Becoming My Father’s Son

duck hunting on the Mississippi flyway

Of all the memories of my dad, this one is perhaps the most vivid. This photo, taken some time around 1973, shows my dad at his finest, completely in control, at peace, living precisely in the moment in a duckblind on the St. Francis River.

At the end of an emotional week, last night I quietly cried myself to sleep.

It’s not the most masculine thing to acknowledge, but I quit wearing the mask of the facade some time ago.

Last week, life wasn’t particularly wonderful.

Work was a challenge, the writer in me drew a daily blank, it was the first harvest

PS Olt and Yazoo duck calls

The collection of duck calls my dad amassed over his 71 years.

season my dad never saw, and so I mostly went into my quiet place piling up all the emotional junk until it finally had to come out.

And as they have many times over the last eight months, my thoughts turned to my dad who died last January. The memories and mental images came rushing back and I dismissed the week’s frustration in exchange for the memories.

Oh, daddy, if we could just sit down and talk today.

It’s not so much that we had the perfect father-son relationship. Here on earth, I think we may have misunderstood one another as much as two men could. Dad wasn’t a visionary. He was never compelled to achievement or notoriety. The moment in which he lived suited him just fine. And I thought he had it all wrong. Why didn’t he strive for “more,” I often wondered.

And so now, months after he’s gone, I suddenly get it in a retrospective sort of way, and I’m learning by no particular choosing of my own, the value of becoming my father’s son.

I never made a concerted effort to be like my dad. Never particularly wanted to.

The characteristic I most remember about him is contentment. Doing whatever it was he was doing in the moment, he was perfectly content. Driving a tractor, hunting ducks, drinking beer, loafing with his buddies, he was content, and lived perfectly in the moment.

In the 46 years I knew him, I had no particular respect or admiration for his ability to live moment by moment, until now. And now, he’s gone.

Me? I had much bigger plans. The present moments mattered much less than the future ones, because the time in between would be an investment spent working, performing, planning, reaching for a vision that would ultimately be something. I didn’t really know what, but it would be something. That was for sure.

It’s funny how the tide has turned.

In all the time I spent performing … showing him who knew best, it’s a funny thing now who’s showing who what.

In the years of my performance, I checked off certain achievements awaiting his praise. I suppose I thought he’d walk in the door one day and say, “You were right son. You knew better than me.” In retrospect, it’s easy to see the obnoxiousness of it all.

In the process, I went broke trying to get rich. As I tried to manipulate my professional and personal circumstances, and keep it all together, things fell disastrously apart. I learned scrambled eggs don’t easily go back together, and in the process, I became my father’s son.

At this moment, I look down at the keyboard and I see my daddy’s hands. A quick glance in the mirror will show me his face. Maybe I’ll have a laugh later today, and I’ll surely hear his voice.

My achievements didn’t impress him. All he wanted was my time, shared moments and a good laugh or two.

duck call collections

This was his favorite duck call – a P.S. Olt made in Pekin, Illinois.

Fortunately, we did have some special moments on which I can now reflect.

From the time I was 5 years old, I was by my dad’s side in a duckblind on the St.  Francis River. There was never a place I saw my dad happier, more peaceful and more in control than in the duckblind. In the duckblind, daddy was the boss.

There’s an image I have of dad in the duckblind. It’s one of the fortunate images my mind has retained over the years. His face peering out the window, looking eastward, he’d spot the ducks and begin the long call. He could call ducks for hours.

If you’ve never duck hunted … there are good duck callers and bad duck callers. Daddy was good. Very good.

He’d call them in from a mile away, lure them into circling our pond, and as the ducks drew closer his style would change. He’d begin the chatter, the calling would be more strategic. He’d twist his neck north and south, knowing intuitively what the ducks were doing even when they were out of sight. His steely blue eyes actually twinkled as we’d hear them come around from the north side, the wind would whistle over their spread wings and he’d raise his hand in the signal we all knew was his call for complete silence.

“Let things happen naturally now. We’ve gottem’ boys,” he said, without saying a word.

I haven’t duck hunted in 25 years. As much as I enjoyed those times years ago, they became less important because I thought they were moments that really didn’t matter. Now, I know how much they did.

I’m going to hunt again. I’m going to capture some of those moments again. Daddy knew best. It was the moments that really matter.

I know that now.



3 thoughts on “Becoming My Father’s Son

  1. hey, i thought ‘paul newman’ as well.
    my father was an outdoorsman, and i wrote something similar long ago after he died. for me, the writing became a catharsis. daddy’s love was turkey hunting, and one of my favorite drawings was of his hands holding a box call. he enjoyed the mouth calls as well, and had his share of duck calls.. seeing the image made me wistul to walk into that old óffice’ where his hunting supplies took on a life of their own.
    i’m glad i have found your blog.
    z, from jama

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