My stepson’s birthday falls on 7/11. Before we met a decade ago, this undoubtedly meant a day of cake and presents, shared in celebration with family and friends. Upon marrying his mother, however, I transformed this occasion into an annual race around town, a frantic search for 7-Eleven convenience stores doling out free Slurpees. While not only reserved for those celebrating birthdays, I saw it as a special treat for Nate – and it was. But what was fun at 6,is awkward at 16, riding shotgun in a beat-up Honda, chauffeured by a sugared-up stepdad using Google Maps to pinpoint seven locations. This past July was probably our last quest together.
This obsessive streak is not foreign to those who run in my circles, perhaps explaining why they’re actually more linear in nature. My personality doesn’t allow for much deviation from self-perceived perfection, making relationships difficult to initiate and keep. I suspect it’s also why my son doesn’t like to fish with me.
Walker goes because he wants to please his father – which it does – but my constant push to achieve allows little time for fun – only the accomplishment of goals. I’m one of those who repeats “five more minutes” when fish clearly have no intention of biting. I brood upon it, too, adjusting locations and bait, contemplating new strategies while time slips by, the space between us widening. I strive to succeed. I like things in place. I rarely know when, or how, to let up.
The two of us are scheduled to go goose hunting next week, in Alberta, and I’ve already fretted over preparations – proper camouflage, our inventory of shotgun shells, touching up the flocking on our Big Foot dekes – when my daughter walked out the front door, working on a yellow Popsicle, to watch us run another layout blind drill simulating safe shooting zones in the yard.
“Watchya guys doing?” she asked, obviously amused. “Looks like fun!”
Walker gave her an exaggerated, forced thumbs-up before slipping back into his blind and abruptly pulling the flap closed over his face. I’d been around teenagers long enough to recognize sarcasm in body language, and quickly realized my ambition was on track to ruin his experience in the blind, much like it had in the boat. I was at a loss.
We jokingly call my daughter Mama Claire, because she has insight and the instincts you’d expect more from a nurturing parent, rather than a junior in high school. Aside from her own, personal teenage dramas, she’s always the first to see simple, reasonable solutions for those in need.
“Hey, Dad,” she began, keeping her voice low. “Remember when Walker went on that D.C. trip and you suggested he put down his phone every once in a while?”
“Yeah,” I replied, wondering where she was going. “What about it?”
“Well, you told him to look around and enjoy life as it happened, not to try and capture it on his phone to share with everybody else. You should do the same, too,” she said, nervously, biting her lower lip, “You don’t need to make it perfect. Just enjoy it as is.”
I nodded and wrapped her up in a hug, absently knocking the remnants of her Popsicle to the porch. “Let’s clean up and go do something fun,” I shouted to Walker, releasing Claire to skip back into the house.
He popped out of his blind perfectly, just as we’d practiced. “We’re not going fishing, are we?” he asked, tentatively.
“No, son,” I smiled. “Not today.”
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