Have you ever been fishing? I have. When I was young, my father used to take all of his children (there were 7 of us by the time all was said and done) out camping and fishing. We used to have a pop-up trailer with sides that pulled out. We somehow managed to squash all of us in there along with all the accoutrements required to camp, including all the sleeping bags, clothes, fishing poles, dishes; and mounds of food required to feed the family.
As a child, my father would drag us along on what I now call "primitive" camping. We frequented campsites where we were lucky to have pit toilets. The taps, which were spaced every five or six campsites to provide water to the visitors, were always painted red with big signs next to them that read, "DO NOT DRINK!" I learned at a very young age never to trust a painted tap. The water from those taps was good only for washing dishes (though in hindsight, probably not) and washing bodies (ditto).
And of course, there was the fishing. My father was obsessive about it. He absolutely insisted that we get up before it was light outside and get down to the nearby lake to put our poles in the water. I don't recall ever doing so willingly. When we did get to the lake, invariably we would spend all our time trying to de-tangle the lines, put cheese on hooks (which would immediately fall off), and being grossed out when we impaled wriggling worms on large hooks. After spending so much time getting the kids situated with their fishing lines in the water, I expect that it was a moment of delight for him when he would finally be able to cast his line in the lake, too.
Somehow, amidst all the chaos, we still managed to catch some fish. Usually, we would catch enough of them to make full-size meals out of them, with some extras to bring home (which we always dropped in the deep freezer, only to throw away a year later). My sister who is just older than me was very good at catching fish. It seemed my father would spend half his time helping her get her line in the water, then dealing with the fish he'd have to get off her lines. It was wonderful for her.
But not for me. I was a terrible fisherman. It didn't matter if I used the exact same bait as my sister, nor that I could cast my line in a near identical location. It didn't matter that I knew all the techniques for bobbing a line, or jerking it when the line went tight to snare the fish. All that mattered was that I was holding the rod, and no fish in it's puny mind would bite a hook attached to that rod. In all my years going fishing with my family, I can count the number of fish I caught at those times on one hand, with a finger to spare.
Needless to say, I hated it. I hated getting up in the cold. I hated walking half-dazed through the dark to get to the lake. I hated dealing with the rods (ungainly monsters) and the hooks (I was afraid of getting hooked!) and the tangled lines (my line always tangled worse and more often than my siblings). I hated sitting there on the side of the lake, bored out of my mind, waiting for a dumber than usual fish to even contemplate biting the hook on my line, which I somehow knew would never happen. And most of all, I hated watching my sister pull in all those fish. It wasn't like I wouldn't be allowed to eat one, it just hurt that I couldn't ever catch my own.
So now, here I am, a father of three wonderful children, and I have to make a choice. Will my children grow up knowing the joys and pains of fishing? Or will they be like most other kids and be zombies with their handheld game systems? My wife used to fish as a child, too, and by all accounts, she was far more like my sister than she was like me. Together, we decided that our kids will have the fishing experience.
So, this past weekend, we tried it for the first time. We went camping at a lake a few hours away and spent a whole day fishing off the shore. We didn't get the kids up at an absurdly early hour (we'll save that for another excursion), but we did give them the opportunity to put their lines in the water, and have to wait. They also had to be quiet, something at which they most certainly do not excel.
And guess what! We didn't catch any fish. Not even a true bite (though my wife insists she almost had one). We had a few tugs on the lines that we might consider nibbles, but not much else.
So here I had mustered my willpower to get to the lake, prepared myself by re-learning how to tie all the right knots, utilized the finest form of patience to de-tangle the inevitable messes the children made with their lines, studied how to clean a fish, and researched how to cook them -- all to no avail. I must admit that I wasn't surprised. The experience matched very closely that of my youth, only with me now the father responsible for keeping everybody's lines in the water.
But something remarkable did happen when we were at that lake. My children somehow did manage to follow instructions. They were quiet. They did show patience. By the end of the day, they were not even complaining that fishing was boring. It was a most remarkable time, and actually a little bit peaceful. And weirdly enough, I find that I actually enjoyed myself! I can't explain it. Maybe it's something inbred into men, a nascent quality that manifests itself only as a man ages wherein he will suddenly enjoy fishing -- regardless of the outcome.
I don't really understand it, but this much I do know: we will be going fishing again. Because somewhere out there, there's a big fish that will eventually bite my line.
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