November 27, 2016

It’s not about the fish

Me and my Dad (late 1970s?) admiring our catch
Usually around Father’s Day dads are often described using flattering words that appear on refrigerator magnets—heroes, teachers, providers, role models, beer drinkers, and BBQ masters. My brother and I are blessed with a great dad. This post is about the last part of my summer trip home in August 2016 when I went fishing and camping with my Dad and Steve-O at the annual father-son weekend trip in Frontenac Provincial Park

These father-son August weekend gatherings first started over three decades ago with a group of young dads who worked together and decided to take an annual fishing/camping trip to spend time with their sons. My uncle Pat introduced Dad and Stephen to it after I had left home for Japan, but I have enjoyed both times I have been able to go with them. It’s a way to bond with my Dad and maintain the bonds to my Canadianness.
How does it work? All the "elders" (the original young dads), their sons and grandsons form up vehicle convoys and head out. They meet for a casual greeting and beer at a favored gas station along the way. The convoy arrives at the park’s campsite registration office. No vehicle access—you either hike or paddle to the camping areas. Put in the canoes, load ‘em up with gear, grub and beer, and head off on Big Salmon Lake. (The lake's name alone would make Tom Thompson proud.) What campsite is selected depends on the number of participants. The two times I’ve gone on the trip the father-son group has numbered somewhere between 15-20 dudes. 
We sell these weekends to the womenfolk in our lives by emphasizing the importance of fathers spending time with their sons. The relationship a boy has with his father greatly shapes the man he will become in the future. Camping, canoeing and fishing allow you to spend some needed one-on-one time with your old man. There’s no overt face-to-face “talking about their feelings” (not that there’s anything wrong with that…nod to Seinfeld here). It’s much easier to impart life lessons to your kids when you’re doing something side by side, and just let the talk flow naturally as you cast a fishing line or tinker with tools, set up tents, or light camp fires.

Most of the time on these father-son outings the action involves a fair amount of beer drinking among the adults. And there is definitely nothing wrong with that. So the basic line of activity goes like this:
Paddle out to campsite. Set up the tent, tarp and cooler. Quench thirst. Maybe drop a line in from the shore, maybe go for a swim. Uncap, quench thirst, repeat. This past August, the first day on site was wet. It rained overnight. I was bunking with my polymath cousin Mike, his friend Mitch and assorted kids. The rain delayed things but eventually the skies brightened – and thus did our mood -- and I went fishing in the canoe with Dad for several hours on Big Salmon Lake. I caught six bass but they were all too small to keep. About the same level of success for the Old Man. 

Some random thoughts I scribbled down:
- The assembled group changes slightly every year but they are all great guys from every walk of life.
- Chili for dinner one night, beer battered fish the other. Yum!
- I spoke a lot about Nissan cars with the guys—our common ground for conversation. Some chatter about the Toronto Blue Jays. I can talk with real live Blue Jays fans, not just listen to Mike Wilner’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan podcasts from halfway around the world.
- Dark nights and stars above, campfires, quiet, and unhurried conversation which starts with who caught what fish and where.

- I got up at 0530 to take in the morning sun and absorb the quiet. I make a note to self about modern working life defined by 24/7 connectivity and the tyranny of passwords.

- More fishing with Dad; Steve and I get equal time. Dad needles me: “You gotta keep the rod, up. Constant tension on the line.” I am a father myself, well into my mid-40s...and you gotta laugh, because regardless of age or life stage fathers cannot help but continue to dispense wisdom in the form of mild critique. I love my Dad.
- Pancake breakfast on the day we go back to real life. Dad’s spicy sausages. I take a break from the tent and gear tear down to read about Dirk Pitt’s sea adventures in a Clive Cussler thriller while I lean against a fine-smelling cedar tree.
- Bro Bonding: Went out with Steve-O in the canoe. What a great person. We canoe into the headwinds. Neither of us are coureur des bois. But this time we did not tip over and soak his iPod. Progress! 

- We canoe back to the dock/access point. Everyone does a methodical and logical tear down, say goodbyes, and pack our cars for the trip home. Steve-O heads off in the Impala, I go back with Dad in his new Nissan Maxima and we stop at the Dairy Queen in Carleton Place for manly vanilla cones (no sprinkles, please, we're men), hit the Beer Store, and cap the trip with a dinner at Shawarma Palace in Britannia.
- I savor a final Bud Light and watch the Jays one last time that evening. I am on the plane back to Japan the next morning. 

So, these father-son outdoor adventures are about much more than fishing!

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