My father was a harsh man when he drank. He said things that pushed my fragile child heart to the deepest depths, and he pushed, and pushed, and pushed, until I pushed back. I think that’s what he wanted to see in me; if I could stand up for myself.
My father wasn’t the easiest man to love.
But, when he was not drinking, he was quite charming. We fished together every Saturday, so I spent many hours in a boat row across the scattered ponds and lakes of Southeastern Lower Michigan. I can still hear his command, “Get the worms Butch. We’re going fishing.”
We spent many happy Saturdays out on the lakes. The only time he reverted back to his harshness was when I made a loud sound with my oversized feet, and scared the fish. I tried so very hard not to make any noise, but I would bang something eventually, and then it was my job to pull up the anchor and row to a new spot where the fish would be unsuspecting.
One summer night as I was preparing for bed he came home in a drunken mood, but he as more pleasant and uplifting that evening for some reason. I think it was due to the man he brought with him. It was my first time to meet the guy, and he was just as drunk as my dad, so don’t expect me to recall his name.
Dad announced that we were going fishing, despite the fact that it was 10 p.m., and I was very tired, but fishing was fishing. I dug the worms by flashlight and we loaded the gear in the old Dodge and headed to a favorite spot on Columbia Lake where you could rent boats. It was about midnight when we got there, so if you could imagine a drunk man arguing with the farmer whom he had woken up…long story short – we got the oars and took them down through the field to the lake.
My job? Row the boat and DON’T BANG ANYTHING!
I was careful…quieter than any church mouse had ever been in the history of church mice. I rowed, as best I could, to one of our favorite fishing holes and we plunked down the anchor. The two of them dropped in their lines and began to fish. I sat there for ages waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened. I wondered, “Can fish see in the dark? Do they get hungry for a midnight snack?”
The time ticked away slower than a Michigan ice melt, and I grew so very tired…but I didn’t make a sound.
Desperate for something positive, I slowly reached for my pole. I found the worms like a ninja warrior stealing your family jewels while you slept…and eased the line into the water just inches from the boat. I was so proud of myself….I was very, very quiet.
Of course, this only made things worse. There was now something I had to attend to other than my big feet. I concentrated….waited…nothing…a long time passed…still nothing.
Then, as carefully as I could, I lifted my rod to cast a line further from the boat. My first attempt barely got me five feet from where I had dropped my line….so I tried again….slowly taking my arm back between the two drunks, and blindly flicking the rod forward, only I got hung up somewhere…I couldn’t tell…I jerked the line…once, twice…GREAT, I’VE CAUGHT A BRANCH, I said in my head. Now what?
I tugged again.
That’s when I heard my dad’s new friend yelling like a madman. Dad said some choice words but still the man screamed. When the flashlight was found, it seems that I had hooked him very nicely in the earlobe. It had taken several tugs to get the feelings past his drunken state to his brain and from his brain to his mouth.
What followed next was a nearly comical script where dad, drunk and stumbling, climbed over me in the middle of the lake in the dark to cut the fish hook from the man’s bleeding VERY SORE ear.
Blood and cuss words were flying everywhere.
After 10 minutes of this madness, when the unnamed man I never saw again, was set free, I was ordered to row back to the dock….more choice words followed….and then a long very quiet car ride back home and to bed.
For some reason that was the last night fishing trip I was invited to take.
Dad died in 1986, but as I drive past the water and boats here in Seattle, I can hear him speaking to me, “Get the worms Butch. We’re going fishing.”
Happy Father’s Day dad…I hope you forgave me, because I certainly have forgiven you.
Pastor Neil Allen
I am blessed to serve as the pastor of Queen Anne Christian Church, an amazing community of wise and thoughtful people.