By Matt Mittan
Now that we’re solidly settled into the winter months, I’m pretty selective about my fishing days. It seems that the older I get, the less enthused I am about having chapped lips or feeling my core temperature slip below anything other than toasty. Instead of being out on the water I lean on my memories and ramp up my anticipation for spring.
Recently, my thoughts have been on my Dad. He passed away just over 5 years ago. The glue of our relationship, when I was younger, was our shared love for Boston sports teams. He was one of the hardest working men I ever knew and he didn’t have a lot of time for recreation or hobbies. At times, he worked three jobs just to sustain our home. A sacrifice that, honestly, I didn’t fully appreciate until I became a father myself. In addition to his hard work out of the home, he also ensured there was always some work to be done at home too.
Each summer, he would order a huge load of timbers that filled the back half of our driveway. We had to cut, split, stack and dry all of it before my Summer Vacation could really begin. All I wanted to do was to go fishing but darned if there weren’t all these chores to do! Then, before winter, we had to move the entire payload of prepped firewood from our backyard into the garage. This ensured that the wood could stay dry through the harsh New England winter and keep us from having to trek out in the snow to get it.
My Dad grew up in a very different environment than I did, which is a credit to him. He grew up in the tough neighborhoods of Charlestown, MA back in the 50’s and 60’s. I, on the other hand, had a wonderful childhood. I was surrounded by nature and was blessed with the ability to roam freely without fear of getting into any trouble. The home we moved into when I was five is still the same home I visit today when I go back to see my Mom.
The reason I share all of this is to let you know that fishing and being in the great outdoors was about the furthest thing from my Dad’s life experience that there could have been. Me on the other hand, I’d go off for days on end with friends on camping and canoeing expeditions. If I didn’t have work to do, I was out fishing. Heck, even my High School Yearbook says “Gone Fishing” under my picture.
So imagine my surprise, when I was about 16 or 17 years old, when my Father told me he wanted us to go on a camping, canoeing and fishing trip to the Berkshire Mountains of western New England. I remember thinking at the time that it must have been some kind of joke. My second thought was that I’d have to be watching out for him the whole time. The only time I had ever seen my Dad with a fishing pole in his hand was when he was getting on to me for leaving them in the back of his car. And I had never even contemplated the possibility of him being in the bow of my canoe, never mind casting from there. But he meant it. He wanted us to do this. So I agreed to the adventure.
Once we settled into our campsite, alongside a small lake in the high country of Massachusetts, my Dad immediately took charge and adopted the self-appointed role of seasoned guide. He defined the camp schedule of chores. He assigned the tent, food and gear locations. He even laid out our plans for fishing the lake the next morning and how we would direct my Old Town’s path around the small body of water. I found it rather amusing at the time and remember going along with it, even though he was way out of his league. I appreciated that he had jumped so far outside of his own comfort zone to spend some time with me, in my world.
Our first morning out, he was up and ready to hit the water early. He wanted me to hop up in the front of the canoe so that he could push off the shore and steer the boat. I had to draw the line there. No way I was starting my chilly morning with an uninvited dip in the drink.
As we paddled across to the opposite shore, a Beaver slapped his tail on the surface warning us to alter our advance toward where his home was. But my Dad insisted that the fish were on that shore. So we continued. Not a minute later, a sudden thrash of the water and a thunderous crack that echoed across the lake slapped down not two feet away from our right side. We nearly capsized. My Dad, harking back to his teen, tough-guy years, shouted out words I had never heard him utter before that moment, as he swung his paddle around with lightening speed into a defensive posture. The whole scenario still makes me chuckle to this day.
After a couple of minutes, his adrenaline came down and we both had a great laugh at it. But I can still see the way he turned back at me and didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. There was a look from him that let me know that he knew this wasn’t his world. But there he was. With me. His son. After that encounter, he threw up the white flag and asked me to lead the way the rest of the trip. It was a glorious thing for a teen son to have his Dad defer. I believe that was the moment me and my Dad’s relationship started to evolve to becoming man to man friends, beyond just Father and Son. We continued to be closer and closer as friends over the next 20 plus years, until his death in 2011.
To this day, that trip with my Dad warms my heart as one of my best memories with him. As awkward, clumsy and uniformed as his effort was, it was a beautiful gift he gave me. It was my Father’s love for me and his desire to reach me at a time of my life when I may not have wanted to be reached by my Old Man, that inspires me to make the same effort with my own Son’s today, even if I have to go outside my own comfort zone and meet them where they are. It’s a worthy effort that can make a lasting difference. It did for me. Thank you Dad.
Matt Mittan is a long time broadcaster in WNC, an entrepreneur and USAF veteran who has fished all around the world. He can often be found aboard his classic red Old Town canoe in search of mountain Bass. Matt currently has an insurance business, partnered with AFLAC, providing benefits and tax solutions for area businesses. Email MattsFishingDiary@gmail.com with story ideas or feedback.