Thursday, September 02, 2004

Gone Fishing

Fathers and sons. You read stories about fathers and sons all the time, about rites of passage, and coaching games, driving to travel team games, being a fan at games. Those are fun times. I wrote a post on August 19 about taking my preschool-aged son to his first baseball game at Citizens Bank Park. It was a great time for both of us.

You read some about mothers and daughters, and probably far less and mothers and sons and fathers and daughters, and how they interact on various activities. Yes, we read and watched at length about Michael Phelps' relationship with his mother, but in large part you don't read about kids' relationships with parents of the opposite sex.

And you wonder, sometimes, about whether or not those relationships are strong, whether the dads consciously or unconsciously gravitate to their sons, as they have a built-in buddy to go to a game with, have a catch with, or coach in Little League. Are the daughters forgotten, cast aside with very little positive attention from their dads? With Title IX, those girls get a much greater opportunity to participate in sports than they ever did. But, then again, Title IX is more about getting girls and women involved in sports, playing with other kids, than it necessarily is about bonding with their parents.

Some bonding, of course, does occur in the very, if not over-, organized world of kids' sports. Dads who pitching batting practice, rebound for their daughters, drive them to 5 a.m. ice hockey games and sit in the stands at travel soccer tournaments. No one will argue that this type of stuff isn't any good or doesn't count. Of course it does. And it's great. Men who might not have paid attention to their daughters two or three decades ago now do so, and an age where students of the world question the strength of the family unit, this type of involvement for the most part is a force of good (unless the girl has a dad like Mary Pierce or Jenna Dokic).

It is a little different, though, from the simple joy of just doing something with your kid, without anyone else around. And that's where the parent-child bonding can be different -- for some dads and daughters, moms and sons. It just may be easier for the generic dad to go to Cub Scouts with a boy or to coach a tee-ball team than, say, to take his daughter to dance class. But what about one-on-one bonding, of really taking the time to be with your daughter, to get to know her on her own terms, doing something she wants to do.

It's probably all about making time for all of your children, and I had the opportunity to do just that on a vacation to the mountains that we took just last week. We went to one of these places that offered a bunch of activities, including day-camp-like activities for children, and the kids swam, played pinball, played miniature golf, tried ping pong, shot archery and generally had the run of the place.

The most fun I had, though, took place at the lake, when we went fishing. We rented two fishing basic rod and reel combinations for $10 apiece and spent $3 for a small container of live bait. The fishing lodge loaned us a knife to cut the worms, and we then ambled out onto a pier to try to catch some fish.

As it turned it, the day was much more fun for my seven year-old daughter than my four year-old son. My daughter loved the pier, the calm of the water, the scenery in background, and after watching me and some others cast for about twenty minutes, began casting like a pro. She had so much fun casting that we had to counsel her that the best way to actually catch the fish was to let the line stay in the water for a while. She was a good pupil and did just that, catching a sun fish, a perch and a blue gill in about 2 1/2 hours. She had many more fish on the line, but the crafty occupants of this nice lake knew full well the tricks of the trade, and they were good at stealing the bait. (Mom and Dad got the dirty work of cutting the worms, baiting the hooks, unhooking the fish, putting them back in the water and untangling the lines). It was a great morning, watching this not-so-little anymore girl casting out her line, fighting occasionally with fish, and trying to reel them in.

The next morning the kids wanted to go back, even on a hotter, sunnier and especially more humid day. The sun was out in full force, and there was nowhere for us to hide in the shade. After forty-five minutes of having the fish steal his bait (probably because dad didn't do the best job of baiting the hook), my son asked my wife to take him to the playground, so there we were, just my daughter and I, trying to beat the heat, and trying to find fish who, acting smarter than us, were seeking shade at every opportunity.

We stayed on the pier, as we weren't familiar enough to walk down the trail about a quarter mile, across the main road, near a bridge where the large stream that fed the lake was, replete with lilypads, which probably meant that many of the lake's bass were there grabbing some desperately needed shade. No, score one for the fish in this bit of evolution; they knew where to seek shelter, but we didn't know where to chase them.

So there we sat, father and daughter, right next to one another, casting our lines, re-baiting our hooks, talking about the nuances of baiting the hooks and catching fish, and searching for spots around the pier where the fish were. We were totally zoned in on fishing, and we did figure out at one point that while casting far out was fun, the best place on that muggy day was right near the pier, which did offer the fish some shade. And, after two and one half hours of hard work in the heat, my not-so-little-anymore girl, she with the long legs and coppery red hair set aglow in the bright sun, decided to get a cold drink and call it a day (most of the cold drink went on my daughter's head to provide instant relief from the heat). She had worked hard at her fishing, and on this difficult fishing day (according to the guide at the fishing lodge), she had managed to reel in three more fish -- a perch and two more sunfish.

We returned the fishing poles, disposed of the bait container, and gave back the borrowed knife to the proprietor of the fishing lodge. And then we set off, down the trail to the main road, and then up the steep hill to the main building of the place we stayed at.

Hand in hand, talking about casting, talking about the different types of fish, talking about where to fish the next time and how much time to allot for it.

Just my daughter and I, walking and talking. No phones, no interruptions from a little brother wanting attention, no television in the background, no traffic noise.

Talking about, well, things. Anything. Everything.

As we were driving home from our vacation, my wife and I asked the kids what there favorite activity was. My son replied "pinball", as he had become particularly fond of the game room at the place. My daughter said, without hesitation, "fishing."

As I write this, I think about the beautiful setting that surrounded the lake and the sun reflecting off of it, and the determination and happiness that a young girl had gracefully casting her line into a calm, clear lake, I can only smile.

We sports fans watch others, root hard for the home team, feel a little better about life when the alma mater is poised to win the championship or when the home team is on a winning streak, and talk about big games we were at and the great players we saw. NCAA Final Fours, World Series Games, NHL and NBA playoff games, college games against the archrival. Did you see Flutie's pass to Phelan against Miami? Laettner's shot in the regional final against Kentucky? Were you there the night Bill Walton shot 17-21 from the floor against Florida State? Do you remember Garo Yepremian's attempted pass, or that Mike Bass intercepted it and ran it back for a touchdown in the Super Bowl? Ruslan Fedotenko's two goals in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals?

Yes, we do, and we feel good for the players, such as Ray Bourque, who at age 40 waited for his final season, his 21st I believe, to win his first and only champoinship. We loved watching Mark McGwire break Roger Maris's record for home runs in a season, and we had fun watching Cal Ripken, Jr. break Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played.

And we revel in the upsets, when our favorite team isn't supposed to do much but somehow plays the game of its season and beats the archrival, who was favored by three touchdowns. We'll e-mail friends about the game and bore our spouses to death about the play on 4th and 26 that helped our team get to overtime and win the game (okay, that play was so unique that even the spouses warmed up to the game). We'll do all that, each season, watching our favorite teams.

And that watching is a ton of fun. No one will dispute that. It's great to see the pageantry of the big games, the "big event" quality of championship events. There's nothing quite like it.

Except, perhaps, throwing the lacrosse ball around with your kid while you're wearing your loafers after you've just gotten home from a busy day of work, the wetness of the grass from a late afternoon shower wetting the cuffs of your chinos, having that catch, throwing the frisbee or casting for whatever type of fish show up in your part of the world.

No, that's stuff's better.

For the simple reason that it's not about your alma mater, the home team or the team that your college roommate's nephew plays for, the team that the kid who used to deliver your newspaper stars for.

It's better because it's about your kids and you, or, in my case, about a smart, determined, freckled little girl and me.


Sconiers said...

More men need to take a girl fishing.

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