Should Dads Still Teach Kids to Fish?

Every Father’s Day I ask myself this question

Paul Greenberg

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“Colorful fish-lure for spinning on a white background” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Forty-odd years ago, while aboard a fishing boat with my father on Long Island Sound, I felt a pull on my line like none I’d ever felt before. And then another. And another still. The wild world had hit my line with all its abundance. I reeled hard and with a crazy swing I swept my multi-hooked rig loaded with five big mackerel in a wide arc over the rail until the whole bloody mess landed with a chaotic thud. I had no care about what I would do with all these fish that I had killed in one haul. Whether I would eat them or bury them in the garden or feed them to my mother’s cat. What mattered was that I had caught them and they were all mine. Except for one, which had gone missing.

“Wait,” I said kneeling down and searching the deck. “Where’s the fifth mackerel?”

“It’s right here,” my father replied from a crouching position. “It’s here in my back.”

I followed my line to its end and saw that the fifth mackerel, along with a large silver lure, was indeed impaled in my father’s shoulder. He’d ducked, but I’d nailed him all the same.

“Sorry, Dad.”

“Just tell the mate to come over and take the hook out.”

This Father’s Day I find myself thinking of this scene because it pretty much sums up the way dads taught their kids to fish back when the natural world seemed rich. In my case it was my parents’ divorce that started the process. My father was a hard-working doctor of the late Mad Men era who logged long hours away from home. Many of the details of how to keep children productively occupied were alien to him. When he found himself with court-allotted divorced dad weekends on his hands and hours of child time to fill, he fell upon fishing like a thirsty man on an oasis. In his little red Dodge Omni we would range the coast of Long Island, his one-piece surfcasting pole lashed to the luggage rack like a knight errant’s lance.

Learning to fish is not so much about one person teaching another a set of skills. Rather, it is the directing of a child to observe the ways in which nature works.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org