Fishing with my father as a child is something I will always remember. He would take my mom, me and my brother out on his Formula cabin cruiser boat, where he was captain of the world, and we would anchor in the Rappahannock River; or when the water was calm he would take us all the way out to the Chesapeake Bay, and we would sit with our lines in the water waiting for a nibble.
My dad taught us how to rest the line on our fingers next to the reel so that we could feel a tug when there was a fish. He showed us how to jerk the line back to set the hook, and he showed us how to wind in the reel and keep the line taut so we didn’t lose our catch. When I was too squeamish to bait my hook or take off the slimy fish, Dad would do it for me. Our days on the boat fishing with dad comprise some of my favorite memories from childhood into my adult years, so this is a tradition I wanted to pass on to my son.
In 2007, when I told my parents I would be having a baby, my father, then 73 years old, had tears in his eyes. He said he never thought he would be a grandfather, and he was overjoyed. Once he dried his eyes and began to look ahead to the idea of having a grandson, he began anticipating all the good times we would have, and teaching his grandson to fish. “I hope I make it to see that boy turn 10,” he said.
Dad had been a hard-working man all of his life, but his strong-but-tired body — that he kept in shape working out three times a week at the gym into his 80s — was starting to fail him. He had to quit tennis and golf when he snapped a bicep muscle, and his gait had gotten slower and more unsteady with the years. But his biggest fear was Alzheimer’s, the disease that had taken his mother and his sister.
Unfortunately, in the following years, his worst fears were realized, and my dad slipped into Alzheimer’s, which worsened quickly, leaving him unable to take out his boat. Even though he surely missed being out on his boat, steering into open water, he still enjoyed fishing at a local lake with his grandson. As my father’s dexterity and mental capacities deteriorated, it was my turn to bait his hook.
Sadly, in October 2014, my dad died, two months after my son’s seventh birthday.
It will be two years ago this month that my father passed away. My son has just turned nine years old, and already he’s taking after his grandfather with his love of boating and fishing.
My mother has kept our family’s cottage on the Rappahannock River, and it has become my son’s favorite place on Earth. It is the place where my father, known to my son as Papa Jack, kept his boat, named happy Jack, and the launching place for our many fishing trips over the past several decades.
The boathouse and pier still stand strong after many years, like the memory of my father and our fishing adventures. Now, the pier has become a fun place to play, where my son loves to leap from a running start into Broad Creek, which runs in front of the cottage.
Last year, our family took my father’s ashes to Deltaville, where we celebrated his memory and we sifted his ashes into the waters where he loved to boat and fish, from the end of the dock of his boat house, that he built with his own hands.
Now two years after his passing, the boat house sits empty. Dad’s last boat, a Slickcraft cabin cruiser, is enjoying new life with another family that took it out to explore new waters in Maryland.
Meanwhile, after 17 years of living in Los Angeles, 2,600 miles away from my birth state of Virginia, I have moved home with my son. We are now able to travel as often as we wish to the cottage in Deltaville, where we can continue in the tradition of my father by sharing fishing and boating together as a family.
While it may be a while before I can afford a ship like my father’s, my son and I have started small, with our first boat, an inflatable Airhead Angler Bay, a six-person craft perfect for our fishing excursions in the creek. Outfitted with his luckiest rod and reel, my son dropped his line on our maiden voyage and declared, “I love being on this boat.”
I provided the engine power with two oars, and we spent our first afternoon out on the boat taking in the sunshine while my son asked me to tell him more fish stories about my past fishing expeditions with my dad. As the day winded down, and I paddled toward shore, just like my father, my son did not want to go in yet. Like my father, he could fish all day, and into the night if I let him. I told him, don’t worry, this is just the beginning. This is the continuation of an old family tradition for us. There will be many more days like this.