You hate to have a big list of those things you wish you would have done. Every year about this time, near his birthday, I think about all of the great experiences I had with my dad, and the few things I wish we would have done before he died.
There were a million memorable moments, but the best of those always seemed to involve adventures in the outdoors. Before he left us to go fish the best trout streams in the universe and beyond, dad helped raise six sons and gave them all a solid appreciation for the world around us.
We learned how to pitch a tent that would stand up in a windstorm, how to split firewood, how to hunt wild mushrooms and how to handle a fly rod. There were sessions on tying a sound fishing knot, how to play a fish that was heavier than your gear would accommodate and the proper way to use a landing net.
There were lessons in identifying trees in the woods, what feeds to use to attract different types of songbirds and how to collect bait after a steady rain with just a flashlight and a sharp eye. There was much he wanted us to learn, and dad loved to be the teacher.
We took more than 25 annual fishing trips to Canada and Michigan, and a few more to the lakes that dot the reclaimed strip mining hills of southern Ohio. The destination did not really matter - it was the time together, away from the phone and the emergency room, with dad sitting at the head of the table and holding court.
Dad wasn't a bucket list kind of guy, but there were some places he wanted us to see, and some outdoors wonders he wanted us to experience. Without him, we would not have known about Hartwick Pines, the 50-acre stand of virgin pines located in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. We saw those 375-year-old trees that reach 160 feet towards the sun, and we saw them up close and personal while we learned their story.
At dad's direction, we explored, we wandered off the map and we made our own trails. We fished where other people hadn't, and we learned how to clean our catch with precision and little waste.
He made it to Alaska on a fishing trip with his brother Arnold, and then went back as just one of the guys on a business/fishing venture organized by my brother, Seamas. Dad brought a huge king salmon back from that excursion and proudly shared it with all.
Dad got to fish a lot of places, from Lake Mohawk to Ziegler's quarry to some great trout streams in Michigan. He would have loved a trip to the Amazon, and my good friend Daryl would have been the perfect guide and fishing buddy for that venture. Give them 15 minutes, and the two of them would have been lifelong friends.
Now, we have the pictures, the stories and memories from all of those outdoors experiences with dad, and a lot of skills and know-how he passed along without us being aware at the time.
You want to hold on to those times with a grip that is impossible to break, and try not to expend much of your emotion on the things you never got to do. Those still eat at you, though.
My dad had a huge cache of abilities, and putting a sharp edge on a piece of steel was one of them. He could hone a knife to the point that it was dangerous to use. I have handled a lot of fillet knives since dad's death, and they just never seemed to have the right edge on them.
It's a shame so much knowledge and skill went with him when dad passed away. If he was here right now, I'd ask him to teach me how to sharpen a knife the way that he did. When that lesson was over, I'd be just a little bit more like him, and that would make me a better fisherman, a better teacher and a better dad.
Matt Markey is The A-T outdoors columnist.
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