By David Anderson
For children we sometimes post a question down here at the boathouse outside where announcements can be read by arriving fishermen – news of the latest biggest catch; the bait used to catch it; maybe a photo of it; the weather report, and a notice to please pay inside before proceeding further. If answered correctly, and their parents approve, the youngster is rewarded with their choice of a small candy.
How would you answer this true-life scenario that follows, admittedly an elongated account of the Reader’s Digest version that appeared on our rather smallish dry erase board?
A father and his son were fishing for bass from their boat along the weedy far shoreline of American Lake. Suddenly, the boy’s pole bent double as something big down in the murky blackness gave a huge tug on his line whereupon the young fellow (1) yelled “Dad!” and (2) instinctively tugged back which succeeded in setting the hook.
Then began the tug-of-war between overmatched youngster and mighty bass monster.
Seconds later dad had a strike, shouted “Me too!” set the hook and now both father and son at the very same time were engaged in a battle, a battle – to be first to bring their prize into the boat partly for fear of losing it and – to own bragging rights for whose fish was bigger, the boy’s, or his dad’s.
Neither of the quite evidently big bass in the dark depths below was inclined however to accommodate either of the father-son duo above and, to make matters worse – much worse – in less time than you can shout “Dad!” or “Me too!” the lines of the boy and his dad became tangled.
Hopelessly entangled. Snarled even. Twisted, and inseparably so.
Disappointed, the hope that he’d have been able to proudly show mom and his sisters that he’d triumphed over dad now dashed, the boy could already tell the outcome. From the lines slicing frantically about on the surface, his father’s fish was clearly bigger since everywhere his dad’s line went there the young fellow’s ensnarled line followed, indisputable and undeniable evidence that somewhere down there the boy’s once-prized possession was being drug about by a bass bigger still.
What happened next was to become a memory not forgotten and an illustration of a truth about which lately I’m often reminded.
Far, far from being in the same boat like this father and son, children far and away in America today are growing up not even in the same home as fathers have abandoned ship becoming unconnected, uninvolved, and in fact in far too many instances: unknown.
There are consequences.
This is not a story of the one that got away. This is about one out of every three children whose father got away. Fifteen million children in the U.S. are without a dad, contrasted with nearly five million without a mom. Absenteeism among dadstranslates into children “at dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality.”
Nearly two decades ago David Blankenhorn called “Fatherless America” – his book is so titled – “the most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States.”
Just this past Christmas Day, Vincent DiCaro, vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative was quoted in the Washington Times with this assessment: “America is awash in poverty, crime, drugs and other problems, but more than perhaps anything else, it all comes down to this. Deal with absent fathers and the rest follows.”
If DiCaro and Blankenhorn are right, then the emphasis upon gun control for example, and armed guards at schools, and even restoring to police officers located at those schools the right to search suspicious students – are wrong, or are at best an inadequate response to the massacre in Sandy Hook’s Elementary School; and in a theater in Aurora, Colorado; and outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona to name a few.
Boys need guides – fishing guides, guides to answer their questions about sex and dating, life-guides: mentors who provide a map for the masculine journey.
In his book “The Way of the Wild Heart,” John Eldredge writes “A boy has a lot to learn in his journey to become a man, and he becomes a man only through the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men. It cannot happen any other way.”
Eldredge illustrates from his own childhood when his father would take him fishing. They’d spend hours together on a lake or river, trying to catch fish. “But the fish were never really the issue. What I longed for,” Eldredge writes of his father, “was his presence, his attention, and his delight in me.”
Dads, pay attention. Pay attention to your children. Be present. If you don’t plan on returning home, as currently one-third of children await you to do, then surrogate dads, mentors must be found.
Because, like the father and son fishing for bass that day; whose lines got tangled; who competed for first and biggest, turns out the question of who won was not to matter. For when they finally got their respective fish to the surface, there was only one. The single large bass had taken both their baits, swallowed both their hooks, and so both could claim the prize; and their lives, like their lines, were hopelessly intertwined.
Like hope is supposed to be.