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Fresh Air
Pastor Jack Hoffman ©2004

I guess if there is one over riding factor that will contribute to a lack of participation in many outdoor pursuits it probably will be the demise of the active role of fathering in America. Don’t get me wrong ladies, I know that there are many of you who enjoy outdoor activities and in some instances and situations are more immersed and active in them than males. But, for the most part, it is males that most wholeheartedly indulge in many outdoor sporting, recreational and simple leisure activities. It is that concept that I want to address in this week’s article, and it is the role of fathering that I wish to honor and once again uplift to its rightful position, at least during these brief thoughts.

My wife learned a love of traveling and camping from her parents. Being from one of the most popular states for camping, Michigan, Jill experienced the outdoors from childhood. More weekends than she can remember her dad would hustle home on Friday afternoon, following a tedious week of work, hook up the camping trailer, and away they would go. Oftentimes it was to a state park within a couple of hours driving time. Then as she grew older and her parents grew more experienced in camping, it became farther and farther away. Add to that vacations with out of state excursions, even as far as Canada (which really wasn’t that far from most parts of Michigan) and Maine (now that’s a trip). When my wife and I began our relationship, she was the old pro at camping and I was the novice. It was her experiences with her parents and most notably with her dad in the fishing boat, that left an indelible impression in her mind and on her life. It also became the source of inspiration (or should I say insight) for me to learn where some great parks and fishing rivers were located, particularly in Michigan’s upper peninsula. It was on those same rivers and creeks outlets that she and I taught our three sons how to haul in frisky small mouth bass and mouth-watering walleyes. It was in some of those same state parks that she stayed in as a child that we in turn took our children to and watched raccoons raiding camp sights in the night and bears visiting garbage dumps.

While my folks never indulged in camping, my dad took us fishing as children. In the fifties and early sixties there were many open spots around lakes outside of the Detroit area where bank fishing was permitted. I caught a lot of blue gill in those days, using equipment that my father had cut his teeth on as a child in Arkansas. A long cane pole with a nice bobber and a big juicy worm and watch out mister fish. Dad started me and the love of the sport captured me. I graduated to those old big closed-faced Zebco reels (you know with numbers like 202, etc.) and fiberglass poles. Doesn’t it seem like such a long, long time ago when fishing was more fun than serious work (well I guess it was a long, long time ago for me)? Those early years of memories planted something in my life that germinated during the growing up years I had with my sons. Like I had been taught, I baited their hooks and taught them the techniques (though understandably with newer and better equipment) to catch fish. They are presently teaching their children likewise.

While our mothers approved or at least grudgingly agreed to many of our woodsy things, it was our fathers that waded in without hesitation to blaze us a trail for our adventures. Everyone needs fathers like that, not distant but close, not tolerating but enjoying their children, not enduring youth but embracing it as a great opportunity to implant memories and mold character. Dads who take their kids fishing, or sitting in blind with them during deer season, or setting up the tent. Dads who volunteer a weekend for the boy scouts, or who pick hiking trails to follow or a river to canoe. Dads who teach work ethics like cutting grass (something my father taught me well on a half-acre with a push mower), or chopping firewood. Dads who teach responsibility with animals like pets and livestock and comfort to their child when their pet dies or is killed. But, in this present society, fatherhood (not just being able to produce a child, but to nurture, protect and rear) is on the decline. There are those who think that fathers are not needed therefore missing the unique blend and stability that only a combination of both having mom and dad can create in a child. There are men who simply didn’t have a dad or one who fathered well and so does not realize what they have missed and therefore does not understand how desperately important a dad is to a child. But it is no mistake that most girls look for a spouse like their daddy, and most boys mature into the image of their father.

So on this Father’s Day weekend I just wanted to say thanks to my dad for being the great father that he has been. Dad is over 75 now and fighting infirmity. But in my mind he is still that fellow, who took the rabbits and pheasants out of my traps and taught me how to skin, clean and cook them. He still is the spry youthful man who strapped on a pair of ice skates and taught his children how to skate on the frozen lakes along Edward Hines Drive. He still is taking his family on vacations, visiting caves and pointing out blind catfish in underwater rivers, and watching water run uphill in troughs on Mystery Hill. Dad still knows and still shows me how to cut grass and clean a yard, and how to plant flowers, elephant ears and tomatoes. In her mind's eye, Jill’s dad, though even a bit older and cobbled about in retirement in Florida, still carefully maintains his camping equipment. He washes the trailer and fixes the boat. He follows that big bubble-floating compass fixed on his dashboard (some of you haven’t a clue what I just wrote about), and he circles the campsites looking for just the right level and roomy spot to park his camper. He still bundles up the firewood and creates a fire that the family sits before for hours into the night, talking, giggling, eating hot dogs and some mores. Jill’s dad has not one but several big pike hooked in succession and what excitement as they try to get them into the net at the boat’s side. And the laughter and the memories last forever.

Guys what an awesome and treasured position to be in as a father. Work at it and accomplish it well, the actual hands on time with the little ones doesn’t last that long, but the results last for generations. Happy Father’s Day to all our good dads out there. Children, the number one gift on Father’s Day is a tie, but I suggest that you buy something for dad that involves him doing something with you. Things like a combination fishing pole set, or a season launching pass at East Lake or Mill Creek, or some tickets to a Cubs or Cardinals baseball game. Maybe even something as simple as some graham crackers, Nestles Chocolate bars and marshmellows will send the message (if you don't know what they add up to, you really need to go camping). Whatever it is, make it something that you can do together and you will you learn lessons from your father that you will not forget.