Troy Anderson hired a guide as a Father's Day gift in 2013 and he and his dad "nailed the crappies" near Laona.
Reflecting on dad
Coffee, conversations and coming to grips with change.
"Dad, can I have some more coffee?" I asked. It was late October in 1982. I was in a cramped and cold 14–foot row boat in the Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area goose hunting. My dad had pulled the boat into some standing cattails for some good cover after rowing along a long ditch in the early morning blackness. He smiled as he poured. His only son was asking for a second cup of black coffee at 8:30 a.m.
I thanked my dad, peeked over my shoulder to make sure he had gone back to looking the other way, and then slowly dipped my bare fingers into the hot beverage.
At 12 years old, I couldn't stand the taste of black coffee. But I will never forget the joy it gave me when it warmed up my frozen fingers. I practiced this warming routine until I was 14 and didn't tell my dad about it until I was in my 30s. By then, of course, I wouldn't dream of wasting hot coffee on finger warming! The revelation seemed to both disappoint and amuse my dad.
I am now 44 and have a family of my own. But I also still hunt and fish with my dad. Recently, we even started managing invasive species together. Our relationship isn't unique. Thousands of other adults across the country grew up doing things in the outdoors with their fathers.
Being outdoors is just something that many dads are good at. Sharing their love of it with their children creates a bond that is forged at an early age and pleasantly reflected upon as those children grow into adulthood.
In the fall of 2013, though, my partnership with my dad did take a dramatic turn. After a successful pheasant hunt my dad announced, "I think I'm done pheasant hunting."
He had turned 74 in September and I knew what he meant. But in the immediate stages of denial I replied, "You mean for the year?"
He paused. "No, I think I am finally done pheasant and duck hunting."
Over the next several days I relived memories of being outdoors with my dad: building a tree stand, pheasant hunting, fishing in Canada. The years ran together and sometimes it felt like just one long memory.
Some of the significant memories are of my first deer hunt when I missed a trophy buck. Dad was there, turning it into a teachable moment to help me cope with the rite of passage. Dad also was there on the duck hunt when, as a teenager, I tipped the boat over and we almost lost everything. Even our shotguns wound up in the water. So many adventures. Sometimes I can't believe what we did.
Take navigating a 14–foot boat in Canada in a storm with thick fog and using only a hand held compass and a map (no GPS) to find our way. We could barely see each other, let alone the hazards. Still we nailed the walleyes.
There was pheasant hunting in North Dakota in a blizzard when we couldn't see the road — or the pheasants for that matter.
From an early age I tried to learn everything I could from my dad. When I went to college I returned the favor and taught dad a few things including the significant impact that invasive species can have on habitat and wildlife. Cutting down buckthorn and honeysuckle became a shared passion of ours, along with managing garlic mustard.
But this is not a sad story. It is a transitional one. My dad still fishes and plans to go deer hunting this fall and turkey hunting in the spring. He intends to go grouse hunting with me and my dog but will stay on the logging trails leaving it to me to bust through the heavy cover.
But there are some other things he will not be doing any more and we accept that. I am thankful for the years I have had with him in the fields and look forward to the years yet to come. I've found that keeping a journal helps cement and define those memories. It may be age that catches up or a job that forces you to move far away. Each of us has a finite amount of time in which to enjoy the outdoors. But sharing those times with someone else makes it all the more special.
Troy Anderson grew up in Wisconsin and is a senior ecologist for a private consulting firm and a speaker at conferences focusing on ecological restoration.