where they are. I’ve learned that in that I don’t take ’em on my hardcore fishing trips, you know, when I know I’m gonna be out there for 10 hours, even though Rosie, she probably could handle it and just dying to go. I, I, I just don’t want to over expose them. We always say anything that happens on the boat should be fun.

Eddie Nickens (21:21):

Yeah. I do think there’s a chance of overexposing them and moving ’em too quickly. Yeah. I moved Jack too quickly shooting a rifle. Yeah. We did the classic, you’re gonna shoot literally the red rider BB gun for.

Dave DiBenedetto (21:34): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (21:34):

A year or two, and then we’re gonna move up to a single shot 22, and then we’re gonna move up to a semi-automatic. And once you got his hands on a semi-automatic 22, there was no going back. I remember, of course, again, being the father that I was at the time, forcing him to shoot with iron sights and learning how to shoot.  No scope for you kid. You’re a Nickens.

Dave DiBenedetto (21:55):
God, you’re tough. You’re a tough. Glad I, I’m glad you didn’t raise me.

Eddie Nickens (22:00):
But then I realized, I mean, when really in modern life, when are you gonna use open sites? I mean, I know there’s people that’ll disagree with that, but you can definitely move ’em too quickly.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:08):

Okay. So Eddie, this leads me to that question of my kids have BB guns that they take into the dove field. How did you know Jack was ready to carry a gun? By carry a gun, I mean, under your supervision, standing next to you, few feet away during a dove hunt or a duck hunt. I mean, that’s a monumental step in a kid’s trajectory towards being an outdoorsman and growing up, I’m not there yet with Sam.

Eddie Nickens (22:33):

I mean, it was incremental. The BB gun is gonna be first. And when I think that you’re ready, then we’ll move up to something different. The onus was always on the kids to prove that they were ready for the next step.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:47): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (22:47):
You prove it. We’ll move up.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:48): 

And to you, what was proof?

Eddie Nickens (22:50):
You know, proof was, you know, man, I remember growing up the 10 commandments of gun safety. Do you remember this?

Dave DiBenedetto (22:57): 

Oh gosh, yeah.

Eddie Nickens (22:58):
With the little cartoon Right. From how to cross a fence to.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:01): 

Yep.

Eddie Nickens (23:02):

And so I remember printing that out, the 10 Commandments of Gun Safety and said this, you know, you break one of these, you’re back a level.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:08): 

Yep.

Eddie Nickens (23:08):
If that muzzle, that BB gun ever crosses my body, you’re done for that.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:12): 

Right, Right.

Eddie Nickens (23:13):
I guess this is the opposite. They had to meet me where I was on gun safety. Right?

Dave DiBenedetto (23:18):

Which is a hundred percent the absolute way to do it. You can argue some different takes on a lot of things we’ve discussed today, but there is no doubt in my mind that is the only way to be. All right. So you and I have talked about the way you were introduced to the outdoors. You were fascinated with the idea of hunting and fishing. But when you were very young, your father wasn’t a hunter, and then you lost your father and you had a mentor step in. Just tell me, what was the 8-year-old Eddie Nickens thinking when he was riding in the back of the car down the North Carolina Roads?

photo: T. Edward Nickens
A young Eddie taking a shot.

Eddie Nickens (23:53):

You have heard that story? So I was born in North Carolina in High Point. My family, as a young kid, we camped a lot. My dad was a big backpacker before backpacking was a thing. But I had no one who hunted or fished in my orbit. I don’t think I even knew of a hunter. But I was crazy about hunting as a kid. I subscribed to all of the magazines, Field & Stream, Sports Field, Outdoor Life, you know, in the back of these magazines. I remember the old ads where you could sign up for the Northwest School of Taxidermy. And as a young kid, nine, 10 years old, I did this correspondence course in taxidermy. We had a big block of woods behind my house, even though we lived in the city limits. And I had sort of free reign with that.

Dave DiBenedetto (24:41):
Where’d you pick it up? I mean, were you seeing these magazines at the barbershop? Or, you know, if nobody’s a hunter or fisherman in your house, what was the stimuli?

Eddie Nickens (24:50):
Yeah, we camped a lot. So we were outdoors.

Dave DiBenedetto (24:52): 

Okay. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (24:53):
We were outdoors a lot. And beside my house was a big creek that ran into this 40 acre block of woods at the time.

Dave DiBenedetto (25:00): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (25:01):
And I was in that creek, and in those woods constantly.

Dave DiBenedetto (25:05): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (25:05):

And so I think that’s where I picked up this notion of hunting and fishing. And that evolved into looking at these magazines. And I wanted it so badly, no one to show me. My dad passed away when I was 13. He died in a plane crash. And there was a deacon at our small church who was a friend of his. And he asked my mom if he could take me squirrel hunting. So this would’ve been the fall that I was 13. And Keith Gleason was his name. And the next Saturday he picked me up. And I mean, I’ll, I didn’t sleep the night before. I was so excited about going hunting. I remember before that, before my dad died, we were driving to the mountains in our 1973 Pinto station wagon. And my brother Marky and I were hanging out in the back of the station wagon, of course, no seat belts. And I remember looking through the windows and we were around Hickory, North Carolina on Interstate 40. And I saw a deer hunter wearing blaze orange in a tree stand as we went by. And I remember asking myself, am I ever gonna hunt? Is there any pathway that I can see myself being a hunter? And the answer was no. So when Keith Gleason asked me to go squirrel hunting, and he didn’t take me once or twice after we went squirrel hunting that one Saturday, he and I hunted every Saturday, every year while I went to college.

Dave DiBenedetto (26:30):
Wow. So beyond squirrel, you advanced beyond squirrel. Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (26:34):
Squirrel, dear, bear looking back, David, I just, I can’t believe how unselfish he was.

Dave DiBenedetto (26:39): 

And did he have kids?

Eddie Nickens (26:41): 

He did not at the time.

Dave DiBenedetto (26:42): 

Uhhuh.

Eddie Nickens (26:42):

He was young. He was just in his mid twenties. He just rotated out of the Marines. And so, you know, we joke now, Keith and I, I needed him maybe as badly as he needed me at that time. There’s just not many times where you can put your finger on a date on the calendar and said, my life took a right turn here. And the trajectory is remarkably different than it would’ve been. And everything that I do now, my whole career, and I mean, it’s based on his unselfishness to do that. That was a powerful lesson in how proactivity can make a difference in somebody’s life. And so I think I did take that idea of being intentional away from that relationship with Keith and applied that to my own parenting. Julie and I have always been super intentional with planning camping trips and looking forward two or three years, where do we wanna go? How do we wanna make this work? Putting aside money. And it’s made a big difference in the kids’ lives.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:41):
Do you think back to how, you know, Keith had to work pretty hard. He not only showed up, but he kept you enthralled. And that’s amazing that one person can commit, right?

Eddie Nickens (27:54):

Yeah. I mean, weekend after weekend, month after month, year after year, he knew that I loved it. You know, he was a big, strong, good looking guy. I mean, even today I did a piece for Field and Stream on this relationship with Keith Gleason.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:09): 

Mm-Hmm. I, yeah remember.

Eddie Nickens (28:10):

A few years ago. And there was a photograph of Keith and I, and the joke was, which one’s the old guy? ’cause it’s ridiculous how well he is aged, you know.  But that did instill in me this sense of purpose. I mean, I saw what a difference he made, and I knew that if I could just get the kids to connect to the outdoors, it really makes every part of your relationship with your children easier. The conversations that Markie and I would have in a tree stand that had nothing to do with hunting. Right. The conversations that Jack and I have sitting on a cypress stump that have nothing to do with hunting are all a part of that immersive experience. Just being there together. Yeah. Yeah. Look, I mean, duck hunting in North Carolina is not the most successful thing that you can do. So you’ve gotta have something else to come home with.

photo: David DiBenedetto
Dave (right) and friend Brad Farris with a croaker in Savannah.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:53):

Yeah. So I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and the greatest thing my parents ever did was put us in a place to enjoy the outdoors. So just before I was born in 72, they built a house on the Wilmington River in Savannah. I have three older brothers, so the four of us could grow up on the water. My dad wasn’t a boater. He grew up in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And my mom grew up in Green Point, Brooklyn, so this was all very foreign to them. But, you know, my dad had some friends who were bass fishermen and he got into bass fishing. And some of my earlier sporting memories are the painful ones. I was in a boat with my dad and my older brother, and we were bass fishing and I said I wanted to tie on a popper. And I think my brother said, here I’ll tie it on for you. And I said, no, no, no, I want to do it. And so I went ahead and who the hell knows what kind of knot I tried to whip up? And I was pretty good caster. I mean, I loved it like you did. I was obsessed with it. Obsessed. And I put that popper underneath some tree limb and start working it. Boop, boop, boop. And I’m telling you, this bass just sucks it down. And I’m like, whoa. And everybody in the boat’s like, whoa. I start reeling and it comes out of the water, one of those fish when you’re young and it, it just doesn’t seem like it’s gonna stop. It just kept coming and coming. And my, I, I’m just like, I mean, it probably was maybe a six, eight pound bass. I mean, it was big. And it gets to the apex of that jump and it’s kind of back and forth and it just flicks its jaw. And my line goes slack in, in the way it swims. And so I reel in and there’s the telltale curly cue of a knot that’s come undone.  And I cried, Eddie, I cried for like an hour straight. You know, but I learned my lesson. Right. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no right to be tying a knot. I learned my lesson and it doesn’t happen much anymore.

Eddie Nickens (30:52):

There you go. You know, I mean the lessons that you learn. I remember  Markie, she had a time period when she was a pretty hardcore vegetarian.

Dave DiBenedetto (31:02): 

Ah.

Eddie Nickens (31:03):
And you know, I’m a contributing editor for Garden and Gun and editor at large from Field and Stream. That was another learning moment for dad.

Dave DiBenedetto (31:11):
Yeah, yeah. How, what, how’d you make your duck gumbo vegetarian style? 

Eddie Nickens (31:18):
I mean, she was off it. She was running cross country. She was trying to be super healthy. I think this was the beginning of her exploring a purposeful way of living.

Dave DiBenedetto (31:27): 

Yes.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
Markie and Eddie in the highlands of Honduras.

Eddie Nickens (31:27):

Making the right choices. We were shooting basketball one day, which is again, something that I didn’t do a whole lot of, but I took that opportunity to say, Markie, I just wanna understand where you are with vegetarianism. No judgment, I’m not upset, but what’s up with this? And I remember we both sat on a basketball behind the basketball court, but beside the jon boat, I do wanna point out.

Eddie Nickens (31:56):

And she explained this notion of just trying to figure out how to make less of an impact on the world. That she loved the natural world. And she only knew that making less of an impact was a thing because she’d been immersed in it for so long. And I applauded her doing that. And she’s sort of on and off the vegetarian approach and we don’t make a big deal of it. But that’s meeting them where there are David and you. I don’t wanna play the wise sage old man in this relationship, but I can tell you that doesn’t change as they get older.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:31):

Yes. It doesn’t end. I understand that. And we’re fortunate to be able to partake in it. So Eddie, let’s talk. We know of your two children, Jack is the one most enthused by hunting and fishing. What’s that lifestyle like between the two of you?

Eddie Nickens (32:47):

Oh man, this is the dagger to the heart phase of the podcast.   Well, you know, I mean, Jack’s a groan man. Jack lives in Denver. Honestly, this past hunting season, let me think. Jack and I dove hunted once, duck hunted once and deer hunted once, three times in, you know, five months. That blows my mind.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:11):
When he was in college or high school, how many times would you have hunted together?

Eddie Nickens (33:15):
Yeah, he went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, 30 minutes away.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:19): 

Ah, yeah.

Eddie Nickens (33:19):
So many, many, many times.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:22): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (33:22):
This past hunting season was the first year in 10 years that he didn’t go to Arkansas with me to duck hunt. That was tough.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:29): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (33:30): 

For me.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:30): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (33:30):

But proud of my kids, proud of what they’re doing. And so it does change. This year is the first year that Jack and I are doing our first big international fishing trip. We got seven or eight days in Mexico, just the two of us with the group. But that was intentional. I mean, I’ve saved for a year and a half monthly to pay for that trip. Unfortunately, along the way I realized that I was leaving Markie and Julie behind. So they’re going to the Dominican Republic while Jack and I are in Mexico. Their trip is known as the guilt trip in our family. 

photo: T. Edward Nickens
Jack and Eddie after a quail hunt in North Carolina.

Eddie Nickens (34:05):

But when I think of the takeaway of 27 years of parenting, for me it’s gonna be the line that Julie used all the time, which was “meet ’em where they are”. I had some real challenges with that, especially as sports entered the picture. I did not handle that well with either of my kids.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:29):

Yeah, let’s talk about sports buddy ’cause I’m living it. I’m living soccer tournaments and cross country meets. I mean, heck, I just drove back from Lexington, Kentucky for a national cross country championship. My best buddy was like, are you kidding me? It’s a first split of duck season. I’m like, I’m sorry dude, I’ve gotta go.

Eddie Nickens (34:48): 

Yeah, I see those posts and.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:50): 

Yeah, yeah.

Eddie Nickens (34:50):
I don’t know if you can hear the cruel laughter from all the way from North Carolina because I was there. Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:58):

I mean, look, you and I work hard, right? We have delightful, wonderful jobs, but we work really hard. You’re out more than I am, but we cherish the chances to get outdoors and do the stuff we love. And certainly kids in sports and travel sports, weekends become theirs. Yeah. I’m trying not to be selfish, but I’m curious how you handled it.

Eddie Nickens (35:20):

Oh, I gave into the dark side. I did not handle it well at all. Probably the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a parent are rooted in this notion of balancing sports. You know, since my dad died, I didn’t grow up with sports. I mean, I remember very clearly standing in the backyard shooting my bow at four piles of pine straw as the local kids were going to football practice, driving by the house and yelling out derisively, “nature boy, nature boy.” That was my nickname, you know.  So the joke’s been on them given my career, but both my kids were athletes. Markie, he was a cross country runner and a swimmer. Jack was a very talented soccer player. Jack particularly was enthralled with sports. And the soccer, as you’re experiencing, is an all consuming passion for kids that want it to be and are good enough for it to be. And it cannibalized our time. And I did not handle this well. I was pissed and moody and hurt. And Jack would come home from a soccer game that maybe they lost. And he was the goalkeeper and everybody’s angry and crying. And I’m going, you know what, nobody ever comes home from a hunting or fishing trip angry or crying.

Dave DiBenedetto (36:52):
Were you traveling or were you staying home?

Eddie Nickens (36:55):

I went, I did, but not as much as any of the other dads. Right, right. Part of it was, I had a pretty rough travel schedule, but, but a lot of it was, I showed up for the big moments, but I was not there for the little moments. And lemme tell you, I remember sitting in a soccer game and looking at Jack, and they came out and he sat on the bench and he looked up in the stands, and I felt like he was looking to see if I was there, is daddy here. Right. Thankfully, I was there that time. But I, I know he looked up at those stands a lot of times David and I wasn’t there because that was his choice and it wasn’t my choice, and my choice was to be in the woods or on the water. And it was a problem with Julie and I that she handled very well. I do remember the one conversation where she said, you are losing opportunities. You are losing your relationship with your children.

Dave DiBenedetto (37:52): 

Mm-Hmm.

Eddie Nickens (37:53):
Because you are so obsessed with being outdoors and you’re so off and hurt that they wanna do something different, which is what all their friends are doing.

Dave DiBenedetto (38:04): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (38:04):
That was a hard lesson. I ruined a lot of weekends until I came around.

Dave DiBenedetto (38:08):
So you’re telling me I gotta go to the soccer tournaments?

Eddie Nickens (38:12):
You gotta show up for the tournaments, you should show up for the games. I mean, absolutely.

Dave DiBenedetto (38:16):

Yeah. And I do, what I’ve learned from you and what I’m learning is that showing up and sitting there thinking about, huh, I wonder how the ducks are flying isn’t the same as showing up and enjoying it and participating. It’s the same way that Keith showed up and he showed up with purpose. If I show up at these games, I’m all in. That’s what I’m learning. It’s no good to show up and whah whah, I’m not out in the field. That’s not the point.

Eddie Nickens (38:43):

Well, I’m gonna push back on that a little bit. I think that there is great value in showing up. I was not all in, but I, I did show up. There’s like the old salt goes, is it better to sit in church and think about fishing or sit in a boat and think about God? I’ll let you decide.

photo: David DiBenedetto
Sam and Rose on a cleanup mission.

Dave DiBenedetto (39:02):

I’ve got two competitive ones for sure. And that is nowhere more on display these days than when we go fishing. And if Sam doesn’t catch the first fish, meaning it’s okay if I catch it, but if Rose catches the first fish, then oh, stomping around, you know, she took my spot. I wanted that live shrimp. And while I appreciate wanting to catch fish, that’s a new one on me. I’m like, okay,  how do I, what, what’s the answer here? And Rose, to her credit, often does catch the first fish. So Wise one, do you have any solutions to that?

Eddie Nickens (39:43):

Man, I want you to give Sam my phone number,  and if he doesn’t catch the first fish, he can vent with me. And I’m like, buddy, I’m right there with you. We didn’t have that competitive thing with my kids, you know?

Dave DiBenedetto (39:56): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (39:57):
Markie and Jack for a long time they weren’t really sure why the other one was on planet Earth.

Dave DiBenedetto (40:02): 

Right.

Eddie Nickens (40:02):
I didn’t have that experience, but I mean, does this ruin your day?

Dave DiBenedetto (40:06):

No, it’s not that bad. It’s just frustrating, right. The way I look at it and always have anybody on the boat should be happy for someone else who catches a fish. Like, let’s enjoy this and we should be happy for Rose, or Rose would be happy for Sam, or Y’all be happy for me if I caught the first one. Anyway, there are obviously gonna grow out of it, but there are different seasons to not only the natural world, but to life as well. And I’m certainly pushing through some different ones, but I’m loving it.

Eddie Nickens (40:34):

And it’s been rewarding to me to see you go through the same circumstances that I went through and frankly doing a much better job, David, in a lot of arenas than I did so good on you and Jenny for being proactive for meeting your kids where they are for shaping, you know, a lifestyle that understands and acknowledges that the world beyond the sidewalk is real and it makes a difference in our everyday life, how the natural world works.

Dave DiBenedetto (41:07):

Yeah. You know, Eddie, we do this thing thanks to Jenny, like all good things in my life, when we put the kids to bed at night, we do our favorite parts right? And I can’t tell you how many times the favorite parts have to do with something we’ve done outside, whether it was planting the garden or finding shark teeth, or the kids even love the garbage halls when we go do a litter cleanup just on our own. Those are those times where you think, okay, maybe we’re doing something right. And it’s a wonderful feeling. You know, Eddie, as always, I truly appreciate your insights into this journey. I learn something every time we have this discussion, so thank you as always. It’s been real.

Eddie Nickens (41:59):

I mean, likewise, unfortunately, I have these conversations with you and I see some of my missteps, but that’s good too. I think it’s been a learning journey for us as parents trying to get these kids in the outdoors. And I can say that that journey, it has not ended for me. And you got a lot of good stuff to look forward to, buddy.

photo: T. Edward Nickens
Dave (left), Eddie, and their dogs in the field.

Dave DiBenedetto (42:20):

The Wild South Podcast comes to you from Garden and Gun Magazine. This episode was produced and edited by Christine Fennessy with music by our longtime buddies, Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan. You can find us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your shows. And if you could take a second, please leave us a review.

Eddie Nickens (42:40):
Yeah. You know, I’d love to read what you think. Lord knows some of you have read more about what I think then you could possibly stand.

Dave DiBenedetto (42:48):
Oh, that definitely includes me. Alright, from here in Charleston, South Carolina, I’m Dave DiBenedetto.

Eddie Nickens (42:55):
And in Raleigh, North Carolina, Eddie Nickens. We’ll see you next time on The Wild South. 


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