I recall the odour of his tackle box sitting on a cement pier that jetted out into Lake Superior. The water was all chop. I was about eight. He hung snelled hooks along a long trot line that he threw out into the lake. The angle became steeper and steeper as it settled. The water was deep. And we sat there. The sun came up. A few other men were out on the quarter mile breakwater. It was cold. There was a wind. No one spoke. I did not speak. We were fishing for yellow perch. We caught nothing. He was not disappointed. I was at peace. We were fishing.
My father died five years ago. We saw little the same over the course of our lives. I wanted a father. He worked. I lived in the bush. He lived indoors. He had his favourites. I welcomed all. He was a capitalist. I gave it all away. He changed later in his life. Radically. Betrayal does that to a person. And I wish that I could say that we became close toward the end of his life. But we didn’t. He couldn’t. There was just something inside of him that kept him…distant. Perpetually.
But early in my childhood we fished. And as an adolescent – when our differences began to become intense – we fished, almost killing one another on a father-son canoe trip. And as I married we fished. He fished here while I fished in SE Asia. And we fished when I returned. And even just before he became so ill that he could not fish any more we went for a final trip north. On an isolated bay on a huge northern lake I took off all my clothes and dove in. He didn’t say a thing…chuckling…grinning. What if a boat load of beautiful women come around that point?, he teased. Then I’ll just have to invite them to come swimming, I replied. Again we were just fishing. And he still did not fish well. But that did not matter. Not one bit. We were fishing.
My mother gave my son his tackle box. And a box of excess fishing gear. But he did not want it. The stuff was too old for him. So it came to me. Last night I opened it all up. And I started working through it. Laying out all of the unused hooks and leaders and weights and bobbers and lures and line and his old crappy tools that he kept in that magical old metal box. There was even a thermometer in there…to measure thermocline I assume. Another novelty bit of fishing wisdom that he heard about but could never get around to applying. And somewhere in the midst of all of it my eyes started to well up. Gradual at first. And then I cried. I just cried. I love you dad. And every time I go fishing I still think of you. And I’m so happy that you took me out and shared at least a bit of your life doing something that you just truly enjoyed doing. Even though you rarely caught. And even though you regularly lost fish off your line. And even though you lost a wealth of lures. And even though you refused to touch a fish with your bare hands. I miss you. I surely do. This and that damned old stinky tackle box. I cleaned it up. I’m keeping it for you by the door along with your old rod and reel.