I always think of my father as one of the most influential teachers in my life. He was actually an engineer for his working life, but he had a way of explaining things to me that was clear and methodical. He also tried to model everything he believed.
One of the biggest things that he tried to do, though, was to open up my life to experiences that were different from what I'd always done. This was not always successful as we were very different in interests and background, despite coming from the same gene pool. My dad is a linear, outdoorsy, country music-loving, man who was raised on a farm. I was a scatterbrained, city kid who dreams of being a rock star. (Actually, I'm still all of those things.)
My dad tried to share his passion for fishing with me. Fishing was one of those "best of times, worst of times" scenarios. At the beginning, I really enjoyed it because it gave me a holiday from school that most kids didn't have. But as my friends, my guitar, my part time jobs, and my occasional girlfriends became more important, fishing seemed, well, a bit dull. Actually, it was more than dull. It was painful. I hate getting up early, and my dad would wake up at four to get the early bite. Sometimes it would get rough on the water, and I would get really seasick. Dad could go for "just another pass" which meant another two hours on the boat. All those hours on the boat, I would long for the things I really loved to do instead of fishing, (i.e. playing my guitar, hanging out, sleeping, not vomiting, etc.). As I became an adult with a family of my own, I understood that fishing was a good time to spend with Dad, but I still went out kind of grudgingly (because I still hate early mornings and I still get massively seasick in rough water).
But these days, my dad's struggles with Parkinsons have all but ceased his ability to stand in a boat, let alone go fishing. He is more homebound, so a lot of our time we spend watching TV programs together (yes, the odd fishing show). He started getting more and more disengaged, and would fall asleep for long periods of the day, so I was trying to think of ways to get him out. Last summer, I bought this new little car, so I took him out for a spin. He seemed to perk up a bit, so I thought of places we could visit in my little car. They had to be short trips (to accommodate feedings, medication times, and fatigue) with destinations that were flat and accessible (to accommodate walking, his walker, his wheelchair, etc.).
We went to all kinds of places locally. We went out to this park to watch some strangers in a softball game. We wheeled his wheel chair along a river walk. I found a bench by this other river that was only about a 20 metre stroller walk from a flat parking spot. I would wheel him out to the local boat ramp where he would watch the boats come and go, just like he did 20 years ago when he would disappear on a breezy afternoon. By taking him for these outings, I guess I was trying to pay him back for all of those times in my youth when he was trying to get my lazy butt out to actually experience the world.
I thought the ultimate outing would be to see some salmon. I thought of all those times he tried to expand my life by taking me salmon fishing. Salmon had played an interesting role in our relationship. One year, Dad even arranged for me to get a job at a salmon hatchery when I was between schools and between jobs. It was a cool job for a city kid; just me, these pens full of salmon, and the occasional bear. Now, I thought if I could take Dad some place to watch the salmon, it would be like "full circle."
A few weeks ago, I saw that the local streams were having their "Salmon Come Home" festivals. After spending hours of my childhood holidays at salmon hatcheries with my civil engineer father, I knew he would love to watch the salmon come home to spawn. This would be that ultimate payback outing. So I did some reconnaissance, and found a place to park that wasn't far from a viewing site over the stream. The viewing spot I found was perfect because it had some good places to see salmon, and it had a good rail that Dad could lean against when he was watching the salmon. One Sunday, I bundled Dad up in the car with his stroller and parked in the spot I had scouted. It was pouring rain, and it took me about 15 minutes just to get his rain slicker on, but I didn't care. I was having one of those feel-good moments with my dad.
We get to the stream. The rain is dripping from our clothes as we hang our heads over the rail to watch the salmon. I'm grinning as a few salmon flicker by as they pass underneath to get where they are getting. We've been there about four minutes, communing with nature, when Dad turns to me and says, "Okay, can we go to the casino now?"