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Thanking Dad for my introduction to an outdoors world

Father’s Day is upon us. Most of us who embrace the outdoor sports as part of our lifestyle were introduced to hunting and fishing by a family member, usually our father.

When I was growing up, it was almost a certainty you would be initiated into those activities at an early age if the men in your family hunted or fished, almost as a rite of passage. Although my father didn’t hunt or fish, he had a profound influence on my dedication to those sports and my abiding love of the outdoors in general.

Maybe the greatest contribution Dad made to my lifelong connection with the outdoors was allowing me to grow up in the country. Shortly after he and my mother were married, he bought some land where he would start his own business and raise a family.

We had a creek bordering the front yard and woods in the backyard, both literally just a stone’s throw from the house. Those boyhood summers were wondrous times. All the kids in the neighborhood spent plenty of time along the creek catching minnows, frogs or snakes. We dammed one of its larger pools for our swimming hole. The nearby woods were also our frequent playground. We climbed trees, ate apples and berries, and built forts. I was particularly fascinated by all the birds and other wildlife that lived all around us.

Dad was a master craftsman in every sense of the word. His favored trade was that of a cabinetmaker and carpenter, but he was truly a mechanical genius who could literally build or fix almost anything with his own talented hands. Being around him and watching him work taught me the value of craftsmanship and a good work ethic.

I learned that most things worth doing were usually accomplished with time, patience and hard work. Those were precious life lessons that have always served me well, not only in my outdoor pursuits but most other endeavors as well.

Despite growing up in a cabinet shop, it soon became apparent that I possessed little in the way of woodworking skills. Dad could always find enough tasks around the shop for me to be somewhat useful, however, which also allowed me to earn a little spending money.

I used most of my income in those days to buy books and magazines to learn all I could about nature and the outdoor sports. I was about 12 years old when I read an article about how to make your own bass poppers. I don’t think I had even caught a bass at that point in my life, and I didn’t own a fly rod, but I couldn’t resist trying to construct my own lures. I scrounged together some hooks, corks, feathers and paint and generally spent most of the weekend making a royal mess on the dining room table.

Somehow Dad must have noticed my enthusiasm and commitment to that makeshift project. A few days later, he handed me a box. “Here,” he said, “if you like making those fishing bugs, you might as well have this.” It was a fly-tying kit. I marveled at all the brightly colored feathers, pieces of fur and hair, and other materials it contained. And that obscure little gift from Dad more than 50 years ago launched me on an odyssey that continues to this day.

I spent every spare moment teaching myself to tie flies from whatever books and articles I could find. A few months later I had saved enough money to buy my first fly rod and reel so I could learn to catch fish on my creations. My collection of fly-tying materials soon engulfed most of my bedroom.

My dedication combined with countless hours hunched over my fly-tying vise allowed me to master the craft. Years later, I would be fortunate enough to win many awards and gain some small notoriety as a fly tier and fisherman.

Dad passed away in 2009 after a long and productive life. No, he never taught me to tie a fly or cast a line or shoot a shotgun, but he made me better at all those things through his approach to his trade and life in general. The proudest thing my father ever said to me was, “You never lied to me about anything.”

And I never did because he instilled in me the fact that a man’s word and reputation are important assets but can be easily ruined by lies or misdeeds. I’ll always be grateful for the many life lessons my father tried to teach me. They’ve made me a better person.

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