Authors Note: My three children are now all grown and gone with children of their own. This is an article that was published in Reader’s Digest many years ago. It is a humor article about taking my kids fishing. Hope you enjoy.
“Oh faithful servant, would you please come forward.”
Looking up at a distinguished looking man dressed in brilliant white and standing behind an altar shrouded in clouds, I rose and floated toward him. When I reached the base of the altar he spoke again. “I bestow apon you this medal for patience, courage and unquestioning love. Proudly wear this medal as an example for all fathers.”
After slipping the medal’s sash over my head I turned around to a large applauding audience. While nodding my thanks I was shocked back to reality by my wife’s voice. “Are you going to take the garbage out?”
Yes, I thought to myself as I rose from the chair, some day in the great by and by I should receive a medal for what I endure.
For what? You might be wondering. Not for saving a life or even some war-time act of bravery. No, it is even more heroic than that. I should receive a medal for taking my kids fishing. At times it is more than a mortal man should have to endure.
The first vision that comes to most minds at the mention of a father taking his children fishing is a tranquil lake shimmering below a warm sun set in a deep blue sky. At the water’s edge in the midst of green grass and wildflowers a father sits with his children, laughing and talking while bobbers dance on gentle waves. It does sound idyllic, doesn’t it. All fathers must have the same vision in mind when a fishing trip is first planned. But somewhere between the first mention of going fishing and the actual act of doing so, this beautiful mental picture quickly deteriorates into something far less than the original version. My torture has begun as early as the digging of the worms.
“There’s one!” my youngest son, Robbie exclaims, pointing a finger.
Ricky, my oldest son, grabs it. “That’s a fat one. I get to use it!”
“I saw it first!” Robbie retorts. “It’s mine!”
“No way!” Ricky argues back, “I’m going to use it!”
“What am I going to use?” my daughter, Melissa, whines.
“They’ll be more, for crying out loud,” I reply with a tired sigh. And so it begins….
While driving to the lake, the kids reminisce about past fishing trips. It’s only natural when the anticipation of fishing is running high. It usually begins with the mentioning of “I hope I get a big one,” to “Remember the one I got last time?” But this conversation quickly falls into arguing over who caught the biggest or most fish on the last trip, or the trip before that, or the trip before that. In a desperate attempt to keep the outing enjoyable, I suggest we sing a song. I begin with a hardy chorus of “Row, row, row your boat.” I am quickly interrupted by my little passengers dryly remarking that that song is corny, and if I know anything from ACDC.
“Who?” I respond.
“You know The Who?” one of them asks in amazement.
By then I am so confused the thought of singing no longer interests me. So once more I settle into the reverberating sounds of arguing. By the time we reach the lake the fighting and my threats of returning home have climbed to an octave level capable of reaching the ears of those outside, giving the impression that I’m a degenerate in the process of a kidnapping.
But the yelling instantly ceases when we reach the lake, the doors flying open before the car comes to a stop. Robbie hurriedly runs to the back of the car and pops the trunk. He then grabs his fishing pole in a frenzied attempt to get to the choicest spot first, which he wouldn’t recognize if the fish rose to the surface and began doing cartwheels. Of course he doesn’t notice that the line from his pole is wrapped around all the others until they come bouncing out in a snarled mess. After fifteen minutes of untangling lines, poles, bobbers and hooks, the kids walk down the bank to the water. Did I say walk? Stampede would be a far better description, with me following behind picking up the scattered remnants of their dash to the water. Then begins the clamor for the worm can.
“You got the fat one!” Robbie yells.
“How do you know?” Ricky shoots back.
“Cause it has a ring around it!”
“They all have rings,” I intercede. “Just bait up and start fishing. Robbie, do you want me to put a worm on for you?”
“Heck no,” he replies indignantly. “I know how to do it.”
He then impales the worm one time, sticks his tongue to the corner of his mouth, and whips his pole with enough force to make a bull whipper look like a good fairy waving her wand. His bobber and hook go in one direction while the hapless worm goes in two others. After he reels in, I bait his hook, putting the worm on properly. Whip! He casts again. This time the poor worm travels in many directions, falling on the water like a heavy rain. After rebaiting his hook I cast it for him, coming to the conclusion that if I could breed a worm that could withstand the force of 50 G’s and stay on a hook, I could become a millionaire.
Ricky baits his hook and arrogantly says, “This is how you do it.” With widened eyes he casts, sending sprinkles of leaves floating down around us. Ten minutes later I finish untangling his line from the over-head tree limb.
“When do I get to fish, daddy?” Melissa complains.
“As soon as I get your brothers squared away,” my voice beginning to take on a strange quiver.
The rings haven’t cleared from Robbie’s last cast and he’s cranking the bobber back for another. I bait up Melissa’s hook just in time to see Robbie give another worm a scattered burial at sea. After casting Melissa’s pole and handing it to her, I rebait Robbie’s and once more cast it for him, threatening him with bodily harm if he reels it in before getting a bite. Ricky miraculously gets his line in the water with the worm hanging on by its skin, but at least still on the hook. That’s when Robbie’s bobber quivers then disappears. “You got a bite,” I yell. I have seen tarpon fishermen set the hook with less ferocity. With one lunging jerk the five-inch sunfish was catapulted from friendly surroundings to being slapped against my daughter’s face.
While attempting to ease the crying by telling her fish slime is good for the complexion, Ricky sees a fish jump to his left. He casts and wraps his hook and line around a tree limb. Knowing my patience is as thin as a spider’s web, he decides to take care of the problem on his own. He begins slowly backing up, holding tight to the line on his reel. The line finally breaks with a resounding crack, sending the bobber back with the approximate velocity of a .32 caliber bullet. It strikes me in the back of the head, exploding into shards. He asks me if I’m alright. I tell him I’m fine and the reason I’m staggering is because I stood up too quickly.
Seeing I’ll live, Robbie sets himself for another record-breaking cast. Still feeling shaken, I’m suddenly brought back to reality by something cold against my cheek. My eyes instantly turn into bulging orbs as they focus on a hook and worm not more than an inch from my nose. Swish! It shoots past my face, leaving a few wet remnants speckled from my chin to forehead.
“How’d you like that cast, dad?” Robbie proudly asks, unaware of how close he came to creating a hole in my face where a nose had once been.
Wiping my face with an arm, I forced a humorless smile. “Not…not bad,” I reply with a controlled calmness that frightens me. Slowly I back away to the safety of the car. There I watch the trio slingshot one worm after another out on the water. A half hour later they are out of worms, and we pack up for the return trip home. Only one dinky sunfish was caught, but all three seemed to be quite contented with their outing.
Later while soothing my nerves with a strong mixed drink, I swear never again. But later that night when I look in on their peacefully sleeping faces, I know I will do it again, and again, and again. I’ll survive, just as my father did with me, and his father with him. Because what I am doing is good for the children, and yes, good for me. Somehow, through my children, I once more live the fond memories of when my father took me fishing. Oh yes, my father lost his patience with me just as I do with my children, but those moments are somehow forgotten in time, leaving only the good memories. This is a legacy that my father passed on to me, and I will pass on to my children. And someday they will look back on these fishing trips with fond memories, visualizing a tranquil lake shimmering below a warm sun set in a deep blue sky. And at the water’s edge in the midst of green grass and wildflowers I will be sitting with them, laughing and talking while bobbers dance on gentle waves.