Fishing for My Father

Recently, a friend challenged me to write about the times I have recognized the Spirit’s Presence in my life.  Now that my right shoulder is recovering well from my rotator cuff surgery, I will pick up my blog again to do some exploring of the long list I made of significant moments that have served to guide me on life’s journey. These “moments of clarity” are markers that keep us going through the foggy times of life.  I believe the Universe provides such moments to us all. Our job is to learn to recognize them. And sometimes we share what we have learned as a result.  Here is one such lesson from my life, entitled “Fishing for My Father.”

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​I never really wanted to go fishing, but my father hadn’t sought my company before. Ever. And so I felt an unaccustomed eagerness to be in his presence. What should I wear?

I don’t remember why the thought even occurred to me at age seven, but somehow that concern came first. Not what will I need or how do I fish, but what should I wear? Oh, I had caught fish before – I captured by hand little bluegill in the shallow stream that flowed through the ravine across the street. And I knew how to grab the crawdads behind their pinchers and watch them wave at strangers on the banks. So maybe I thought I knew everything I needed to know about going fishing. I had seen my father bait hooks and swish his line out to the deep part of the river whenever he had fished during family picnics. I knew what fishing meant. No questions there. But what should I wear?

​I settled upon a pair of trousers that I had worn to play cowboys and Indians with the neighborhood boys that spring. I knew a dress or skirt was out of the question for a fishing trip with my father. The pants felt a little snug, but I didn’t mind. I searched through the drawer for just the right top to set off the outfit, finally settling on a long-sleeved, pull-over shirt with one stripe my favorite shade of blue. Socks and black buckle shoes completed the ensemble. I felt like a princess ready for the ball.

​Eagerly, I made my way to the mid-section of our side of the duplex house my grandparents owned, the main room that we used as a dining room. In the adjacent kitchen, my mother hummed, preparing our sack lunches to take along on our excursion.

I struck a pose, standing on the large floor register that toasted my feet mid-winter, but stood cold and silent that July morning.

“How do I look, Daddy?” He was standing at the buffet that served as a collection point for all loose mail, keys, and pocket change. My father turned and surveyed me with a curious smile.

“Hot,” was his one word summary of my efforts. My gut registered disappointment. I hadn’t thought about weather or temperature, just my appearance. I decided not to be hot and to prove him wrong.

Mother shooed us both out the door, me holding the sack lunches and Daddy, wearing his special hat with his favorite flies hooked here and there, carrying everything else – tackle box, poles, minnow bucket, fishing net, and a small cooler for pop. We were a pair off on an adventure. I left with such hope.

The other details in my memory are more fragmented and perhaps blurred with memories of other attempts at fishing together on Cowan Lake. I don’t know how many times he took me, but I recall the excitement I felt at this first time of being chosen as a companion. And I remember the many lessons I learned that have stayed with me over the years. I discovered I had a lot to learn about fishing, about pleasing the men in my life, and about life in the Spirit.

Daddy was right. I was hot. But I never let on. I suffered in silence. A lesson it took me nearly thirty years to unlearn.

Although he never said so, I know Daddy was frustrated with my squeamishness and impatient with my constant retrieving of my line to see if a fish were making my bobber live up to its name, impatient because he would be the one who had to recast the line. Inevitably, his hoped-for bass would hit his bait and run while he was helping me. His reel, pole propped on a Y’d tree branch he’d cut that morning with his pocket knife, would spin out of control, and he was not there to set the hook. Usually the fish got away. Once he lost pole and all. Always I was aware it was my fault. Another lesson – one I still have to unlearn on a regular basis.

And yet another lesson I have learned perfectly: Fishing was not an activity I wanted to share. It required long quiet spells of sitting and doing nothing, while absorbing damp, earthy odors. I found it distasteful to impale a wiggling creature, whether earthworm or minnow, and cast it to its watery doom. And who would want to wash her hands in the brown water of an Ohio lake? The tedium was broken only by occasional outbursts of temper over tangled lines, snagged hooks, lost bobbers, or missed catches. However, the taste of fresh bluegill, fried in my mother’s iron skillet, did help erase most frustrations over a day of fishing for my father.

One important lesson from those early life experiences I didn’t realize until I was an adult. By this time, I was married to a pastor. I found myself, again, a fishing companion, only this time “fishing for people.” I think Jesus chose several fishermen for disciples because they were accustomed to disappointment, yet lived in hope of favorable conditions and a good catch. Now seen as a “professional religious leader” myself, I was often approached by disappointed, yet hopeful, people looking for help in “catching” some glimpse of Truth. Once a seeker asked me, “But how do you know if it’s God speaking to you or if it is just your imagination?” Immediately, I remembered the image of fishing for my father. On that first trip together, after I had pulled my line from the water to check for a fish about the tenth time, Daddy said, “Anna, when you think you might have a fish, you don’t. When you have a fish, you know you have one.” It’s the same with a message from God.  Only the surety will be the strong tug of love and assurance that pulls at your heart strings.  And, like the bluegill that provides you with dinner, the message nourishes and gives you a joy that erases the ache of life’s longings.

Sixty years later, with my earthly father now trusted to eternity and my little girl longings in mature perspective, I am grateful for those imperfect efforts at communion by the lake. The disappointments are forgiven on both sides. I was never going to be the son he’d hoped for. He was never going to the father I expected. Yet the memories we made together continue to teach lessons the Father of us both desires we master. And.that’s a catch worth waiting for.