There is something that you may or may not know about me. It's not a deep dark secret or anything, but, besides being reclusive almost to the point of anthropophobic, I love to fish, fly fish specifically.
I am not sure what about fishing draws me to it, but it is certainly not the fish because I am the worst angler in the history of fishing. There are years that I catch nada. Like, literally, an entire year where I catch not one single fish, yet I am still out there trying.
So, why do I enjoy it so much?
Perhaps, I like it because it is quiet and solitary. Maybe, I like the monotony of casting and retrieving because it requires a certain level of focus that just calms me. It may be so appealing to me because I am so horrible at it, and there are days it frustrates me to the point where I contemplate giving it up, only to cast my line one more time to see if calling it quits is really what I want to do.
Of course, that will never be what I really want to do.
I get too much out of it, like learning to be a good dad, to ever give up on it.
Things I've Learned about Fatherhood from Fly-Fishing
1.) Patience and Persistence: If there is anything that you need as an angler, it is patience and a persistent attitude.
You have to be willing to keep plugging away for what seems like eternity, waiting on that one big moment to happen when your line connects with a giant fish that you fight to reel in, only to, if you're like me, release it immediately after letting it gain its strength.
Patience requires practice, a lot of practice, and, luckily for me, being a parent of two amazing little dobbers gives me plenty of opportunities to persistently practice it.
No, being a parent doesn't necessarily make me a better fly tosser, but I believe that having learned the art of patiently waiting for that strong strike and the sound of the my reel releasing line as a monster fish runs with it, has helped me to become a better father by teaching me a little bit about patience and persistence because the highs more than compensate for the lows.
2.) Calm: If I have yet to master patience as a skill, then it is definitely true that I am not even close to mastering the art of staying calm.
Yet, as a fly fisher, that is exactly what I need to do.
There are times when I am out on the water and all I want to do is snap my rod like a tooth pick and throw a screaming fit because I have, yet again, tangled my tippet in a tree, or I slipped in the mud and have to call it day because my reel has grit and dirt gumming up the works, and I need to clean it.
It's just the nature of the game. Things happen that are going to try your patience, and challenge your ability to remain calm.
You try to fish angry, and you'll probably go home empty handed because anger makes anglers do stupid things.
I find this true as a dad too.
My brats revel in being able to create chaos and drive me completely bat shit insane, but I can't lose my head in frustration. I have to step back, get calm, and continue being the best dad I can be.
Otherwise, I'd make a stupid decision that I am sure I would live to regret, and I have already done that enough.
I've tossed complete shit fits over the littlest of things, and I am ashamed of myself for doing so. I hope to avoid those tantrums in the future as I continue to get better at being patient and calm with the plentiful practice that parenting and fishing allows.
My kids don't need to see me tossing fits. I don't need to be "that" dad.
3.) Observant: So much about fishing is just knowing about what is going on at that particular point in time at that specific location on the water.
Is the water too warm or too cold?
Has there been a flood of other anglers in this spot, which will make the fish reluctant to bite?
What insects are in the water, and is there a hatch coming?
To be successful as an angler you need to be aware of so many variables, both significant and seemingly insignificant, so you can formulate a plan and proceed in the best manner possible to ensure success.
Parenthood is similar.
You have to know what is going on.
Otherwise, you don't only look like a negligent fool at times, but you can't really plan ahead to avoid embarrassing or potentially dangerous situations, like the other day, when my littlest brat decided to head towards a gigantic mud puddle and I had to scramble to keep him from going in over his head.
Now, had I paid proper attention to all the warning signs, I could have avoided a massive soaking and a near heart attack. The signs were all there.
He was eerily quiet.
He was staring at me creepily while walking sideways.
I should have known that the moment I turned to ask the Pizzmeister a question the little bugger would take off like a shot.
But, I wasn't paying attention. I didn't file what I was seeing away in my mind to sort out into possible outcomes or whatever.
Had I done so, I might not have ended up knee deep in a mud puddle hyperventilating.
4.) Resourcefulness: There have been so many times that I have forgotten to bring something I needed or would like to have with me while fishing and have had to make do with out, and this, in turn, has showed me that I don't need a lot of the things I once thought I did.
I use my teeth to cut line should I forget my knife. I no longer need gloves to keep a firm grip on slippery fish because I can wrap them in weeds to keep them from slipping from my grasp while removing the hook. I have no real need for waders because I have learned that most of the time I can just go barefoot, and that is simpler and easier, so I have yet to replace my old hip waders I tossed away years ago.
This resourcefulness carries over to parenthood.
I can't tell you how many times I look for something "crucial" to no avail, so a plan b is required or made up on the spot.
Hmm...no play coat to be found? Ok, turn your good coat inside out because who looks at the inside of your coat anyway? We'll launder it and nobody will know the difference.
Boom! Problem solved!
Hmm...no butt cream? What's butt cream anyway? It's petroleum jelly. I have some of that in my tool box.
Hmm...the tab of the diaper ripped off, so now there is no way to use it?
Wrong! Grab some duct tape.
There all better!
Just need to think outside the box a little sometimes.
5.) When to play it Firm or Handle it with care: My most common mistake as an angler is knowing how to play the fish once I have it at the end of my line.
Every fish is different.
Some need a little extra finesse, some need to be firmly guided in, and a good angler recognizes which tactic to use and when.
I am not a good angler. Nine times out of ten I screw it all up. I yank and try to strong arm a fish, only to snap a line, or I play it too loosely and it spits out my fly.
I never seem to get it just right, but occasionally I get it close enough. Those are the moments I live for, and from the years I have spent on the water, those "close enough" moments aren't quite as rare as they used to be.
I am finally starting to put two and two together to recognize what is needed of me based on the situation.
Don't get me wrong, I am by no means getting it "right" even half the time, but I am getting better.
And, I like to think that as time goes on, I am getting better as a father too. I recognize that I am too firm sometimes, and not firm enough others, but I also acknowledge that I will never get it 100% right. All I can hope for is "close enough" and to accept that as long as I land my little fishies, all is right in the world.
6.) When to let go: If you are a catch and release angler, like me, you know that in order to give your fish a fighting chance you have to let it gain enough strength to survive on its own.
You gently hold it in your hands submerged in the cool water, letting it revive, and, before you know it, it starts getting stronger. It starts to kick and squirm a little more from moment to moment, and then, voila, it is practically screaming at you to let it go.
Then it's "Bye bye fish. Good luck!"
As an angler, I do this with ease, and I feel good about it. As a parent, every time my little fishies kick and squirm, begging for a little more room to grow stronger, I find it harder and harder to relax my grasp.
I know that one day I will have to let go and let them swim off on their own. I know that eventually they will be strong enough to leave me standing on the shore, saying "Bye bye fishy. Good luck!"
But, thankfully, that day is not today, and I need not look worriedly towards that time yet. I have plenty to occupy my mind already with just learning to be a better fly fisher and father.
Besides, with any luck, my bratty little fishies won't swim too far off no matter how big they get.