From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul


The interests of childhood and youth are the interests of mankind.

Edmund Storer Janes

I’ve always loved to fish with my children. When I’ve been with them, especially my young daughter Stephanie, the sport has served mainly as a backdrop for an endless stream of questions she has asked me throughout the years.

I realized Stephanie had a penchant for off-the-wall questions when she was four and we took her to see Niagara Falls. After driving five hours and depositing our bags in our hotel, we walked to the falls and were mesmerized by their beauty. I asked Stephanie what she thought of one of nature’s greatest views, and she replied, “Is this all we’re gonna do, watch this water go over the hill?”

And so her inquiries would begin early on at the fishing hole. “Daddy, if you could be a bird, which one would you be? Daddy, if I catch a big fish, can I cut him open and get my worm back? Daddy, can I have a boa constrictor?” And on and on.

Stephanie’s attention span wasn’t very long, especially on our early trips. If she didn’t catch a bluegill after ten minutes, she would wander away to the playground in the park where we fished. I would push her on the swings, then coax her back to the pond with vague promises of catching the Big One. And then, soon enough, the questions would come again. “Daddy, are there sharks in this pond? Daddy, how do tornadoes start up? Daddy, how old are you? Nine?”

These expeditions were precious moments in our relationship, for as she grew older, I felt things change too quickly. During these fishing excursions, I willed time to slow down so I could enjoy them all the more because I noticed the questions were changing, too. “Dad, how come the boys in my class are so weird? Dad, does it hurt the worm when you cut it in half? Dad, can I be a storm chaser when I grow up? The rain doesn’t bother me, just the lightning.”

I was a police officer, and early one morning I was called to the bank of the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh for a DOA. The victim, an elderly man, had been found at a popular fishing spot by a fellow fisherman at around 6:30 A.M. The victim was lying face up on the bank, a rod and reel propped up on a rock with the line in the water and a bucket full of live minnows by his side. I secured the area after medics verified he had no vital signs.

I spent about twenty minutes alone with the victim until the coroner arrived. I took his wallet from the rear pocket of his fishing jeans—I knew these were his fishing jeans because there were stains on the upper thighs from years of him wiping his hands on them when no rag was available. From the looks of these jeans, he had been a fisherman for a long time. The contents of his wallet revealed the man was from Pittsburgh, right across the river.

As I bent down to replace the wallet, I noticed a slight smile on his face as he stared up at me. I said a small prayer for him, glad that this elderly fellow passed away doing something it appeared he enjoyed. He had one last visit to his fishing spot, one last cast. A slight smile spread across my face.

In the past, I’ve been given sage advice from parents of preteens that I should appreciate these inquisitive fishing outings with my daughter while I’m still relevant in her grand scheme of the universe. In little ways, I’ve been feeling my importance slipping away already. I’ve given up answering the phone at home; it’s Stephanie’s hotline now, and friends call constantly to check up on what has happened since the last time they talked fifteen minutes earlier. I have to make an appointment a week in advance to get on the computer.

I recently took Stephanie fishing. Of course, as is our tradition, we had to stop at the grocery store to load up on fishing essentials such as bubble gum, Sweet Tarts, Pepsi and, yes, even bait. Sitting with her on the shore of the lake, I couldn’t help but notice again how grown up she’s becoming. In a lull of conversation, mostly one-sided with me doing the listening, I thought about the fisherman I found on the riverbank. I leaned back in my fishing chair and looked up, asking myself a question, Do you think he’s up there, looking down with that smile of his? I answered my own question. Yeah, he’s telling me to hold onto these fishing days with my daughter for as long as I can.

“Dad, do you, like, think I’d make a good veterinarian? Dad, don’t you think *NSYNC are better than the Beatles? Dad, are we rich?”

Absolutely, Honey, beyond your wildest imagination.

Danny Dugan

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