Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fishing can teach us to be better parents

Fishing can teach us to be better parents COMMENTARY By LOUIE STOUT Jim Bollinger doesn't need the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) to remind him how important fishing is to kids. His eight-year-old son Joshua made that clear a few weeks ago. Jim is a veteran South Bend car salesman and an avid angler. And if you know anything about the car business, you work on commission and have to budget for the peaks and valleys. And for the Bollingers, this has been a deep valley. A budget adjustment was in order. "Eileen and I put Josh to bed one night and sat down to discuss how we could cut expenses," Bollinger recalled. "It became apparent that we needed to sell the boat, eliminate a payment and put more cash back into the family." The decision was made. He'd hang a "for sale" sign on the fishing rig the next day. "As we headed for bed, I heard Joshua crying," said Bollinger. "I walked into his bedroom and saw him sobbing in his pillow." Dad sat on the edge of the bed and asked the youngster what was wrong. "I heard you talking to mom about selling the boat," sobbed the youngster. "I love that boat, dad, and when you bought it, you said that you and I could fish forever. Now we can't." That ended plans to sell the boat. Budget cuts would be made elsewhere. "Every once in awhile, God gives us a slap in the face and this one registered loud and clear," said Bollinger. "I didn't realize that fishing was that important to him, but I do now." The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation wants other adults to get the message. National Fishing and Boating Week kicked off Saturday and runs through June 12. "It's time to get Americans back to fishing, especially our youth," said RBFF spokesman Gary Dollahon. "Kids need to get off the couch, away from the X-Box and logged out of the chat rooms." He's right. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey shows a 4 percent decline in fishing participants. Fewer anglers mean fewer dollars for boat ramps, stocking programs and fish management activities. And if you look around the lakes, you don't see as many kids fishing as you once did. That's sad. "Most people learn to fish from a parent or grandparent, but many kids are missing out on that today," said Dollahon. Fishing isn't always about the catching, he added. Two thirds of anglers surveyed by the RBFF said a key reason they enjoy fishing is it gives the family an opportunity to connect. I can vouch for that. Like Joshua, my son Jason delivered me a thoughtful message during our first ice fishing outing 25 years ago. We plodded through 100 yards of knee-deep snow to reach a pond filled with bluegill. Jason, who is mildly handicapped, insisted on carrying a bucket filled with rods while I lugged other gear. He frequently tumbled face down into snow -- spilling the bucket of its contents -- only to come up laughing each time. I failed to see the humor in that or the dozens of line tangles that he managed to create the rest of the afternoon. There was no time for me to fish, as a school of four-inch bluegills bit Jason's wax worm every time I managed to unravel his line and dunk it back into the hole. "Boy, dad, you better get busy fishing," Jason chided. "I've got 10 and you don't have any!" As darkness approached, we gathered our gear and headed for the car. My patience was worn to the bone by his endless questions and mishaps. My temper flared more than once. As we climbed the snowy hill, we stopped to catch our breath. As I squatted against a tree, Jason snuggled against me and threw his arm around my neck. "Thanks for taking me today and showing me everything I need to know about ice fishing," he beamed. "Cause now, when I become a dad, I can teach my son everything he needs to know about fishing." It was then that I realized this trip wasn't about me teaching him to fish. It was about me learning to be a father. Take a kid fishing this week and you may learn something, too.

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