My Dad and I have never been close. Not that we are not close, if you understand the difference. Some Dads and their sons spend scads of time together and play sports and all that cool stuff you see fathers and sons doing in commercials for soap or cars or cigarettes or whatever. I don’t recall that ever being the case.
Growing up in a blue collar family there wasn’t much free time to do all those father/son things. Dad would wake up well before 5 a.m., get dressed and shaved as my glassy-eyed mother prepared his breakfast and lunch pail, then out the door for the 20-minute commute to work a few towns away. Promptly at 4:30 p.m. he would shut down his lathe and make the commute back home, arriving as dinner was being put on the table. After dinner I would scavenge any remaining homemade cookies from his lunch pail, despite the fact that they always tasted a bit like fiberglass.
Evenings were spent recovering from the work day in front of the TV before going to bed early so he could do the whole thing all over again before sunrise the next day. Weekends were more often than not spent making repairs to “this old house.” An occasional run to the ice cream stand (the one with the cow on the roof) were a treat. Next thing I knew I was off to college and Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle was a distant reminder.
But then my son arrived and it was another day.
Dad and I took the boat out on Lake Winnipesaukee. Just the two of us. I steered the small outboard motor as he put the hooks on the fishing lines. Picking a spot off the point, we repeatedly released the worm-fed barbs into the cold waters. To be honest, I don’t recall catching anything more significant than a few yellow perch, and not particularly impressive ones at that. The fish weren’t that important.
What was important was the connection. For the first time I felt connected to my Dad. It’s not that we had long emotional talks, sharing our innermost feelings with each other. Not even close. Our conversations were probably superficial, focused on whether to try this lure or that live bait or the vagaries of our respective work situations. I’m sure we took turns rattling off lines from the Bert and I records (“Yah cahnt get theyah from heyah,” in our best downeast Maine accents). Whatever conversation we had was comfortable, natural. For three or four hours it was just us feeling like a Dad and his son. I found even in the silence between the occasional strikes we were connected deep in our souls, wordlessly understanding the trials and tribulations that challenged us, and the respect for each that gave us strength.
Even now I recall with fondness that day my Dad and I went “drowning worms.” It helped me appreciate all my father had done to provide for me even in those years I hadn’t noticed. Especially in those years I hadn’t noticed. Both he and my mother, despite us being “poor” (as my older brother once emphatically recalled), have shown me what true integrity and personal value means.
I remain deeply connected to my Dad even though we only see each other once or twice a year. He represents to me all that is good in the world, and thoughts of him bring me calmness when all around me seems to be seeking chaos.
If I live my life the way I want it to be, I’m going to be like you, Dad. You know I’m going to be like you. Thank you for showing me the way.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.