People put some pretty strange stuff on their “Bucket List”, that is, the list of things to do before one “kicks the bucket”. Zip-lining, para-sailing, bungee jumping and all other kinds of high adventure are common items. However, there’s one item that you might call “Low Adventure” (as opposed to High Adventure), that’s always on the list, and that’s to go fishing and camping with the kids. People are game to jump off a bridge attached to a rubber cord if there’s an expert on hand, and I used to think this was to prevent the incidence of going “splat”. But, as a student of the human animal I’ve learned that what they fear even more than dying is looking foolish because they didn’t have an expert on hand. It’s the same with bungee jumping as it is with taking the kids fishing and camping
I get asked to go fishing a lot, as you might imagine. Usually, it’s a casual gesture like, “Hey, let’s go fishing some time!” But lately I’ve been asked to go on some outings for which folks have a real sense of urgency. All my life I’ve fished casually, just whenever there was a spare hour or two and the weather was fair. Now people are checking calendars, work schedules, start times of soccer games and gymnastics classes, and it’s a big victory when we finally get together and get lines in the water. People act as if the clock were ticking and let’s face it, it is! Anything we don’t get done this weekend becomes less likely we’ll get it done next weekend and even less in weekends after that. Having fished the far reaches of North America, I’ve never seen such importance laid upon a fishing trip than the sense of gravitas that now surrounds the father-son/daughter trips, and to me that is just plain awesome!
So, on more than one recent Saturday afternoon I’ve found myself as the resident expert and tutor for a variety of topics like pitching a tent, setting a box trap, fishing with a Barbie rod and the cleaning and cooking of bluegill. On one hand, I feel a little like a camp counselor. On the other hand, there’s nothing I’d rather do and no place I’d rather be.
On these outings I often think back to the weekends when Dad made time for me, and how large they stand in my memory. That one weekend when my Dad pulled off his necktie, threw a tent, two sleeping bags and propane grill in the Volkswagon and we headed to aptly named Mosquito Lake. Actually, it never stopped raining long enough for the little biters to come out much, but it didn’t matter. For one weekend the world had to take a number and wait while I had my Dad to myself. We hunkered under the dining fly in the constant downpour and he told me stories like about when he was in the army laying a field telephone wire in the Black Forest of Germany and the came upon an angry wild boar and nobody knew what to do. How when they got back there was a bill from the Forest Meister for the trees they had cut down and other such tales of his road. The stories themselves were entertaining but not so important. What made it made it so great was that dad took the time to show me that I was important; ten year old ME. What that adds to a kid’s self-confidence and the glue that keeps a family together can’t be measured.
But there’s something else you get to take away from this experience that you can’t buy in stores, and that’s the chance to shape your immortality, the image of you left with your kids after you’re gone. I’m not the kind of guy to give advice to anyone on how to live his life, but if you don’t make this happen the memory your kids are going to carry of you is going to be of that time you had one too many drinks at a wedding and started dancing all by yourself. At best, the kids are going to remember you getting on a lawn mower or yelling at the TV during a frustrating Browns game.
Leave your kids the memory that you loved them enough to take them camping and fishing. You don’t need an expert to guide you, there is no wrong way to do it. It’s Friday, throw the sleeping bags in the car, cancel the other plans, pick a campground and go. It’s the best thing your dad ever did for you too, isn’t it?