Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fatherhood: Memories of all these years on the lake

The Beebe family is on our way to Minnesota, for an annual fishing trip. Of all my fatherhood mistakes -- and I've made plenty, no doubt -- this, I feel, is one of my shining moments. I managed to succeed in continuing a tradition that my dad started with me and my siblings. Every summer, for one week or two (and one glorious summer for THREE weeks), the Beebes drive 16-18 hours to northern Minnesota. We fish. We play family games. We fish. We enjoy nature. We fish. We spend quality time together. We fish.

And for most of the years that I have taken my family, the trip has coincided with Father's Day. No place I would rather be on Father's Day, than with my kids on Boy Lake, a little corner of the Earth that my dad taught me to love.

And on this Father's Day weekend, here are a few random moments about our Boy Lake trips, remembering my dad, as well as the more recent memories I've created with my own kids, and with my father-in-law. I have a dream to write a book about this tradition, so this is a very small piece of everything I could say about my love for Boy Lake.

Note: This writing is not meant to overlook the awesomeness of my mom, my wife and my mother-in-law, who all totally bought into these trips and love them as much as the dads; it's just that, well, this is a Father's Day piece. But it's worth mentioning that Dawn grew up taking vacations to Florida beaches, so I'm especially appreciative that she has learned to love this tradition with all her heart.

-- Studying the clouds. My dad never really showed me a lot of silly, or imaginative, sides of him. But when sitting in the boat on a sunny day, he would look up in the clouds and ask me what I see. We would find all varieties of animals in the cloud shapes, each challenging the other to see the same things. In the coming days, I know that I'll be sitting in the boat one day and Natalie or Drew will say, "Hey dad. See that? It looks like a dolphin chasing a poodle." And I'll see it too, of course.

-- Teaching fishing skills. I'm forever thankful that my dad taught me how to fish. He taught me how to absolutely love days on the boat even when we weren't catching, but he taught me some great skills to
actually catch them, too. And I've passed on at least a little bit of that. Several years ago both kids wanted to try their hand at fishing for bass with plastic worms. I really wasn't sure they were old enough yet to grasp that method, but we ventured out to a location where the bass frequently are, and I explained the requirement to be patient and fish it slow, and to let them get the worm in their mouth, to WAIT before setting the hook. The joy on their faces when they hooked one and fought it to the boat was priceless.

-- Watching wildlife. This is a fishing trip. But it's so much more. It's watching the bald eagles fly overhead and remembering the freedom that they represent. It's listening to the eerie call of the loons off in the distance, and the up close viewing of them as they swim near the boat. It's the working of the beaver, him swimming along the shore and then out away from it so that he can slap his tail on the water's surface to let us know we're a little too close for his comfort. And one year, while in the boat fishing 40 feet from shore with Natalie, we saw a young muskrat. Natalie started imitating its sound, and he started swimming toward us. I'm not sure if he thought Nat's sound was his momma or what, but he swam all the way to us, swimming literally right beside the boat, along one side before realizing his mistake and turning away.

-- The small-town life. The nearest town is Longville, which hangs its hat on being the "Turtle Racing Capital of the World." Seriously. Turtle racing. Every Wednesday, the main street is closed to traffic so hundreds of vacationers can race turtles, 10 at a time, with the winner of each heat being the turtle that is the first to get from a small inner circle painted on the street to a larger outer circle. Dads -- my dad when I was a kid, and me and my father-in-law for my own kids -- sacrifice an afternoon of fishing to watch the children race turtles.

-- The sunrises, and sunsets. When you're that far north in the summer, the days are long. There's nothing as
breathtaking as watching the sun come up over the lake at 5:30 a.m., unless it's seeing the more vibrant colors of a sunset after 9 p.m., reflecting forever on the water. As a child, I took endless pictures of ducks, especially baby ducks, on these vacations. As an adult, I can't get enough photos of the sun over the lake at various stages of the day. And I fondly remember those early mornings in the boat with dad, struggling to stay awake while fishing, him drinking coffee from the thermos he took out with him, both of us snacking on a Snickerdoodle cookie.

-- The weather. There's something about weather when you're at the lake. I guess it's because you can see so much more of the sky. Watching the storm clouds roll in, and ideally veer away from you so that you can enjoy their appearance without being forced off the water, is a treat. Laying in bed listening to the rain hit the cabin roof. Seeing rainbows arch overhead, with a much more real chance of seeing the pot of gold at the end. One of the best weather memories? Being in the boat with father-in-law Bob one evening and both us looking at each other wondering, "What is that sound?" We quickly realized it was the rain line marching through the woods, getting closer every second, and soon enough dumping buckets on us.

-- Those special catches. Like my dad, I enjoy all varieties of fishing, and catching all kinds of fish. We're bass fishermen first and foremost. But I distinctly remember the smile on my dad's face when we would catch bluegill so big our outstretched hands could barely handle them. The northern pike are rarely as big now as they were when my family fished this same lake in the 1960s and 70s. But no matter the size, one thing is for sure: Bob will not allow his skin to touch a pike. He'll shake it off the hook if he can, or grab it with a rag if he can't get a companion in the boat to give him an assist. I grew up fishing this lake believing it did not have smallmouth bass in it. A few years ago, a guy more familiar with the lake than me assured me that there were some, and then the next year, Natalie made her dad super proud by catching one. And the largemouth bass. The moment a bass breaks the surface of the water and explodes on a topwater lure is a fishing moment that never gets old. I'm convinced my dad didn't fish plastic worms not because he didn't think they were effective, but because he loved the thrill of topwater fishing. And to this day, I think of dad when twitching a popper across the water, waiting for the explosion.

Happy Father's Day, ya'll. I'm going fishing with my kids.

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