When my sons were small, that age range between diapers and junior high school, I often brought them along with me on my frequent excursions into the wild; mainly fishing trips. I saw it as a “one stone kills two birds” opportunity; I got to go fishing and I accomplished the father/son bonding experience that is so necessary to the development of any boy. There were, however, a few hoops to jump through prior to exiting the house; the inquisition by their mother. I figured the ordeal shouldn’t be any more complicated than, “Hey boys, grab your fishing poles, jump in the car, and let’s go.” I was wrong. There were details that had to be worked out.
Before leaving on one trip, I said to Julie, “Honey, I’m taking Christopher fishing. Let’s go son.” Before I went any further, I heard a voice from somewhere deep inside the house, “Where are you going?” My reply was short, “To the river.” She continued, “That’s not safe. He has to wear a life jacket.” I thought, Poor little kid. You have to wear that stupid looking orange life jacket. The kind you find thrown in the corner of every boat and canoe on the waterways. I knew better than to resist and when Christopher gave that look of “Do I have to?” I just winked and said, “Go get that life jacket and throw it in the back of the car.” She wasn’t done. “What are you feeding him?” I first thought the beef jerky and cheese and crackers I planned on taking would satisfy her, but reconsidered. “I’ll fix some sandwiches and bag up some chips and fruit. You can get ice for the cooler on the way.” I resisted, “But honey, we’re not going on a picnic. We’re going fishing. How am I going to drag the cooler up the river?” My next thought was, What else can she come up with? Julie next said, “He can go fishing with you, but he can’t go in the water.” I shouldn’t have, but I asked, “Why am I bringing a life jacket if he’s not allowed in the water?” Julie wasn’t fazed. “He could fall in.” Having given up by this time, I answered, “I’m sure he could.” As we walked out the door to the car I heard, “And no cigars! And no jumping out of trees. And no loud music. And no spitting.” And finally, “And don’t let him out of your sight.”
Once in the car, having lit up a cigar and cranked up the stereo, I turned to Christopher and said, “You know all that stuff Mom said back there?” He nodded his head. “Well, forget it. You’re going wading down the river with your dad and we’re going to catch a stringer full of fish. What Mom doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.” I then spit out the window. Christopher said, “Yeah Dad. You’re the boss around here.” Once we arrived and unloaded our tackle, I made him put on the orange life jacket. “Why do I have to wear this?” he asked. “Just in case” I answered. He wasn’t satisfied, “You’re not wearing one.” Taking advantage of my authority I said, “I’m the adult around here. I don’t need one.”
Before we entered the water, I tied one end of a rope around a strap on the life jacket and the other end through one of my belt loops. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about Christopher and could focus on catching fish. Wading upstream and casting on both sides of the river, I occasionally glanced back, to see how the boy was doing. He was having a tougher time navigating the current than I was, but it’s understandable. The water was waist-high for me, but came up just beneath his chin. I told him to walk over in the shallow area near the bank, so that he wouldn’t slow us down. The next thing I heard was a faint, “Dad, help me, I’m floating away!” I looked back and saw Christopher being carried downstream in the swift current. He was struggling, but safe. Good thing I thought of that life jacket.
After a couple of hours of catching fish and retrieving Christopher, I decided we should go back to the car and grab a sandwich. After we’d eaten our fill, “Man these sandwiches hit the spot. I’m glad I had your mom make them,” we decided to do some fishing at the dam. We both waded a few yards off shore and cast into the swirling waters beneath the dam. At one point Christopher hooked a nice fish and we were both surprised when he pulled in a two-pound channel cat. He was thrilled and so was I, although we couldn’t figure out how he caught a catfish when we were fishing for smallmouth. After a while it was time to go home.
After putting our things in the trunk, Christopher asked me, “Dad, what’s that thing on my ankle?” I looked down and saw a three-inch long leech attached to his skin, just above his tennis shoe. “That’s a leech son.” He was only a little concerned and asked, “How are we going to get it off?” At first I thought, I could take my filet knife and cut it off, but that might be a bit bloody and Julie would notice the laceration. I then looked around the car and found a packet of salt from Wendy’s. If it worked on snails and slugs as a kid, why not a leech? Unfortunately the salt had no effect on the leech and Christopher was now worried. As I lit another cigar, it hit me. “I’ll burn it off with my cigar, son.” He was skeptical and asked, “Will that work? Have you done it before?” I answered, “I saw it in a movie once.”
I knocked the ash off the end of the cigar and puffed on it enough to get the tip a glowing red, and then proceeded with the operation. After a few painful yelps from Christopher, the leech was dispatched. I looked at the place where the leech had been and noticed a slight burn on his skin. “Don’t worry son; that burn will eventually scar over.” He seemed satisfied and we had a great ride home. At eight years of age, he was quickly becoming a man.
Once arriving home, before exiting the vehicle, I had to coach Christopher, “Now son, remember all those things we did at the river today? They’re just between you and me. Your mom doesn’t need to know any details. Got it?” He nodded his head and we got out and unloaded our gear, and then entered the house. Julie had a big smile on her face as Christopher came into the kitchen. “Did you have a great time with your dad,” she asked. She reached down to hug him, and the smile quickly left her face, as she felt the water on his shirt and pants. Glaring at me she asked, “How did he get wet?” Before I could answer I heard Christopher say, “Mom, you should have been there. I got a leech on my foot and Dad burned it off with his cigar, and…” I didn’t wait around to hear the rest. “I’ve got to go mow the lawn,” and out the door I went. The roar of the riding lawnmower prevented me from hearing the wrath of Julie, but it was only a temporary delay. Before embarking on any future father/son outings, Christopher would need additional counseling on what information was appropriate to release to his mother upon our return.