Fishing for Zen

Fwwwwhhhiiip, veeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwww, PLOP!  That was the sound heard over & over this past weekend at a nearby pond.  It wasn’t the sound of rock “grenades” being hoisted into the air militarily, only to create a mushroom-esque splash and destroy the pristine, glassy calm.  Although, that would have been fun!  Nor was it any sane minded individual braving the crispness of the air to perfect their cannonball off a nearby pier.  It was the sound of dueling fishing poles being cast with anticipation & optimism of landing this year’s big pig bass.

Since 2014, my son and I (he was 4 at the time) have had an ongoing yearly competition on who can catch the biggest bass.  Almost two years into the competition, and my son has already asserted his dominance, winning with a 7+ pounder in 2014, and an almost 6 lb hog in 2015.  If quantity was our key metric I would win hands down, but weight is our only measure.  We even immortalized the 7+ pounder caught by my son, in early December 2014.  The owner of the pond even said it was the biggest he ever saw landed, but that there were monsters maybe twice that size lurking around.  We rushed it to the local taxidermist, and now the trophy catch rests above his headboard to be seen and awed at every time he wakes…and a needling reminder of my loss in that year’s fishing competition every time I enter his room.

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The 7lb. pig he caught!

But the competition, to me, plays second fiddle to the bigger picture…the bonding of a father and son.

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Being a single dad, time spent with my son comes at a premium, and I sometimes feel rushed to fit in everything on our rolling to-do list.  To be honest, even if I had him all the time, I’m not sure it would be enough time to do all the things we like to do.  To teach him all the things I feel he will need as a man later on in life, through play.  Shooting hoops, reading, building Legos, tossing the pigskin, going to the park, and riding the golf cart around town to our favorite eateries, just to name a few.  Sometimes we role play to engage his unbelievably awesome imagination.  Nothing, really, is out of bounds to keep him active and uninterested in TV.  Even the games he plays on the tablet teach him how to think critically, and problem solve through logic, although he doesn’t know the difference.  To him it’s just a game.  Every one of these activities are great, and I am so glad that he enjoys doing them all, but they do not compare to fishing.

To stand, or sit, along the banks with poles in our hands, is to encounter the Zen philosophy.  The Right Concentration i.e. to be in the moment.  In those moments everything is right with the world.  The ripples of a recent cast methodically making their way across the pond to quietly crash upon the shore, one after the other. Hearing the birds singing their tune, or chatting, I imagine, about their superior nest building skills.  The sporadic “gloop” of a bass breaking the water line to seize an unsuspecting bug.

It is in those times our meaningless conversations mean everything.  Topics such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NFL football, zombies, college hoops, to sock monkeys, and platypuses are on the docket.  Some of those discussions end with him alleging, “You’re crazy Dad”.  I may be, but I know he realizes the importance of our fishing too, by the unsolicited way he looks at me and says, “I love you Daddy”.  Some days I feel like my Father of the Year skills align more along the lines of Darth Vader or Peter Griffin, but not at that moment.  In that very moment I know that I am giving my son everything he needs from a father…love & attention.  And in winning (legitimately) our yearly fishing competition, he receives the answer to an age old question of young boys; Am I good enough?  Will I measure up to you, dad?  Will I be the hero?  Yes, son, you are good enough, you will measure up, and you will be the hero.

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I don’t believe that our fishing conversations will change as he gets older, the same topics of sports, women, life, family will just become more in depth.  Fishing with him will always represent hours of Zen to me, and hopefully they will remain as important to him.  Not unlike the movie A River Runs Through It where the main characters find peace, and meaning to their lives through fly fishing in a rural Montana river.

We got skunked the other day.  Didn’t even get a nibble.  Due to the chilly weather, I figured that would be the case before we left.  But that wasn’t the point.  It had been too long since our last trip to the honey hole, and it was time to go.  It made no difference that we didn’t catch the pig of the year bass that day, there are plenty more days for that.  We didn’t leave empty handed though.  No, instead we each came home having caught our limit of Zen moments together, and for me, that means so much more.