I didn’t initiate the fishing trip. My daughter did. She said when I picked her up, “Daddy, let’s go fishing!” I didn’t use any kind of subtle persuasion. I didn’t show up in a hat with lures stuck in it or a fishing net strapped over my shoulder. I didn’t call her teacher and ask her to read storybooks today that involved outdoor adventures. I just stood there like the normal tool that I am and asked, “What do you want to do tonight?”
After checking my watch, I really didn’t know if we had time to dig some worms out of our garden, get all the fishing gear out of the garage, and make our way to the small river on the edge of town or the lake 6 miles away. We did have time, though, because instead of stalling every time I asked her to get in her car seat, she did. Promptly. No repeated questions. No feigned attacks of deafness. No climbing into other compartments of the car while I tried to strap her in. She just climbed in and sat down. Amazing.
So we drove home, grabbed the fishing gear, dug up some dirt in the garden, and filled an old cup with dirt and worms. While I jammed the spade into the earth, my daughter didn’t take the lid off the sand box and forget all about the fishing trip. She didn’t try to pick tomatoes and throw them for the dog who loves that form of fetch. No, my daughter didn’t do those things. She stood right next to me as I dug, leaned her head on my shoulder, and said, “I love you, Dad. We’re buddies.” I leaned back, looked at her, felt my eyes water a bit, and gave her a hug. How did I, your average idiot, wind up with such a wonderful child?
I let the miracle unfold. We got in the car. It was overcast but not raining. I strapped her into her car seat. Need a bathroom break or a snack? Nope. The only question: “Did you bring my pink fishing pole, Dad?” Affirmative. It was right next to me in the front seat.
We parked the car and walked toward the small river. She raised her eyebrows as we walked and said, “I’m going to catch a big one!” I grinned uncontrollably. When we arrived at the footbridge where we stopped on a walk last week, I glanced at the highway bridge twenty paces through
some brush and long grass. I wondered. I pointed at the bridge and said, “Honey, do you want to go fishing under the bridge?”
She raised her eyebrows again. “Under that bridge?”
I nodded and waited for her reaction. The adventure and mystery kindled, and she nodded with a smile. I hoisted her into my arms. We pushed through the brush and found ourselves standing on the rocky shore under the highway bridge. She looked around in awe at the unique environment while I scanned the water for trout. Inland trout season ended in less than two weeks.
I put a worm on her hook, sat her down on top of a stable rock, and helped her cast her line into the water. The bobber plunked into the water surface and leaned, waiting on interested takers. She held on tight and watched the bobber, just like I taught her.
The serenity of evening descended. I got out my lures and fished for trout while the sunlight bronzed. A breeze suppressed the mosquitoes. We reeled and cast and waited and chatted. Soon, she set her pole down and climbed on the rocks, dug in the dirt, threw gravel into the water. An abrupt loss of footing sent her right into the brush and covered her in burrs. I scooped her up. She was okay. “Just another wipeout,” she said. That was the term we used for any falls associated with her near-constant jumping, dancing, and running. Then it was back to mining the dirt for slugs and rocks.
As the sun set, I asked her if she was hungry. She had to be. Supper was way overdue. She said she wasn’t, but I began packing up our gear anyway. “Momma’s probably home from work now, and it’s time for supper,” I said. She protested when I picked her up but relented during the adventure of making our way out from under the bridge and through the brush. I carried her toward the car but she wanted to walk once we hit solid ground.
When we got to the car, she didn’t want to get in, feigned an attack of deafness, asked me twenty questions about fishing, the moon, and her friends Ella and Emma. She tried to climb into any compartment of the car that didn’t include her car seat. She said she wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to go home. She almost poked herself with a fish hook about six times when she insisted that she hold onto the pole in the car. She told me that Momma was still at work and was not home. She told me we needed to drive by her uncle’s house on the way home, but we shouldn’t go up any hills or hit any big bumps. Little bumps were okay. And finally, she was strapped into her car seat, and we were on our way. We didn’t catch a single fish, but I didn’t care a bit.
Upon pulling back into our driveway, I had to strip off her sweatshirt and pants and throw them away. They were covered in dirt, burrs, worm grease, and sweat. There was nothing in the arsenal that sits on top of our washer and drier that could salvage this situation. Still, in an effort to remain transparent, I presented the wadded up clothing to my wife and asked, “Any saving these?” My wife then said, “No, go ahead and throw them away. I don’t want to get those burrs all over any other clothes. They were getting too small anyway.” Without hesitation, I tossed them in the garbage and shut the cupboard door. I almost raised my hands in victory. No comments about how much the clothes cost. No insinuations that I should’ve prevented this mess. No interrogation as to how or why these clothes were in their current condition. Nothing of the sort.
I had simply done what Dads do. Sometimes you ruin some clothes in the process. I washed my hands and looked at my daughter who settled in to eat her supper. My wife set a glass of milk on my daughter’s tray and asked me how my day was. I looked at her in the fading light of dusk that glowed through the windows of our home. She stopped leafing through the mail when I didn’t respond. “You okay?” she asked.
I nodded and wrapped an arm around her. “I had a phenomenal day. How was yours?”
Mack Dreyfuss is a freelance writer and writes on a variety of topics while doing his best to enjoy all four seasons. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. He has been rumored to occasionally change a diaper one-handed, but his wife states that such a feat has never been witnessed. You can read more of his work at themackdreyfusslounge.com.