Fatherhood called for much creativity when the COVID-19 pandemic left my family without a schedule and lots of free time in spring 2020. There was no structure to life, and we were all trapped at home. Upon my wife’s recommendation, I took my two sons, now first and second graders, fishing at 7:30 a.m. to avoid crowds, have an adventure and give her a break. They moaned and complained, but the promise of a McDonald’s breakfast on the way home was a suitable bribe, so they agreed. We didn’t do so well when we first started, and they didn’t let me hear the end of it. We didn’t give up. We learned together, and it grew into a bonding opportunity that has changed our relationships. I’ve changed for the better as a father and husband because of it.
My parenting skills grew leaps and bounds over this past year, and it wouldn’t have been that way without our weekly fishing trips during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Before the pandemic, I would go with the flow each weekend and think of activities on the fly. This approach was hit or miss. The kids would run all over my ideas with their complaints or they would boycott by way of chaos.
Having a general plan to get out to a lake or stream on a Sunday morning was less stressful. I grew the hype and anticipation by allowing the kids to make decisions throughout the week. They would choose lures to pack, bait from leftover meals and the location sometimes. When they were excited and on task, I didn’t feel the need to be in control. Without this new routine and structure, I used to feel like I needed to put my foot down. By that point, I had already lost the battle. It opened a new way of parenting that now bleeds into my daily approach.
The slower pace of COVID-19 life allowed me to more patiently observe the kids and what they wanted or needed. I knew who would last only 10 minutes and who would stay focused on fishing for an hour.
I started bringing cereal for one kid to toss in and create a feeding frenzy to help his brother get more bites. I also learned to load my trunk with backup entertainment, such as a remote control boat, Frisbee discs, and kites.
We got better results when we started learning about fishing together throughout the week. It was an eye-opener for me as a new way to bond with the kids. I didn’t need to know it all or only venture into things I knew well. We watched videos and read books together on fishing 101, different species, bodies of water, respecting nature, professional angler tactics and spawning behaviors. The children were sponges. They were better at remembering the facts and putting them to use. Often a son would call out tips to me as we walked the banks of a new lake. “Well, it rained yesterday, so we should have a good chance of getting bites near these trees!”
When the pandemic shutdowns first took place, I quickly realized the children were watching our reactions. My wife and I were intent on using it as a chance to teach life lessons and skills. Our fishing outings were a big part of this teaching, mainly because it was the only time we’d leave the house together and be in public.
When pulling into a parking lot to go fishing, I was able to pick up on their anxiety as they put on their masks. They were afraid when going out into public after hearing so much about the “cobra virus,” as my son first thought it was called. We took moments to speak about our feelings, what was in their control and what wasn’t.
We each became more devoted to our faith throughout 2020. I’ll never forget one fishing outing when we couldn’t seem to catch anything. My youngest stopped to pray. As he lowered his new polarized fishing glasses and said “Amen,” he picked a new spot to cast. Within 10 minutes, he caught four fish and was soon praying with his brother so he could get in on the action. The teamwork, persistence, problem solving and patience blew me away! We talked about it and smiled during the ride home as we picked up our weekly McGriddles and hash browns.
The pandemic has brought loss of life, livelihood and much tragedy. However, when the world seemingly stopped spinning, it offered a host of teachable moments and opportunities to make lifelong memories. This time offered us an amazing new tradition that is now a defining piece of my fatherhood journey. So far this spring we’ve expanded outdoor explorations beyond fishing. We just discovered hiking at Patapsco, and we’re excited to plan our first family camping trip this summer. As an organizer for Baltimore Dads Group (baltimoredadsgroup.com), I can’t wait to get outdoors and go fishing as a big group. My two experts can teach all of us dads how to reel them in.