A different approach to an outdoors Father’s Day column
Father’s Day columns are typically easy ones for an outdoors writer to hammer out on a tight deadline, and I’ve written my share of tributes over the years.
But things are different now. Our family lost two extremely passionate outdoors-savvy fathers over the past nine months and June 16 looms on the calendar as a nasty reminder that they are no longer with us.
So I find myself writing this for the first time not as a son, but for my son — and two daughters.
You see, somewhere in the midst of hunting trips, fishing excursions, checking traps and camping adventures, our fathers left us with plenty of lessons about what it really means to be a parent …
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Nothing says “I love you” better than field-dressing a freshly harvested whitetail on a brisk late-November morning with family.
Unfortunately, some parents struggle to convey the simplest of sentiments such as “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” to their children.
Instead, they show their affection by wanting to spend quality time with their children — and there is no place better to spend such quality time than outdoors.
Every 4 a.m. wakeup to beat the crowd to the best hunting spot … every camping trip, burnt marshmallow and shared hammock … every retied fishing line, untangled crow’s nest and baiting of the hook … every welt received while playing paintball … every load of mud-caked laundry washed after hours spent exploring a small creek.
Believe it or not — these are all “I love you” moments.
We parents are watching you when we’re outdoors, too. We see that far cast from the lakeside, the safe way you handle your firearm while hunting and how you overcame the fear of biking without training wheels. We notice your wide-eyed wonder of the natural world around us, we hear your questions and we enjoy trying to identify the mysterious scat or unique set of tracks going through the back yard. In each of those moments, our hearts fill with pride.
Oh yes … we may not say it enough, but we love you and we are so proud of you.
How many times did we go hunting and never see a deer? Were those hunts failures? Were they a waste of time?
At some point, you’ll realize that these excursions are about much more than pulling a trigger or catching your limit of trout on opening day.
Instead, it is about experiencing that magical moment when the sun rises and the woods around you go from dark silence to a flurry of sounds and activity. Did you see that gray squirrel storing acorns for the long winter ahead and realize just how blessed we truly are? Did you feel the cool breeze and fill your lungs with the fresh mountain air?
There is much more to life than making the most money, owning the biggest house or taking the most luxurious vacation each year.
Live modestly, work hard and appreciate what you have. Don’t miss the wonder of the world around you as you embark on life’s next journey.
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Perhaps the best father you’ll find in the animal world here in Central PA is the red fox. While the mother protects the young pups in the den, the red fox dad travels long distances to find and provide food for the family.
As those young fox pups grow and emerge from their den to explore, it is the father that plays with them and teaches them the dangers of the outside world.
But when the young foxes get to a certain age, the father does something that may seem cruel. He stops delivering freshly killed rabbits or other tasty meals to the fox family. The young ones learn quickly that they need to make their own way in the world, and there are no free handouts.
That has to be a tough moment for father fox — and it is a rough moment for us human parents, too.
You will make mistakes. We all do. And while we’d love to slap a Bandaid over the problem, blow you a kiss and send you off on your way, at some point, we need to take a step back.
We see those red flags brewing and fight every instinct to solve your problems — or deliver a tasty squirrel or two — knowing that sometimes the best way to learn is by touching the hot burner and realizing there are consequences for our actions. Being independent means taking responsibility for our own decisions — the good and the bad.
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Time is shorter than we think. If nothing else, your grandfathers taught us all that over these past nine months. There were no trout fishing trips with Pappy this spring. Grandpa will not be driving off the ridge on opening day of deer season this fall.
However, they will be with us on each outdoors adventure we take together moving forward — and while they can’t tell you this in person anymore, your mother and I can …
We love you.
We are proud of you.