For those following my blog about my adventure in Uganda, I will begin posting the second half of the trip on Monday. But I must pause in sharing that journey to honor my father. So many of my life’s adventures were made possible by his love and sacrifice. He truly is the greatest man I know.
On a perfectly average Thursday a few months back, I bolted out of my building’s side door to take the 312 steps from my office to the cafeteria. Running through my mental to-do list, I launched into the springtime sunlight – a 30-something professional with grilled pork chops on his mind. A few paces later, I was 7 again.
Every spring, there’s a day when the ever-present Oklahoma gust slows to a cool breeze, the sun with its warm solace breaks my lockstep, and I bask in a memory so deep it’s encoded into my emotional DNA.
No matter where I am, I’m drawn back to the muddy banks of a small cove beside a set of railroad tracks, where I fished for crappie with the greatest man I know – my dad.
Nearly every spring Saturday of my preteen years, my father would rouse me out of bed at an inhumane hour so we could slip away to a secret fishing hole that only a few thousand people knew about.
We were methodical in the ritual: load tackle into my dad’s dirt-brown 1987 Ford Ranger, grab a candy bar and Coke breakfast, stop at the hole-in-the-wall bait shop for a baker’s dozen of minnows, and slather enough sunblock on my ginger face to ward off a mother’s scorn.
By sunup, our lines would be wet, and all the worries of my little world would melt away to the rhythm of a red-and-white bobber rolling gently on the lake ripples. We’d pass the day easily, soaking up sunshine and talking about whatever random subject tumbled out of my kid brain – sports, school and girls. We even had “the talk” on one of our fishing trips. Try having that conversation and then focus on anything.
Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all. Content to sit in silence. Content to be together.
I fell in once. It was a colder day – overcast and misting. I came to the edge of the drop off, lost my balance and toppled in headfirst. I remember twisting around so that I could see the surface. I remember the floating dirt and algae around me. Frozen, I made no move, just looked at the light. The horror of the moment had only begun to soak in when I saw my father’s hand. He plucked me out of the water like a cobra strike. As a child, this sudden show of strength stunned me. As an adult, I realize how careful and gentle he was with his family – a man of restraint.
Those days stand as the high watermark of many great childhood memories. I’ll remember them as the adventures that defined my youth but more for the lessons that defined me.
In the right hands, my father’s hands, fishing became a metaphor for life. He taught me that going after crappie or success requires patience and persistence; that focusing on “the one that got away” often ruins the next opportunity; and that lasting relationships are built one day, one fishing trip, at a time.
In a fatherless society, where men often run from responsibility, my father walked the opposite way. He devoted his life to his family, to me. All the time, energy and resources he expended on those trips mattered zero to him. He was investing in my life. He forged our relationship. And – through his example – he was teaching me how to be a real man, one who could show love.
At the end of each outing – whether we caught our limit or we were skunked – my father would look at me and say the same thing: “It doesn’t matter what we caught. I had fun because I got to be with you.”
Dad, thank you for the fishing trips, and thank you that they weren’t really about fishing at all.
Happy Father’s Day.