All of the fathers and sons in our small community were getting together for a camping trip on Father’s Day weekend. I did not yet have a son of my own, and even though all men were invited, I thought I would feel slightly awkward going by myself. However, just before the day arrived, I received a call from one of the divorced mothers. Her five-year-old son was feeling left out not having a father to go with, and she was hoping I would take him.
I worked out my schedule and picked him up at the appointed time. As we drove to the campground, I indirectly learned how hard the divorce had been on C.J. Though his mother had custody of the children, and his father had pretty much walked out of their lives, all he could talk about was how great his father was. He was the only boy in the family, living with his mother and three sisters, and I could sense how desperately he wanted his father to be the kind of man he dreamed of.
He told me tall tales about how his father was the best hunter in the world. He increased the size of the stories even more when he reached the subject of fishing.
“In fact,” he added, “there are some ponds that my father and I fish at, and we catch fish that are about thirty-leven pounds!”
“Really!” I exclaimed, trying to act as if I believed him.
“Yes! And they were all this long,” he said holding his hands out as far as he could reach.
“Wow! I have never caught a fish that big. Maybe you should show me where it is and we could fish there sometime.”
He promised if we ever passed it he would let me know.
That evening, the dads all sat around the campfire and told stories while the boys were off playing steal the flag. The next day, we were up early for a wonderful breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes. C.J. didn’t eat much more than four cups of hot chocolate.
I had promised him a day of fishing, so we headed off to a small creek which had always been good for catching something. All the way there I listened to him tell me about the great fisherman his father was. I just smiled and let him talk.
When we arrived, I quickly baited our hooks. We had no sooner dropped the lines into the water than C.J. was off exploring. His attention span was probably about half a second as he darted here and there, only returning to his pole to wonder why he had not yet caught a fish.
“If I was with my dad, we probably would have caught fifty-ten or more by now.”
I carefully played my line, and it wasn’t long before I had a fish. While he wasn’t looking I pulled it in and made sure the hook was set well. I then tossed the fish and line back into the water.
“Hey, C.J.,” I called, “how about you and I switch poles for a while?”
He agreed, but it still took me a while to coax him to turn his attention to the pole. When he finally checked it, he was ecstatic to find the fish. All morning I switched him poles until he had “caught” five good size brook trout. But when he started trying to teach me the proper way to catch a fish, I decided it was time I pulled in a few of my own.
At lunch time, we had a pretty good mess of fish, and it was time to head home. He was sleepy and happy, and talked more about fishing than about his father. However, as we passed the giant septic ponds for the local town, he excitedly sat up in his seat. He became exuberant and bounced up and down as he pointed out the window.
“There they are! Those are the ponds where my dad always takes me fishing and we catch the big fish! Let’s stop and go fishing there!”
I, of course, knew they could not be the ponds where his dad took him fishing, but I didn’t want to burst his bubble, so I simply asked him what kind of fish they caught there.
“Oh.” he said, “I think my dad called them carp.”
As the overwhelming scent of the septic odors wafted across the breeze and floated inside the open window of my pickup truck, I smiled.
“Actually, I think you might have gotten a couple of the letters switched around.”
“Well, can we stop here and fish?” he asked, his face beaming with the pride he desired in his father.
“Probably not,” I answered, as I continued to drive on by. “I think there are certain things that a boy should experience only with his father.”
EAJune 21, 2014
I often find myself in the role of substitute mother to various kids in my life. I appreciate your humor, and how you handled the situation. Your column always entertains and edifies.
Charles NickelJune 18, 2014
Perhaps a column of a humorous nature is not the right place, but the thought occurred to me about how you felt about being that substitute father, if you felt you were doing some good, or if you empathized with mothers of sons everywhere, who fight a lonely battle without a father to help. If you were to be part of that boy's life more often, just think of the good results that may occur.