Tag Archives: fatherhood

WE’RE VIKINGS, SUCKA

We dig Spring.

As a matter of fact this year we did a whole bunch of celebrating and out-of-door reveling the day before Spring arrived just so we’d be out of its way when it crawled out from the barn, the bushes, the flattened flowerbeds and walnut trees in the back yard in the cold light of dawn to stretch and yawn and give the kids a high-five when they get on the bus.

Our celebrating started with the annual phone call from my dad, the kids’ papa, informing them that the suckers are running…we’d better get to the creek. Into their boots faster than superheroes into tights, each kid ran to the barn to claim their weapon of choice: a salmon net, a smaller bass net, and a smaller still trout net. My youngest put to words what they all are thinking – let’s go get ’em.

They traipsed and tromped and terrorized as many slack pools and eddies they could reach from 3/4 boot-deep water, chasing those lake-run redhorse, managing to corner a small dumb male or egg-loaded and slow hen every now and again. The ruckus was just shy of enough to wake the dead. Which is a good thing since the 1/2 mile-or-so section of Sucker Brook they were pillaging, the same 1/2 mile-or-so section that I grew up pillaging and my dad the same, runs smack through the heart of Woodlawn Cemetery’s 77 acres. To this day, no residents have lodged any noise complaints.

Having had their fill of plundering, we headed to my wife’s parents, the kids’ Grammy and Grampy, to throw some fly line at the spring-fed pumphouse pond next to the first tee on the family’s golf course. The pond once held rainbows and browns, stocked years earlier, that ran opposite ends of this aquatic block like Crips and Bloods. Big gangsta trouts. 6 pounds easy. Some guy would be trying to tee-off and I’d hook up and the fish would leap and buck and run, my reel screaming, and the guy’s three buddies hollering holy shit! right in the middle of his back swing. Shank-ity shank shank. Enjoy your round, I’d holler and wave as they’d head the search party toward the rough.

The kids have no idea the pond holds no fish anymore, which is awesome because:
1) they stood like defiant little Vikings on the shore doing their damndest to get the line through a stiff headwind out onto the water where they were certain a fish the size of a Russian sub was going to inhale their fly and run for the 18th green, and
2) if one of those old gangsta trouts was to actually take their fly, I’d probably be swimming for the rod anyhow.
So, I had them practice first with no flies to get the feel of things and to keep them from impaling themselves, each other or me with #8 wooly buggers. It didn’t take long for their casts to find some semblance of a rhythm and the line started cooperating. They laughed at the headwinds, as Vikings are want to do. I tied on their flies and they went on their futile way, jaws set in a grimace-grin, to hunt for Red October.

But the wild rumpus was not complete without meeting their cousins for a trip to the sand pit out back of the golf course. A half-dozen kids leaping, over and over and over again from high crumbling ledges onto loose sand slopes, riding a minor avalanche 40 or so feet to the bottom, stopping only to empty their boots or shake handfuls of sand from their underwear.

Then we were on the hunt for sheds in the Locust groves that grow between the sand pit and the woods of Boughton Park. Following well run deer trails, they found old buck rubs and scrapes and droppings, any sheds by this time most-likely carried off by coyotes or rendered down by mice. Just before we left, tired and sandy and red-cheeked, ready to answer the call of hot-dogs and curly fries, we found a bleach-white fox skull, still holding its teeth. On the ride home, Cam asked first: dad, can I take it to school tomorrow?
Is a frog’s butt water-tight? I replied.
Nothing but laughs from the back seat. Spring is here.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water

AS THE YEAR ROLLS ON TO A CLOSE

I’m slow to type this morning. Sitting at my desk in the front room, looking out the window at passing traffic on Main Street. Sun. A strong cup of coffee. Bootprints in the snow where the kids wait for the bus by the maple out front.

My daughter stops in. Whatcha doing dad?
Writing, Bird. Working on a blog post.
Oh.

She reads the first two lines, since that’s all I’d written at that point. Gives me a quick hug and heads back to join her brothers in a Wii tennis battle.

I suddenly saw the not-so-distant future. At 9, she’s just about at the point where she could sit and read the blog, if she was so inclined. Crazy…my kids being old enough to read their Old-Man’s ramblings. I know they’re the reason this blog exists, but they’re all-too-quickly becoming part of my audience in addition to being my stories’ central characters. I can just hear them: I remember that! or I can’t believe you posted that video. or How come all you have are pictures of small fish?

There are moments as a parent when the gravity of being a parent makes you say damn. When you start to feel like you’re a bit further down the adulthood-road than you want to admit. When you realize that life is too short to not take a chance on following your passion because that’s what you want your kids to do. This was one of those moments. But it’s also been one of those years.

My aim was to compose a tremendous, poetic retrospective of 2010. But the small, quiet realization (reminder, really) that my kids are quickly growing up changed my aim to something much simpler. Looking out the window this morning–Christmas music from the other room, the occasional ping and clang from the pipes and radiators upstairs, the smell of the Douglass fir with its lights and ornaments–my thoughts drift through a sort of mental inventory of this past year. Fishing trips and full hunting seasons. Settling into a new house. Kids and sports (and more sports). Much more time spent with family. The start of this blog and the very cool folks I’ve met through it.

In the end, I just want to keep in mind how blessed a dude I am. To appreciate it each day. Here’s to a tremendous 2011. Merry Christmas everyone…and Happy New Year.

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GEAR

Ahhh, mid-summer. The prelude to fall…my favorite time of year.

Cicadas have begun to echo their rattling song in the lush heavy-ness of a quickly approaching August. The day’s heat is trading its oppressive edge for a longer shadow. All the busy-ness that’s accumulated since the winter is passing in one great, final exhale right about now, and a modest measure of free-time is quietly making its way back, like the unconditional love of a good hunting dog.

While this free-time lets me get back to some much-needed fishing, it’s also when I’m able to get my bow out, stand twenty paces from a 3D target and wake up the shooting muscles that have been asleep since last season. The kids love when my free-time returns, when all my hunting gear starts appearing again from the barn. They know dad’s going to be taking them along for the ride. Aleida’s about the right age for her first bow. Cam’s not far off.

It could be that I just celebrated my 20th high school reunion this past weekend. It could be that we hosted a surprise party for my dad’s 60th birthday this past weekend too – I’ll get back to these. But when I pulled my bow out of its case at the range last night, it struck me just how much my dad has handed down to me, specifically as an outdoorsman.

There’s the obvious: All three bows I’ve hunted with, including the Mathews I shoot now, were dads previously. My first shotgun, a bolt-action 12 gauge Mossberg, was his as a kid, and I hunted with it until its retirement a couple seasons ago (there’s a story for another post). There are brand-new boots that just didn’t fit him right, hunting jackets, Pendleton shirts, my first tree-stand, fishing lures, rods and reels, knives, flashlights, a thermos or two. The list goes on.

Handing down the tools of the trade, so to speak, was his way of making sure I had what I needed for a good start, and would get me out in the woods with him at least once. Where I took it from there would depend on my own moxie. I’ve always valued these gifts because they were his and because I know how much he loves the outdoors. But the gear is only part of the inheritance. The stories and lessons, friendship and time together…those are the real deal. That’s a hand-me-down that’ll still be there when all the gear has worn out.

As I said, my 20th just went into the record books, as did my dad’s birthday. Sunday afternoon a handful of my friends made their reunion-exhausted way, with spouses and kids, over to our place for one last cookout. We turned the kids loose on the pool, sodas and chips and simply relaxed in the sun. Watching the kids and how they interacted with each other was like watching little versions of us. They weren’t perfect, but if there was an issue, they managed to figure everything out and get back to getting along.

The next day, my dad’s shin-dig brought out a bunch of his old buds from school…folks who have known me since I came home from the hospital some 38 years ago, brand-spankin’ new and carrying my dad’s first name. At one point, the boys were telling one of my dad’s friends, an avid outdoorsman, stories about catching bass and getting to shoot a .22 for the first time. Excited and proud as all get-out, you’d have thought just discovered Disneyland in their backyard. My dad’s friend looked up, winked at me and said, wonder where they get that from.

Exactly.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water

THE GLORY OF EAGER FISH

Saturday’s kayak excursion delivered one very nice largemouth (see below), a mess of panfish, a lot of paddling and a chance to see one of the two resident bald eagles that patrol the south end of the lake and the river. I managed to get these shots of the eagle before my phone crapped the bed.

The lookout

Freedom in flight

There was something in the mythology or attitude or presence of that bird that was tremendously empowering and settling at the same time. He was a talisman, a force of nature, an entire nation perched and vigilant. But he was a fellow fisherman as well, with the patience of time…confident in the fortune of instinct. It didn’t matter if I caught a single fish at that point. I was happy to simply be sharing the same circle of existence.

We wrapped up the evening with wings, burgers and some barley pops. After I got home and unloaded my gear, I crawled into bed and fell asleep with thoughts of the boys fighting scrappy Father’s Day bass dancing in my head.

Big flies. Big fish.

The next morning arrived bright and early…the kids descending on me with PJs, bed-head and handmade cards and crafts. I hadn’t even barely put a foot on the floor next to my bed when the conversation turned to:

When are we fishin’ dad?

How many minutes till we go?

Can I go get my tackle box from the barn?

Oh yea…mom got BACON for breakfast!

Father’s Day isn’t Father’s Day without bacon for breakfast.

After church and a couple small chores around the house, the boys and I were off to catch bass. The ladies elected to stay and enjoy the pool, and some peace and quiet.

I had mentioned that the bass ponds on my in-law’s property are easy pickin’s. I don’t think I mentioned that the ponds are on their golf course. Bass fishing with my boys on a golf course on a blue-bird, Father’s Day afternoon. Like Old Milwaukee, it just doesn’t get any better than this. We loaded the gear on a golf cart, waving to foursomes and smiles and shouts of Good luck! as we made our way back to the pond at hole #3.

My youngest, Jonah, struck green first. His first full-size rod and reel, and his first bass. When he had backed the fish safely on the grass, he let loose some fist pumps like he just boated a tarpon…or won the Masters. Cam quickly followed suit with his first fish of the afternoon.

A few Gatorades and a few hours later, Jonah finished with 6 or 7 fish. Cam was not far behind. The sun was still high. Golfers were stopping to watch and clap for hook-ups. The boys were rock stars. We called it a day, grabbed a couple red-hots at the clubhouse and hit the road.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

Aleida

I just spent this past Sunday with my 7 year old daughter at a lacrosse tournament. She was playing with the 3rd and 4th grade girls team, invited because their numbers were thin and she’s tall (and quite coordinated) for her age – and I was asked to help coach. I worried a little that the age/skill difference (and the fact that she had never played a real game before) might make her shy/pensive/un-assertive. Quite the contrary. She had a ball, and I found myself uncharacteristically silent several times throughout the day, just watching her run, laugh, scowl and chase the fast-break, take a breather on the side-line with her goggles on her forehead and a Gatorade in hand. At those specific moments, had I tried to offer some sort of instruction or encouragement, I’m sure my voice would’ve cracked (that’s a no-no, by the way. No emotional stuff, dad.). I did holler though when she scored a goal, her first, and my voice cracked like puberty had made a comeback.

The last couple days I’ve been thinking about how far she’s come from the pudgy bundle we brought home that cool Virginia November almost 8 years ago. Throw in any number of Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Augustana, Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake tunes that happen to be playing on my iTunes and voila! I’m suddenly up to my eye-balls in nostalgia. We had Aleida while I was in grad school at George Mason for poetry. A good deal of my writing was about my every-day…trying to make connections between my past and my present. Having our first child made for a pretty deep pool of “writing matter.” Here’s a section from my master’s thesis (a book-length poem about fatherhood, fishing and the landscape(s) of America) that I just re-discovered, in which I talk about Aleida:

[34]

Most pools have been filled in with concrete to keep
kids from swimming. Suckers run in fractional numbers.
Land around the cemetery has been cleared. Wooded places,
have been cleared that used to feel as if, in being there,
your steps were the first. Dogs are not allowed.
Plots are allowed only two arrangements per—
tasteful, modest arrangements.

Dad took my daughter to look for suckers this spring.
In a small piece of slack-water above the fourth bridge
they found three fat lakers holding in the shade.
He lifted one toward my daughter, her eyes wide
& then wider, the fish working its mouth, waving its tail
back & forth. Not sure what to make of this creature,
she screamed when she touched it, laughed her child-laugh,
wiped her hands on her pants as dad returned the fish to the water.

Yep, connections between my past and my present. Fatherhood, much like fishing or poetry I’m realizing, is about paying attention to the small things…before those small things grow up and head into the current of their own life.

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