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PUBLISHED: 2:11 PM on Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Celebrating Father's Day outdoors
I remember spending two kinds of time with my Dad - working and outdoors.

It wasn't that Dad was an outdoorsman. He cared little about fishing and not at all about hunting. He'd probably have never done either, except that my brothers and I pestered him relentlessly into taking us.

Dad spent most of his vacations outdoors because that's where we wanted to be. It might have been camping and catching white bass on Inks Lake, or wading the bays around Rockport. He went because it made us happy.

He earned sainthood somewhere between the first time he snatched one of my drowning brothers out of the Cibolo creek, and the 100th time he slept in the truck while we were waiting on another fruitless deer stand.

He taught us very little about casting or shooting, or fooling a bass or tracking a deer. But he taught us a lifetime about caring.

Maybe that's why I can't separate my ideas of fatherhood and the outdoors.

Or maybe it's because so many of my own fatherhood adventures occurred outdoors.

I had been a father for about a month when that first whitetail buck stepped into bow range. Son Will was home with Beth when that fat little six point stepped out of the brush 10 yards away just at dusk.

There were the deer stands and sunflower fields I've shared with my son and daughter, the weekends camping with the whole family

There were a few hundred mornings and few thousand piggy perch and hardhead catfish my kids caught (and I unhooked) on the piers on Aransas Bay.

It was the same pier where my Dad and I sat and talkedand cried soon after my Mom died.

•••

Today it's tough being a Dad.

There's more to know, much more to compete with, much less time to spend just hanging out with the kids. Yet Dads have a tough time with talking with their kids.

Maybe not about grades or sports or cars - but certainly about love and life and the decisions they require.

That's where being outdoors comes in. Being alone in a deer stand or a bass boat creates an unlimited opportunity to talk about things that matter, but don't get much air time.

I'm no better. Will and I have driven eight hours to a deer lease or dove hunt or antelope trope and not spoken more than a few sentences. Not because we don't have anything to say, but maybe because it's our way.

There's purity, an honest clarity that comes in the field. You can bluff a grade or talk your way out of a traffic ticket sometimes. Try that with a rattler lying six inches from the dove you were about to pick up. Or the rocky slide that's almost came from underfoot and dumped you into that swirling trout stream, turning a day of fishing into a life-and-death emergency.

Decisions carry a different weight too. Dad can explain you about life and death and responsibility, but until you've made that choice, to shoot or not to shoot, to harvest a deer or pass a difficult shot on an out-of-range pheasant, you don't have the weight in your hands.

Those decisions include screwing up too - making a bad choice that might result in a game animal lost or injured by a poor shot.

It's a learning experience that extends beyond the children.

It's tough being a Dad today.

Maybe it's always been tough and we just learn it anew.

Think sending your youngster off for a date and movie is scary? Try sending them off for their first hunt alone. And sitting alone in the woods when you hear a shot from the direction they're hunting, with no way for minutes or hours the outcome of that shot.

It doesn't matter how many thousands of safety lessons you'd given, how many times you've watched them handle. There's still that fear, that uncertainty, those "what ifs."

I think that's a measure of love.

You can learn a lot outdoors as a Dad outdoors. You can learn that kids have better eyes than even 30-year-olds. You learn that being there and being there together is a lot more important than how many or how big you brought home.

Like most things in life, success outdoors comes with preparation. And that's a lesson that even Dad's can learn. Especially the frigid morning when your child is shivering uncontrollably because YOU forgot the extra jacket. Or the painful evening when you return from the lake with a crying and blistered child that YOU forgot to swath in sunscreen.

Luckily kids heal quickly!

There are also the funny-later-but-sure-not-funny-now-near-calamities that have to be experienced.

Like the time the cottonmouth almost climbed into our laps as we sat by an evening campfire, waiting for catfish to hit the baits we were soaking in the creek.

Like the time Dad tried to grind a dozen carp in the garbage disposal-and we didn't get the drain unstopped or the smell out of the house for three days.

I used to believe we take our kids afield because we want to teach them how to be a good companion. But they really know how to do that already. What we really teach them is how to appreciate that best of life.

But the real reason we take them afield is purely selfish. We take them to enrich our own lives with the memory of a grinning 10-year-old with his first buck, of a toddler with an impossibly large trout, of a new "bird boy" retrieving his first dove.

There are some things that are too good to describe, too special to experience except with the one you love.

Like sunrise painting a bay orange gold. Like hundreds of brilliant ducks spilling from an evening sky over a silvery pond. Like a giant fan-tailed gobbler strutting almost in your face.

Like the fluorescent purple glow of a speckled trout slashing through the surf or the spotted silver of a rainbow trout leaping into the air.

Give yourself a Father's Day gift this year. Take the kids outdoors-for them and for you.

Or want to give Dad a real gift today? Ask him a simple question:

"Hey Dad, can we go fishing?"

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. He's written about the outdoors for newspapers and magazines for more than 20 years.


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