It’s Father’s Day and I’m moping. I’m inside listening to passing thunder and he’s in Minnesota on a lake fishing. I wish I were with him, fishing.
That’s something for me. I grew up amidst a family of fishers but never quite got it. My grandparents would lure me to the pond with a cane pole and a bobber when I was little. I soon got bored and explored the shore or the dock or the bottom of the boat and started asking a lot of questions. “Hush,” one of my grandparents would say, “you’ll scare the fish away.” In later years, I’d accompany my elderly grandparents fishing at a nearby state park. I believe I read The Song Of Hiawatha in its entirety one such afternoon.
In my adulthood, I’ve gone on fishing charters where the giant poles were outfitted, baited, and tended by rugged, ruddy fishing boat captains…Oops, I digress. All there was to do was to reel in the fish and the rest was done. No gooey bait-touching, or the tricky removing the fish from the hook without it landing squarely in your thumb or that fleshy part between your thumb and index finger to fret you.
So it’s ironic for me that I’d like to be fishing with my dad. That yearning came much later in my adult years.
Dad was always a quiet guy, either in motion doing something, fixing something, building something, or watching baseball or basketball or golf. Very little in between. When I was little, he worked nights, so he was sometimes a distant figure. But still, the warm little-girl memory of climbing on his lap with our favorite book, The Good Humor Man, and having him read all the parts with distinct character voices was always with me.
As I grew up, and grew away, Dad and I didn’t spend much time together. I tried golfing with him, but I was frustrated that I could never do it quite right, and Dad was frustrated that someone with the making of a natural swing could be so uninterested in practicing. I was drawn to theatre and singing and creative writing, not sports. We didn’t always have a lot to talk about.
Then Dad and Mom bought a cabin on a lake in Minnesota. And retired. And spent entire summers at the cabin. I didn’t see him as much. One particular summer, the cabin was crowded and noisy with a throng of family and friends. “You want to go fishing?” Dad asked me. “Sure,” I replied.
It became our thing.
Having Dad one-on-one in a boat gave us the luxury of time and talk. He’d patiently set up my rod and reel and take me to the choicest spots on the lake, which he’d fish religiously so as to know where and when and what was biting. He’d coach me to keep the rod tip high as I’d haul in the fish, and deftly remove it from the hook. He’d patiently untangle the line while I tended his rod and reel. He never complained, no matter how many times I’d lose his lures, or not know which one he’d ask for to replace the one I’d just lost on a submerged log or tree branch. He never laughed at me when I’d apologize to the minnow or worm for putting it onto a hook, especially when my minnows caught fish when his didn’t. We’d settle into the roll of the light waves and slap mosquitos and hear the hum of the line being reeled in. Topics varied from the latest loon yard decoration Mom bought, or how you need to enjoy your life because the corporation doesn’t care how hard you work, to how we’d prepare the catch of the day. Sometimes we’d just sit in silence, watching the sunset or a family of loons. I believe Dad was more proud of me the time I landed a giant Northern or that big Walleye than when I’d star in a musical or direct a play. Catching that fish was a tangible achievement to him, and one I knew I couldn’t have done without him. Almost as comfortable as climbing onto his lap with our favorite book when I was a little girl.
So, Dad, I hope you’re catching lots of fish today. Save some for me.