Fishing with Dad
By Chuck Bailey
Dad was from the old school in which a "real man" could talk baseball, weather, work, and everything else...but never about private feelings and matters of the heart. As a result I knew my dad as an excellent provider, and a man who loved us but who could never say it out loud. To get a glimpse of the man inside...that was a real treat. It didn't happen often, but when it did, it usually happened when we were fishing.
It took father-and-son "team work" to get the 14 foot aluminum boat on top of the car. But after the gear was stowed, we'd jump in the old Plymouth and head for our favorite lake. The one-hour trip gave us time to wake up and plan our strategy. It might be catfish, bluegills, crappie, or bass...it didn't really matter, we were "fishing" and that's all that counted.
After flipping a coin to see who would row the boat first, we eased away from the dock into the mist of the early morning. Except for the squeak of the oarlock, we entered into a silent and beautiful world, far away from traffic, cars, and telephones. Not much was said while we watched the sun magically turn black and white into a collage of colors. The bobber and doomed worm found it's mark next to the lily pads and the stage was set.
And then the magic of a son and dad fishing together began to work in mysterious ways. It would begin with a lesson on knot tying, or when to set the hook, but if I waited long enough dad would begin to tell stories. Stories of long ago, when he was a lad growing up on the farm. He may have thought his stories were simply about pike fishing, deer hunting, or ice fishing in his dad's ice shack, but to me they revealed much more. Each story told of relationships with brothers, or uncles, or friends. If you unfolded the story you could see love between family members. Emotions and matters of the heart were the glue that held most of the stories together. Certainly they were not the focus of the story, but they revealed something new about the man I cherished the most.
Fishing had always been more than just being in a boat. There is something magical about the experience. It was what motivated me to call a Florida guide last month and reserve a day on the water for my Dad and me. The guide told me we'd be using shiners and balloon bobbers in the reeds, something I've always been eager to try. But most of all, I looked forward to hearing Dad tell those stories again. It would be a time to be as close as a man and his son can get.
But it was not to be. Dad died several weeks ago of a massive heart attack. I am still numb. The family will still go to Florida as originally planned, to see Grandma and visit Disney World. At first, I thought of canceling my fishing trip, after all, it was meant to be a father and son trip. But as the days go by, I'm leaning towards following through with it any way. After all, I'm a dad now and it would be a great opportunity to take one of my children out to make memories of our own.
And my dad...he will still be there. He'll be in the stories I pass on to my kids. If nothing else, there will be the fresh air, nature at its best, and a time to relax. But more than that, I suspect my children will be touched in the same way I was as a child...by the stories. For a key ingredient in the mystery and magic of 'fishing' is the stories that we share. For whether the stories are factual or a "whopper of a fish story", whether they make us laugh or raise a suspicious eyelid, they do indeed reveal something about the inner person, ....and that can't help but bring people closer together.
Always ready to go fishing,
P.S. Because Dad lived in Florida and I in Washington, I hadn't seen my Dad in 5 1/2 years. Our reunion fishing trip was only three months away. No one dreamed he'd have a heart attack. Life is too unpredictable to assume there will always be time for one more fishing trip. So when the opportunity occurs to take some one you care about fishing, take it. "Now" is the best time for one more fishing trip and one more story.