Dad was a Navy man, a country boy, a dedicated teacher, a fearless commercial fisherman, and a devoted father. He lived his truth.
Sometimes our fathers work hard, love our mothers, and treat us well. Other times fathers have many challenges and seem to do everything that is not good for their kids growing up. And sometimes we get a little bit of both in the mix.
I am grateful to have had a wonderful father that impacted my life in positive ways. And yet sometimes it felt awkward to tell him just how much I appreciated his dedication to giving us a good launch in life. Did I even know how grateful I was? Losing someone brings a life into vivid relief in the swim of many memories.
I grew up fishing with my father in Bristol Bay during summer salmon seasons. My father had told my mother after his only son had gone out on his own boat, “Cheri needs to learn to work.” It was a way to earn money for school and keep the income in the family.
Many years later, and under some duress, I found myself in a position to be running my own boat. Mind you, I did not go hunting for this ‘opportunity’—it was handed to me by the State within a complicated legal setting. Knowing there wasn’t much I could do about it, I set out to do what I could and make the best of the situation. Although I had crewed for my dad for a number of years, crewing and skippering a boat are not even in the same universe!
When I was unceremoniously dumped into the captain’s chair, my dad, my brother, and I launched our boats with our respective crews and took off for a river some 90 miles away.
The 2nd day out, I took out my trusty Captain Jack’s Tide Book and planned my set. I laid the net out just off the south beach. In my inexperience as a captain, I had forgotten to make the correction from the tide table for our home river to the other river we had traveled to. Due to this error, I was not in tune with the tide and we ‘went dry’ on the hard sand beach right at the top of the tide. We were stuck there until the tide returned 12 hours later.
We called my dad on our marine radio and told him where we were. He was concerned, as the wind could kick up in a matter of moments, and the south beach was a tough place to be in those conditions. He didn’t want to even think about how our little wooden boat would bounce up and down with an onshore wind when the tide came back in. We passed the long day, watching with envy as other boats caught fish and pulled their nets when the fishing period ended. One by one they headed into the mouth of the river and anchored up for the night.
As I watched them heading in, I noticed that there was one boat that stayed ‘out’ in the bay that night. The lone drift light of my father’s boat bobbed up and down in the waves. After a long day of fishing, I am sure he would love to have been ‘inside’ getting the sleep he had earned. But he was committed to standing watch in case the wind came up and we needed help.
When the water came back in at 2 am, we headed for deeper water and threw our own hook. His prayers were answered and all was well. It is difficult to tell this story without getting a catch in my throat. This single story epitomizes the faithfulness that my dad demonstrated as he cared for his adult child in the face of her bad decision.
As Father’s Day approaches, I urge you to consider sharing something honest and respectful with one who sponsored your life. If it is appropriate, thank him! Find something you can be grateful for and share it with him. If your dad was not a respectable person, you may consider ‘taking the high road’ and making a conscious choice to be respectable yourself, moving beyond the abuse. If it is appropriate, you might give him a respectful message that even though things were not as you needed them to be, you are still glad to be here, and that you have been strong enough to have survived in spite of the abuse. Your truth will set you free.