Row, Row, Row Your Boat, In the Right Direction, Preferably

I finally got the chance to share two of my greatest passions, fishing and boating, with my boys. And, even better, we knocked both activities out in the span of a couple hours. A father's dream fulfilled!

You might be asking, if these are your passions, why did you wait five years to do them with your kids?

The answer is simple: I wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate the experience fully. Also, I don't own a fishing pole or boat and I have not done either activity in at least 25 years. 

Yet, fishing and boating remain my raison d'être. 

It all started when I was around eleven. For a relatively brief period during our late childhood, my two best friends and I rode our bikes to the neighborhood lake and fished from the shore of a vacant lot using bread as bait. I went along on the condition that I never had to touch the fish. We caught many a bass and bream on those long summer evenings. The mosquitos buzzed around us as we stood silently together, our lines in the water. I'm not sure what my friends were thinking about as the hours slowly ticked away, but I was mostly thinking about how the person that lived next to the vacant lot was going to yell at us. I surveyed his backyard carefully for any signs of movement, prepared to bolt at the first sign of a confrontation.

So, you can imagine my delight when we were at my sister-in-law's parents' house and the hosts offered up a couple of fishing rods and a container of bread pieces. I was in my element. My 5-year-old, Jacob, had been dying to fish for ages, ever since he saw the fishing episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, so this was the opportunity we'd been waiting for.

I struggled a bit with the pole at first because it was lacking the button that my trusty old rod had for casting. Probably only top-shelf fishing poles have the button. I quickly got up to speed, though, and was threading bread onto hooks, dropping the line into the water directly below the dock, and not touching fish just like the old days. If only Matt and Bret could've been there so we could not talk. Jacob landed a triangle-shaped fish almost immediately. As he hefted it up with mom’s assistance and the squirmy fish dangled back and forth on the line, Jacob scampered away to safety. Wise move.

We all caught and released several fish before calling it a day. I even touched one because I'm a man now.

I thought that was probably it for the outdoorsing, but boy was I wrong.

"Do you want to take Jacob on the rowboat," my sister-in-law Lynn asked me completely out of left field.

"Absolutely. There's is nothing I would rather do," I replied for some reason.

I was born with an oar in my hands

I was born with an oar in my hands

After that, the proceedings quickly spiraled out of my control. Before I knew it, there were life vests piled on the dock with a couple of oars and Lynn’s dad, Bob, was telling us to put the plug into the boat.

“Okay,” I said. I moved my hands vaguely around the back end of the boat that was lying upside down on the dock. You might not know this, but apparently, they put holes in row boats on purpose and you have to stick a plug in the hole when you want to use it. Seems crazy, I know.

“You’ll want to turn it over first,” Bob said. “The plug goes on the inside.”

“Right. Right,” I replied knowingly.

After the plug was successfully inserted, my brother-in-law Jesse and I lifted the boat down onto the ground by the water.

“You’ll want to turn it around,” Bob said. “So the back end goes in first.”

“Ah yeah,” Jesse said. “So it doesn’t kind of nose dive into the water?”

I was happy to learn that when it came to rowboat knowledge, Jesse and I were in the same boat. Unfortunately, we were also about to be in the same actual boat.

Jacob, Bennett, and my niece Sydney donned their life preservers and hopped in. This was happening. Jesse and I climbed aboard and shuffled around in the middle of the boat for several minutes, engaging in the dance known as we're in a boat and we have no idea what we're doing somebody please say something! I was busy thinking about one of the last times I got on a boat; I slipped when I was stepping in and the captain had to catch me. Obviously, it was one of the most humiliating moments of my life.

Luckily, Bob saved us by offering directions, "You should probably sit on that end (opposite the kids)." 

"Right," Jesse said. "To balance things out."

Jesse was still clinging to the illusion of competence. I, however, was not and opted for silence. Elective mutism is always a strong power play.

I took up my place on the center seat and grasped the oars confidently. I had seen this done several times. We pushed off and I started rowing. The wrong direction. Turns out you have to pull the oars the opposite way from the way you want to go. Or maybe it’s the same way. It’s all a blur. All I could hear were shouts from the dock.

“You have to take the oars out of the water or you won’t go anywhere!”

Fine. If you want to get technical about it.

Eventually we started making our way away from land and in the general direction we were supposed to be moving. Jacob seemed to be having the time of his life.

“I’ve never been on a boat before! Except Disney boats,” he said.

“Same,” I replied.

His carefree excitement wouldn’t last. About fifteen minutes later, as we approached a line of weeds and grasses in the water that divided the small inlet from the larger lake, the shouts from the dock started up again. They were more distant this time because we were about thirty feet away, but were just as urgent.


Fine. I turned the boat around somehow and then started rowing in the wrong direction and then the right direction, toward the weeds. Unfortunately, I was rowing backwards so I couldn't see where I was going so I hit the thick part of the weeds head on. Also, I had no idea how to control direction so I would have hit the thick part anyway. 



We made it. No problem.

Except that my children were now crying hysterically because they thought they were about to be eaten by alligators. 

So, I circled around, started rowing the wrong way, then the right way, and plowed back into the thick part of the weeds.

"WE GIVE UP!" came the shouts from the dock.

After a bit more pushing and cajoling of our trusty vessel back through the weeds, we finally found our groove and arrived triumphantly back at the dock in a matter of minutes. The hysterical crying began to abate as we touched down on dry land, and the kids were much better too.

After we disembarked, I asked Jacob what he thought of the ride.

“I’m never going on a boat again,” he said, his bottom lip quivering.

If that’s the case, he’s going to have a long childhood having to live with a dad who is such an avid boatman!

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page. And please invite your friends!