Skieologians: Fishers of men

What America really needs is a few more men willing to be dads

Behind every boy's journey to manhood is a father who took him fishing.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

There’s this thing about fishing. Often, the return on your tremendous investment of time, energy and resources is three hours of shivering and staring at downriggers. 

There’s the boat — and keeping that running — and the licenses, tackle and bait. Don’t forget rods and reels waiting to be tangled by snot-nosed kids, either. One must not only know where “the fish are biting,” he must coordinate all of the aforementioned logistics to get there when they are. Even if he succeeds, he still might sit for two hours without a nibble. 

It forces to you ask, “Is this worth it?” 

My answer: We need more men to go fishing with their kids. 

As political pundits continue to argue over how to legislate away society’s gravest ills, sitting in the middle of the room is our proverbial elephant: Fatherlessness. 

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“When you’re talking about the socialization process, the maturation process — kids need the father,” Joe Gray told me in an unexpected, but particularly poignant turn during our interview before the GoPro Mountain Games. He noted statistics for children from single-parent households in regard to crime, education and well-being. “The likelihood of them failing in life is much higher,” he said. 

The presence of someone willing to accept the responsibility of being a dad is the number one factor — statistically speaking — in determining young people’s outcome when it comes to their emotional health and risk of suicide, domestic violence, sexual misconduct and homelessness, too. In other words, what America needs right now isn’t any kind of handout or propagated piece of legislation. No, we need more men who dig for worms, sit in the rain, and untangle fishing line from the pine trees behind the dock.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in my annoyed observation of our world’s constant stream of bickering over surface-level symptoms and political leaders’ application of bandaids to our culture’s foundational diseases. The quickest way to be canceled these days, however, would be to suggest our societal sicknesses could be cured if more men embraced a morally upright masculinity. Perhaps that term’s misconstruction is irreparable. 

Or maybe this is where fishing comes in. 

You can fake your competency as a fisherman a lot longer than you can as a father.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Imagine men willing to invest in an afternoon on the lake with their son or daughter. Imagine the conversations and maturation which could flow from a stream of fly-fishing-forged heart-to-hearts. 

Imagine a society where men know that masculinity isn’t a power grab but is rooted in assuming sacrificial responsibility — the precursor to any meaningful familial headship — and model the kind of love a spouse knows is worth following. We need men who grasp this, practice it and strive to teach it to their offspring. 

Fishing’s metaphors extend beyond fatherhood.

The legwork for an afternoon of casting is a reminder that labor’s meaning transcends the instant gratification of a paycheck, though that provision is important. What is more paramount is the demonstration of righteous ambition — the dedicated pursuit of excellence and craftsmanship, no matter who is watching — through our labor. 

The value is found — in fishing and in life —  in the process.

Sometimes, the opportunity for a trophy fish does miraculously manifest itself. I remember being a little boy fishing in Canada with my grandpa, uncle, two brothers and dad. After waking up at 3:30 a.m. in a true fishing camp cabin, we set out to the “spot,” an arbitrary remote island whose lore birthed out of some 1967 bounty our family apparently never forgot. Sometime around noon, a giant lake trout latched, knocking over the pop can warning system and jolting our collective testosterone into action. 

A father might elect to take it himself — this was a big one, after all. A dad knows it’s important to let his boy set the hook himself, and underneath the wise — but understandably skeptical — look of Grandpa (who has probably lost his share of fish via “character-building” stunts like this), I nervously took hold of the reel.

With the 10-pounder safely on shore, I felt happy for not letting the crew down. Then, I went back to writing down my bird-watching observations, admiring my own handwriting as I jotted down meaningless notes in some journal because — if you haven’t figured out by these columns yet — I was, and still am, a bit of an odd fellow. 

Aside from that, I now know fishing isn’t necessarily about raising boys who grow up to fish.

It’s about showing them how to grow up at all. 

Our society is craving — crying out — for mature men who actually know what it means to be a man. Ambitious, selfless, courageous leaders who are present because they know what is really important. If you didn’t make any Father’s Day plans yet and you think the hassle of fishing puts that activity out of the question — reconsider. 

Maybe it really is worth it in the end.   

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