Fishing has played a fairly significant role in my life in the forty some years since Dad first took me out; I’ve gone on numerous fishing trips; I’ve fished in fresh and salt water; I’ve had days with a bucket full of fish; I’ve had days with no fish; I’ve had days with nice sized fish; and I’ve had days with fish that were smaller than the lure with which they were caught. I’ve had one fish, two fish, and red fish. I have yet to catch a blue fish (though we do have them out here).
And so it was, when my own kids became old enough to do something resembling fishing, I took them out, one by one, and taught them how to fish. I’ll have to say that not all of them enjoy fishing, but they all know how to fish.
All these years, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my dad took me fishing partly to teach me the sport, but primarily to teach me patience. There’s nothing like sitting there as a four year old, waiting for that bobber to go under.
“Dad, when will that fish come?”
“You asked me that about thirty seconds ago.”
“Dad, when can we go home?”
“We got here two minutes ago.”
“How come you didn’t reel in your bobber? It went under a while ago.”
My dad is many things, and one of his hallmarks is patience. I know few people as patient as my father, and I attributed that to the fact that his father used to take him fishing, thus teaching my dad patience.
This story involves my oldest son, whom I will call Son Eldest. He had just turned four.
In the house we were living in at the time, our yard backed up to a thirty acre neighborhood lake. This was perfect for fishing from shore or for taking out the canoe. My wife and I had bought a sixteen foot fiberglass canoe shortly after we were married, and I loved (and still love) taking that thing out on the water.
One particular weekday morning, Son Eldest and I were both up early. I had just finished my morning reading and my cup of coffee, and Son Eldest asked me if we could go fishing sometime. “Why not now?” I thought to myself. I had another hour before I needed to drive to work, so I figured we could get the canoe out and fish for a little bit.
Within minutes we were out in the canoe. I rigged up my son’s line with a worm and a bobber, while I was using a plastic lure on my line. I caught a small bass, and then another, all within the first ten minutes. Son Eldest had gotten no bites.
That’s okay, I thought to myself. This will teach him patience.
As if reading my mind, he then stated, “I think I should use what you’re using, Dad.”
“Well Son, you don’t really know how to cast yet.”
“Can you teach me?”
I couldn’t turn down that request. We reeled in his line, I put on a swivel and a Rapala lure with two treble hooks, and showed him how to cast.
His first cast was actually fine. It went perhaps ten feet. He reeled in and tried again. He put a lot of effort into the second cast.
He was sitting in the front of the canoe, facing away from me, so I didn’t immediately notice what had happened. I did realize though that I hadn’t heard the soft splash of the lure in the water.
Then I heard a little voice.
“What, Son Eldest?”
He turned halfway around. There, stuck in his soft sweat pants, was the lure. One treble hook was stuck in his right pant leg; the other treble hook was stuck in his left pant leg. His legs effectively were stuck together.
“Hold still, son,” I commanded. I’ll come help you.
Now, I do know better than to try to move while in a canoe, but we didn’t have a lot of time left, and I wanted to get this lure freed so that he could fish a little more. I lowered my center of mass and basically crawled along the bottom of the canoe until I could reach his legs.
I reached my right arm over his seat, trying to find the lure. I quickly found that my shirt sleeve had snagged on one of the treble hooks. So there I was, face down in the canoe with one arm stuck to my son’s legs, which were fastened together with the lure. I was frustrated and I could feel myself getting ready to snap.
This felt like a scene with Lucille Ball or perhaps Tim Conway.
And at that moment, I had an epiphany.
My dad was patient, yes. But his patience wasn’t because his father had taken him fishing. My dad was patient because he had taken me fishing, time and time again over all those years.
All those snagged hooks, the tangled lines, the frequent requests to change lures, and all the I’m hungry or I’m thirsty or I’m tired or I have to go to the bathroom interruptions … all of this played together to truly develop a rock-like patience.
Yes, my dad and I had great times together fishing, and the happy memories are countless, but God used those opportunities to bless Dad with a patience that would serve him well later in life and would be an inspiration to others.
Now it was my turn to do the same thing.
So back to the canoe … with the epiphany came laughter, and soon both my son and I were laughing as we worked to get the hooks out. And we succeeded. We didn’t catch any more fish that morning, but our fishing adventures together had started, and I looked forward to more.
And I looked forward to more opportunities to strengthen my own patience.