Sometimes I think there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who still have their dad around and those who don't.
Now don't get me wrong, I know the aging process is natural and we all have a limited amount of time on this rock that revolves around the sun. What I mean is if we live to a reasonable time, in our old age we will experience the passing of our father. (And our mother. I'm not forgetting Mom here, we are just talking about Dad right now.)
Most all of us who consider ourselves outdoorsmen (that includes the girls, too, remember?) know we owe a great debt to Dad, the guy who took us from a little kid who wanted to go along but got cold a lot, was always hungry and required a lot of special attention to take to the woods and water to go hunting and fishing. It would have been so much easier to leave us at home and just go himself, but he didn't. He was Dad, your father — it was his job to teach us the countless lessons about hunting, fishing, guns and shooting, everything in the outdoors world.
When I grew up (right after the last ice age) I think it was accepted that if your dad was a hunter, you would be, too. I just did it; I never had one thought that it would be otherwise. If I had been left at home, it would have been the same as a beagle hound puppy squalling in the pen when all the others went hunting. But that didn't happen. Like a lot of you out there, my dad took me hunting a lot.
There is no question it changed my life; it would have been different for me if he had not. In recent years it has been remarkable to me to talk to those who came from nonhunting families. Without the automatic plunge into the hunting world, they had to pursue it themselves and find someone to be the mentor, to be the dad-like figure. If anything, I think their desire to hunt and tramp the wild places had to be greater than those who had it thrust upon us.
Our fathers (and other mentors) gave us a gift we can never repay, and most of us don't even recognize the gift to begin with. Dad taught me how to seine for minnows (he called them "minners") set a muskrat trap, squeeze the trigger on a rifle, stand quietly on a rabbit chase and dozens of other things I'm sure I didn't appreciate at the time. I don't think either one of us saw it as any milestone or great undertaking; it's just what we did.
Why are we so often blind to the important things in life and obsessed with the meaningless? I don't know, but if you do, please tell me.
So here it is Father's Day, and being the usual pessimistic, jaded, carbon-based form of life that I am, I tend to look upon the day with about the same amount of indifference as I do some other holidays. Is this just another day someone invented to sell more greeting cards? Maybe not.
I guess I went through the same stages in the relationship with my father and many others did with theirs. When I was very young, it was probably near hero worship, and when I got older, I thought I got a lot smarter than him. In his later years it is entirely possible that my dad and I did not always see eye to eye about everything. I am not proud of that, you understand, and I would give almost anything to change it, but I can't. That is just the way it was.
If there is anything like that going on with you and your dad and you are fortunate enough to still have him around, get off your duff and go do something about it.
If like me your dad has passed on, remember all the good things. Those days the fish really turned on, the day you both got your limit of rabbits, the morning a turkey almost stepped on you. Forget about the other stuff. Why does it matter now? He would want you to remember the shining times.
So I would ask you: Where are you on your journey as a father? Do you need to do some twig bending before the time slips away? If you have a kid or two in your house, I would encourage you to load them up and get them out into the wide world. Go catch some bait, shoot some holes in cans, catch a mess of bluegills or throw rocks in the river. Just go. I would remind you that this does not pertain to only those children you may have a biological connection with. I bet you know a youngin' or two who would love to do any of the above.
Just remember that a long time ago, when the world was a whole lot simpler, there was a man who went out of his way and sacrificed to take you hunting and fishing. In the beginning it would have been a lot easier to leave you at home. He would not have had to deal with tangled lines and cold hands, reminding you to sit still or hearing questions about how far you were going to walk. He took you anyway; he endured it all for you. He did this because, as my dad told me: "I couldn't find a good huntin' buddy, so I decided to raise one."
So if you haven't figured it out yet, you repay the debt by being "Dad" and introducing others to hunting and the outdoors.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.