Dad was from the old school where 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, a man who loved us but could never say it out loud. Getting a glimpse of the man inside 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 "teamwork" 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 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 early morning mist. Except for the squeak of the oarlock, we entered a silent and beautiful world, far away from traffic, cars, and telephones. Nothing was said while we watched the sun magically turn black and white into a collage of colors. Finally, the bobber and doomed worm found its 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 about pike fishing, deer hunting, or ice fishing in his dad's ice shack, but they revealed much more to me. Each story is told of relationships with brothers, uncles, or friends. If you unfold the story you could see the love between family members. Emotions and matters of the heart were the glue that held most of the stories together. Indeed, they were not the story's focus, 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 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 initially 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 toward following through with it anyway. After all, I'm a dad now, and it would be an excellent 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 fresh air, nature at its best, and 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. The stories we share are essential in the mystery and magic of 'fishing.' Whether the stories are factual or a "whopper of a fish story," whether they make us laugh or raise a suspicious eyelid, they 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 was 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, take the opportunity to take someone you care about fishing. "Now" is the best time for one more fishing trip and one more story.