If you want to see great parenting, take a child fishing.
If you want to see awful parenting, also take a child fishing.
I really enjoy fishing. I don’t get to go out nearly as often as I like, as I’m usually tied up with work or my children’s activities.
Any time I get stressed, I envision tossing a line into the water and waiting for that bobber to sink while focusing on the subtle ripples around it. Then I get a wistful smile and say, “I should go fishing more often.”
Or at least that’s what I used to say.
Then on Father’s Day, my wife and children came up with a uniquely thoughtful gift. I opened up a simple piece of paper that revealed the money needed to buy an Ohio fishing license and a note directing me to go fishing more often.
Days later, I was at the store buying that fishing line. When I opened my tackle box, I realized the last time I bought a license needed to fish on Ohio’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs, it was the year before we got married. I’d been out a time or two at private ponds, but I hadn’t really had many chances to enjoy this hobby.
Being a guy who likes to share great experiences with my children, we also purchased a new fishing rod and reel for one of my daughters. Between us, we now have enough poles for my three daughters and me to fish.
I envisioned all the useful life lessons taught while fishing. You learn patience. You enjoy nature. You relax fully. I learned these things from my dad on countless trips to a reservoir near Findlay or in Grand Lake St. Marys. I couldn’t wait for my daughters to learn these. My daughters would learn a meaningful life lesson from me, I decided.
What followed was a “do as I say, not as I do” life lesson.
My children and I spent a stressful afternoon fishing near their grandmother’s place on Lake Erie. I spent very little time actually fishing, devoting my time to attaching bobbers, weights and hooks to the line, just to have them snarl up on the rocky shoreline and break 10 or 15 minutes later.
As soon as I had one ready, I heard another tell me they were caught on the rocks. We’d try to save another metal hook from its watery grave, but most of the time we just ended up breaking the line and starting over.
They caught nothing that day, and I caught a bad attitude. I decided they weren’t learning any of the things I wanted them to learn from fishing.
My middle daughter wasn’t dissuaded from that bad experience. The 6-year-old and I tried fishing again about a week later, at Grand Lake St. Marys. We lasted about half an hour. Every time she reeled in her line, she insisted I change her hook. She bounced back between worms and lures, using her 6-year-old sensibilities to choose the most colorful bait she could find.
I yelled. I told her I wasn’t ever taking her fishing again because she didn’t have the patience to do this. In a moment of truly awful parenting and great frustration, I placed my problems on her. She had the patience; I did not.
Fortunately, we gave fishing one more try. The whole family and one of my oldest daughter’s friends went to my friend’s pond in Hardin County. Once again, I spent much of my time preparing lines for everyone else. While I did this, my friend walked with my eager 6-year-old girl, helping her cast the line and patiently waiting with her.
I finally joined them, tossing my line into the water perhaps 50 feet away from them. They were giggling and chatting, sharing a moment. Finally, I heard him tell her, “I think you have a fish.” I dropped my pole and sprinted over to watch.
She stood up, pulled back on the pole and began reeling it in slowly. It gave her little 50-pound body quite a fight, but she pulled a bluegill into the shore.
I had never seen her prouder, except maybe an hour and a half later when she won a fight with a bass and posed for a picture with that 18-inch long, tenacious fish and my friend.
As we packed up to leave that night, she told us how much fun she had. She told me how much she loved to fish. She said we should go fishing together more often.
I can’t wait for our next opportunity. Now, whenever I get stressed, my mantra has changed: “We should go fishing more often.”