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Location: Midwest, United States

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Fishing Rod



My father and I came to be tightly entwined by fishing line.

* * *

I was five years old, badly sunburned skinny legs hanging off a dubious dock. I held a plastic dime store “rod and reel” in my hands. In the murky water below, dangled a bare hook (said “fisherman” not yet clear on the concept of “bait”).

I’d be hard pressed to guess who was more surprised, that adolescent largemouth bass or the tow-haired boy, as we found ourselves engaged in a battle of survival or conquest. After much shrieking, heart-pounding excitement and tortured anxiety, the bass ended up at my feet. I had become a true fisherman.

My father celebrated my hard-won status.

This constitutes my most vivid childhood memory. It came near the end of our first family vacation, one of only four (poor people don’t vacation much).

* * *

Poor people don’t vacation much, but poor people do go fishing. And so it was that, thereon after, my father would devote two or three weekends each summer to go fishing. With his son.

We didn’t fish for sport. It was more a matter of subsistence. Well, no. Not really. For my father it was something more than that. Something I didn’t understand for many years. For him it was a refuge from toil, an escape from urban grit and harsh reality.

It came to be something even greater than that: a father’s exploration of his own flesh and blood...a son’s divination of his father. But that metamorphosis was decades in the making.

I was pretty much useless as a fishing partner in my early youth. My father only had one rod, one reel and this one son who asked lots of questions and traipsed clumsily (albeit enthusiastically) behind. Even so, he indulged me by inviting me along and he would explain patiently what he was doing, all the whys and ways of a fisherman.

I grew fast. I grew strong. My father brought me a “proper” rod and reel. And I would row the leaky rowboats gladly. There was nothing
I loved more than fishing with my father. And as we watched our bobbing bobbers or flung our lures out onto the water, I would pray that he would be the first to catch a fish. As I came to know, he was praying the same for me.

* * *

There’s no need for me to relate all the “fish stories.” There are many. Those two or three weekends per year added up over the decades. But, understand, those weekends were never about the fish. My father and I had become entwined in fishing line.

We sat in boats and contemplated each other. Delighted in each other. Explored each other’s heart and soul. With every line cast, we came to understand each other, increment by blessed increment.

I came to find my own way in the world. I came to money. I came to my own mistakes, my own successes, my adulthood. As I prospered, I gave back to my father a small fraction of what he had given me. I gifted him with fine rods and finer reels. I gifted him tackle boxes filled with dazzling lures. I brought to him fishing motors and “fish locators” and fishing paraphernalia of every imaginable sort and stripe. It was pure selfishness on my part. I simply wanted to go fishing with my dad.

And fish we did. Weekend after infrequent weekend. Year after year. Decade after decade. It came to be that neither of us could muster much enthusiasm for fishing with anyone other than each other. We each derived great joy from that.

* * *

I’m the sort who likes working with his hands. More so as my career became an intellectual pursuit. In my fourth decade, I decided I wanted to build custom fishing rods. Truth be told, my one desire was to fashion a gift for my father. I took to studying the rod-builder’s craft. I acquired/assembled the tools necessary to accomplish that. I built a few rods for myself, and a few as gifts for others, as I worked towards a respectable proficiency. I was working towards something that meant all the world to me. I embarked on the mightiest challenge of all: to create a fishing rod for my father unlike any other.

I understood his preferences. I knew his favorite colors and the size of his hands. I purchased the finest carbon-fiber rod blank available, gold-plated line guides, gold-plated reel seat, fine line wraps and high-grade cork, walnut and ivory to serve as luxurious inlays. I set myself to the task of shaping/crafting the handle form-fitted to his fingers.
I found the innate spine of the rod blank, carefully calculated the spacing of the line guides and wrapped each one in place with the most intricate line wrappings my own fingers could muster. I then purchased the finest gold-plated spinning reel available.

I presented both to my father one Christmas.

* * *

Years later, we were fishing together near his lakefront retirement home. His lure had snagged on submerged brush. Having lived in poverty for all too many years, the retrieval of a snagged lure was a matter of great import. I worked to position the boat so that he could lever the rod to pull the lure free. The hooks were set deep. He pulled on the rod mightily with no success. He tried harder as I angled the boat in a different direction.

I heard the “snap.”

I turned and saw my father’s face. It was a visage of horror, terrible pain. I swear, his face looked exactly the same as the face I had witnessed that night three years earlier when my parents rushed into the emergency room and saw me lying bloody on a table after my motorcycle accident. Some faces are seared in memory.

And here was that very same visage, again. And a broken fishing rod.

Face ashen, my father was far beyond consolation.

I’ll build you a new rod. I’ll build you something even better” I said.

I’m sorry, so sorry” was all he could say.

I did my best to put his heart at ease the rest of the day and for the remainder of my visit.

What I remember and can never forget, is how much he had come to love that fishing rod.

* * *

He died, unexpectedly, three months later.

* * *

22 Comments:

Blogger Maria said...

Holy cow. This was brilliantly written and I was riveted from beginning to end.

I loved to fish with my Da, not because I love fishing, but because I loved sitting in companionable silence with him. I have yet to find anyone that can replace him.

Sun Mar 28, 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Ah, Maria. You understand.

I'm not surprised.

Sun Mar 28, 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

Oh Jonas... what a heart warming and heart wrenching story... He must have felt he had destroyed you when that rod broke. My heart jumped at the word "snap"...

Life is often not about what you do, but who you are with...

Sun Mar 28, 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

"My heart jumped at the word 'snap'..."

So did mine.

And, yes, Ponita, Life is very much all about who you are with. Those I chose to be with most are now all gone or otherwise departed.

My life begins anew. What's left of it.

Sun Mar 28, 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Kass said...

Such a beautiful story. I'm in awe of the deep relationship you had with your father and your ability to recall and honor it. To bestow such love and have it graciously accepted is something rare.

Sun Mar 28, 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Kass. This post was months, years, in the making. It was typed through a torrent of tears. Salt searing my cornea.

Yeah. My dad. I loved him. Love him with every breath...still...forever.

Sun Mar 28, 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

Wishing you someone new to choose to be with.

Each day, life begins anew... xx

Sun Mar 28, 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

It's so nice to read of fathers and sons and liked and loved one another.

Sun Mar 28, 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I came nowhere close to being as fine a man as my father, Dee. I tried. Believe me, I tried. In some ways, I was more gifted. In some ways, not. His was a soul forged in the crucible of hardship and the privation of horrific war. He suffered more than I could ever comprehend. He stood up to it all (as did my mother).

Me? I stumbled. Faltered. Crumbled under far less hardship.

Sun Mar 28, 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

Jonas, you're a fine man in a different way than your dad. His life was not the same as yours... you both drew your strengths from different streams... Please don't be so hard on yourself. I'd bet all the tea in China he thought of you as a fine and strong man and was very proud of you.

Sun Mar 28, 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Jonas, to compare is not the goal, to strive is. We are given mentors and heros not to measure ourselves by, but illuminate the way forward. To have the gift of love by father is a bright candle.

Sun Mar 28, 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Woman in a Window said...

oh jonas, jezuz, this is one of the most beautiful pieces i've ever read. there's not a word wrong. and the beauty of it is that you lived it.

this should live beyond these pages just because things like this deserve to live beyond these pages.

i am quiet as i leave.

xo
erin

Mon Mar 29, 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Cheesy said...

What a day... I woke to wind and rain and bluster all around me as I lay here with my leg pointed to the sky...and I decided to start my day here. Thank you so much for sharing this J~ My heart is weeping. Not only with the touching story of your father but the sweet memories it stirred up deep within me. My kids- but boys especially- loved fishing with their dad. You churned up warm visions of each and every one of the kids' first catch. I was grinning through my tears. After he passed, my oldest stepped into the "let's go fishin" shoes. I hope my children have warm memories of those moments with him. I know I sure do.

Mon Mar 29, 09:42:00 AM  
OpenID foldingfields said...

My son fishes with his dad, nearly every weekend. Now I know what they're doing!
I used to pretend to be interested in model trains so I could spend some time with my dad, his hobbies. However, I never had to pretend to be interested in music, his real passion.
Love your words. xx

Mon Mar 29, 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Saint Dolores said...

hello, long time lurker first time commenter....I wanted to ask, are you published anywhere?

Mon Mar 29, 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Chris T. said...

Hey Jon! It's me Chris. This is a great, great story! Having known your dad and having known you too for a gazillion years now - yikes! - this was particularly moving. Maybe too because I had a similar relationship with my own dad - sharing rod and reel time with him seemed to be our most profound and often our only time to really connect.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... you need to share your words beyond this blog. This is beyond exceptional. I drop by here occasionally and find writing that consistently reads like fine poetry. While there are many decent writers out there, it is rare indeed that someone can pierce the deepest recesses of the heart like you seem to do so naturally. Beautiful!

Tue Mar 30, 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Oh, my! It appears I struck a nerve with this entry. I guess it's not that surprising. Does not every child crave to bond with parent? Those of us most fortunate, most blessed, forge ties/memories unique and everlasting. I'm delighted so many of you have. I mourn for any and all who were denied that special grace...that sacrament.

I'd normally try to respond to each comment with a sentence or two, but the commentary proferred is profound in its own right and wouldn't be well served by a quick quip. You've prolly given me fodder for a future entry or two.

For the record: I've not been published. That's not a notion I've ever given any consideration. My intent remains the same as stated in my very first entry posted almost five years ago. Methinks there's truth in the observation:

"It's better to write for yourself and lose your public, than to write for your public and lose your Self."

But I would be remiss is not saying hello to St. Dolores. Welcome! No need for lurkers here. You're among friends.

And, finally...

OMIGAWD!!! Brother Chris! It blows me away that you made an appearance. Let me describe you to my blogger buddies: We've been friends...close friends...for not quite a gazillion years, but purt near a half-century. People should know that you're a superb athlete, musician, artist and friend. It tickled me no end to read your comment. Yes. We understand each other. We've trod common soil.

Tue Mar 30, 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Selma said...

I have often pondered my place in the scheme of things while fishing. When the rod broke I actually gasped because I appreciate the significance of a fishing rod, the underlying symbolism.

A powerful and moving story. You can write, my friend!

Tue Mar 30, 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Selma. And if I could write as well as you, then (maybe, just maybe) I'd consider myself a writer.

As matters stand, I consider myself a "pondercator".

Tue Mar 30, 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger anna said...

So that's where you get it... your father.

I cried when I read this. Although I never went fishing with my father, this post still brought him to the forefront. I miss him terribly.

Thank you for sharing this and for sharing it so beautifully.

Wed Mar 31, 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger PattiKen said...

Oh, you were such a good son. And your father was a good dad. This just resonates with the love you had for each other.

My favorite memory of my father is from 1956. The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the NY Yankees in the World Series, in what was to be their last World Series game as a Brooklyn team and the game in which they lost the Series. Dad was a Brooklyn boy and the most avid Dodgers fan you could hope to find (he never forgave them the betrayal of moving to LA). Dad called my school and told them I was sick (it did not escape my notice that he had probably lied to a nun!), and we went fishin' while we listened to the game on a transistor radio (remember those?). It was the most fun I ever had with Dad. I even learned a few new swear words.

Sun Mar 27, 11:43:00 PM  
Blogger Top Spinning ReelS said...

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Wed Jun 07, 10:24:00 PM  

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