My Dad and I haven’t always gotten along. We’ve butted heads a lot over the years. He hasn’t been a perfect father, but we’re well matched – I haven’t always been the perfect kid, either. But I’ve come to realize that he’s always done the best he could and he’s always tried. In some ways, I think that’s more important than perfection. Last year, I wrote a tribute piece for my Dad in honor of his retirement party. Since Father’s Day is coming up, I thought I’d re-post it.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot of things from my dad – for instance, if you want to get a malfunctioning boat motor to work better, you swear at it. A lot. For the record, this also works for computers and sewing machines. I can’t tell you how often I’ve cursed out a piece of machinery while fondly remembering childhood fishing trips.
In addition to a really colorful vocabulary, I’ve learned some others things from him along the way. Like most important things in life, those bits of wisdom didn’t come with flashing neon arrows pointing to them and signs that said, “Hey dumbass, this is important. Pay attention.” These bits of wisdom arrived in everyday conversion, and in true to cliché fashion, I didn’t realize I was learning anything until much later.
Every summer, Dad would take me, Tim and Grandma on a week-long fishing trip to Boot Lake in the UP. Inevitably, Tim would cast his line over Grandma’s, trying to fish where she was because she was catching them and he wasn’t. Dad always said the same thing. “Fish can swim.”
At the time, I remember thinking, “Well yeah…they’re fish. That’s kinda what they do,” and completely missing the point. Fishing requires work and patience. A lot of patience, but the end result is usually worth it – much like anything else worth doing. If you give up before you’re finished with something, you never know the satisfaction of having completed it. If you take too many shortcuts, you’re likely to miss out on something important. So yeah – fish can swim – be patient and enjoy the journey while you’re waiting for them to bite. Your time will come.
I was once asked about the most memorable piece of advice I’d ever gotten from my Dad. I didn’t have to think hard or long – it just popped into my head. “You can always use a good piece of rope.” The person looked at me like I was insane – in fact, she said, “What the hell kind of advice is that.”
I can’t tell you how often I heard that phrase growing up – probably because there was always something that needed tying down or fixing. I’m positive that there were plenty of times he would have liked to tie down us kids.
This past winter the lock on my trunk froze and I couldn’t close the stupid thing. I couldn’t drive with it unlatched, because it kept flying up and obscuring my vision. I wished I’d had a good piece of rope. Instead, the only thing I could find was a lousy piece of lavender embroidery floss and let me tell you, even quadrupled, it doesn’t come close to a good piece of rope.
As I stood there in the freezing sleet, I realized several things. A.) Dad was right – you really always can use a good piece of rope. B.) The good piece of rope is just about the perfect metaphor – with the right tools for the job, you can pretty much accomplish anything.
My dad has almost always had the right tools for the job and if he didn’t, he knew who he could barrow them from. Most importantly he always got the job done. Now Dad, it’s your job is to relax and let the fish swim. However, it’s probably a good idea to keep a good piece of rope handy.