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Devlyn Brooks, Published July 27 2010

Parenting Perspectives: Lessons learned on a lake

For generations, our family has used fishing as a metaphor for life. If you try hard enough, you can explain away just about all of life’s ups and downs using a fishing metaphor. And trust me, my father did. And so did his father before him, and so on.

Becoming a Brooks meant you spent your share of hours sitting on a cold, aluminum boat seat, dressed in rain gear that kept you marginally drier than if you weren’t wearing it, staring at a golf-ball-sized, red-and-white bobber, waiting for it to dive under water. And you’d better be doing it with a smile on your face.

I can still remember my father’s baritone growl pontificating about life through the lens of sitting on a lake while he ate a mushy bologna sandwich, using hands covered in worm bits and fish scales.

“You can learn what you need to know about life right out here fishing,” he’d say, wistfully staring at something on the horizon that I was never quite able to see. “The rest of it you don’t need to learn.”

And as I grew, he seemed to be right.

So, this summer, I was getting ready to share that lifetime’s worth of angling wisdom with my sons, ages 12 and 7. I worked up age-appropriate fishing lectures that explained everything from middle school to girls to zits.

But it’s all gone awry thanks to a sure-bet, can’t-miss fishing hole a buddy told me about this spring. Ever since, the kids have begged me to take ’em fishing, and so all of my wisdom is going to waste because everyone knows you don’t learn anything when the fishing is fun.

Fishing is about rain and bad lunch-box food and tangled lines and lost lures and the one that got away. It teaches you stubborn patience and stick-to-itiveness and how to brood manfully without looking as if you’re really just pouting. At no point is fishing supposed to be about fun.

Unfortunately, after a handful of outings this summer, my kids have learned none of that. At their new favorite fishing hole, we’ve killed ’em every time – during this past weekend’s trip, the boys were throwing back sunfish that would have been trophies in my youth.

Oh, sure, we’ve shared some laughs, and we’ve had some tasty fish dinners this summer. But I still can’t help but feel that I am failing them as a father. How am I steeling them for all of life’s disappointments if they actually catch fish?

“That’s why they call it fishing,” I can still hear my father intone. “If you actually caught anything, they’d call it catching.”

As my oldest son reeled in another pole-bender on Saturday, a silly grin stretched across his face, I had half a mind to drag the kids to another lake, a stinker of a hole where you’d bring home nothing but an empty fish bucket and a sunburn.

But, I didn’t.

Instead, I grabbed the pliers and helped Garrett unhook his latest monster, but not before snapping a few obligatory big-fish photos. Then I baited my son Bug’s hook, cast out my own line again, settled into my camping chair and stared into the horizon.

Maybe those life lessons could wait for another outing, I thought.

Devlyn Brooks works for Forum Communications Co. He lives in Moorhead with his two sons.