© 2012 Will K 2008.10.30

Unravelling as a Fisherman and Son

My father is dead.

Immediately my mind and ears hear amendments to that statement: he lives on with his Savior; he is dead but not gone; the memory of him yet lives.  These, though, cannot change the absolute fact that at 10:27am in room 546, my hands were on my father to feel and hear his last breath.  Praying for him though I was, regardless of how anyone–much less I myself–will define “death” now and in the coming years, I will never again have coffee with Dad.  We will never go fishing together again.  I’ll never make him laugh with a stupid joke.  He won’t see my son grow up and teach him as only a grandfather can.  The losses are innumerable and all palpably real. None of these will happen without or unless death visits again and reunites the ones separated by it.  That is the struggling irony: death divides and unites with equal fervor and is never mitigated. The question of “what now” bangs on my front door and simply will not go away.  I pretend I’m asleep, but it’s not buying it.

“What now?”

 This all comes at a remarkable time for me, at least when my fish-life is considered.  The year of 2011 and early-2012 has been a tumultuous series of weeks and days.  Certainly it was due to a lot that was tumultuous in the rest of my life.  Little was stable there, so I never questioned why so much instability existed in my life that surrounds fins and gills.  I had sensed early last year that I was changing as a fisherman, or, if not changing, about to change.  Rods started to feel “wrong,” reels and flies fell out of favor in abundance.  All last year, every time out fishing, every time in cleaning and organizing, I knew something was awry.  It still is.  I have been asking the question posed to and by me with my father’s loss for a while now, but about my life of fishing.

“What now?”

They are well-intentioned, but I’ve lost count of the number of people and number of times a certainly significant arrangement of words has been cast at my ears.  One way or another they say, “You have a lot to live up to, Will.”  They mean that my father was a great man of great quality who achieved a pinnacle of sorts in numerous ways; it was a pinnacle, though, that few spoke of until his death.  Implicit in the words is an argument that I both have the room and time to grow; I don’t disagree with either.  I wonder, though, if the former failed the latter if my mere high-points would become pinnacles themselves.  “Living up to” my dad has been and will forever be a pursuit of love for him, and because of the good man he was, it is a pursuit of love for those around me.  Dad was a good man, a truly good man; a man I fear will forever be better than I.  I know that I am not my father and I know that I have crippling weaknesses that make “living up to” a distant and perilous goal, even if worthy.  One question rings in my ears from sunrise to sunrise.

“How do I?”

I know with absolute precision in all its remaining ambiguity and shadow-casting state what kind of fisherman I want to be.  What kind I am or at least becoming.  Without the ability to describe it to others and with only limited understanding of it for myself, it has been a self-definition that has meandered like a new stream across a flat landscape: a certain flow with definite content and broadly predictable end, but with a changing and ever-undpredictable course. For now, all I have that I can be sure of is a short section of headwater and the sea to which is flows.  The drainage is a question of what will be touched between those two points.  From here to there is the kind of fisherman I am, and to the sea I am ever-flowing.  Getting there is the unknown.

“How do I?”

I cannot help but think of being a kid in a huge toy store, walking the aisles holding the hand of–in this case–my Dad.  It is a marvelous place full of dreams for future games, “Oh the fantasies I could have with that toy or those over there.” Surrounded by means of achieving anything, being anyone, the toy store is wrought with happiness.  How quickly, though, it becomes a place of terror.  No more am I with my father, alone in an aisle staring at strange faces and now meaningless action figures in their clam-shell packages.  Crying out for my father is ineffective; he is somewhere else, maybe far, maybe less-distant, but not here. I have never been separated like this from him; this is uniquely strange. If my father is not here and everything has always told me I should be with him, a question is begged.

“Where am I?”

The first few years of my entry into fly angling was idyllic.  I gravitated immediately toward light rods and small tippet, favoring above all others the pimpernel of fly fishing.  The dry fly.  To see before casting and then cook up the cast like a sophisticated recipe for a French pastry was a joy unmatched by any other fly.  Any other experience.  Resorting to nymphs or other sub-surface flies was, for me, a resignation of necessity born out of simply wanting to commune closely with an aquatic life force.  “If I must, but I want catch that fish with this fly.  This dry fly.”  Every time out fishing was a series of dreams, each woven together by thin tippet and sighted trout.  The dry, though, was the link between dream and reality.  Seeing something happen was the dream; the trout sipping the little dry from the surface on its journey downstream was the wake-up.  The beauty of it all–the bond between dream and reality is seamless. One became the other, but never lost altogether in the transformation.  Somewhere in the past year, though, I stopped fishing dries.  I stopped waking up from those dreams.  Every time I did, I felt like I was holding someone else’s rod, fishing someone else’s line and tippet, watching someone else’s fly drift and bob.  Any fish caught was, therefore, someone else’s fish.  I became increasingly disconnected from what was formerly so intimate.  The question has been appearing slowly and and discernibly like an image on paper floating in a tub of developer.

“Where am I?”

More than others, I think, I allow–even ask–a myriad of external elements define “me.”  I am self-victimized by looking to my job, to my family, and even to fishing for not only an outline of my being, but for its fillings as well. Since July 1st, 2011, I had been enjoying being caught between being a son and a father.  I have been incessantly learning to be a father, sometimes enjoying successes and sometimes regretting failures.  Being a son, though, was for a long time a more passive pursuit.  The last few years I had been learning that I had a lot to learn: I was becoming an active actor.  And as I had as a father, I was incessantly learning to be a son all over again, sometimes enjoying successes and sometimes regretting failures.  I am left, now, with but one parent to whom I am a son.  The pursuit continues on, but with confusion.  Things have changed.

“Who am I?”

Bereft of sentimentalism dubbed onto every dry fly, the tuft of feathers and fur on the far side of my tippet knot is a guess.  Knowing what I don’t want to cast narrows the field, but I still stare into my fly box with the blankness of someone who has gotten off at the wrong bus stop.  Simply catching a fish is all I have now, getting there is a hollow process of reading the water and understanding meteorology.  Looking at the map at the wrong bus stop.  What I have lost in the past year is the dream preceding the realities of hooking a fish.  I don’t know where it went, how I arrived here, how I came to be asking these questions.  But I know fishing has become a bifurcated exploit: I either catch a fish…or I do not.

“Who am I?”

And so the questions gestate.  With the birth of each one, I expect some other one to somehow pass out of existence.  I have learned, though, that the “circle of life” is not a circle.  It is a spiral with the end of one line never quite meeting back up with its beginning. The end of something does not mean the birth of a replicated replacement.  The end of one is a self-contained end.  Life goes on, but slightly left of right of where one aspect of it stopped.  I can only give the questions room to live and answer them in an un-hurried and un-pressured way.  Each one has an answer, and for me the dialogue sips its conversational coffee on the water.  I fish.  I father.  I “son.” Not a single one of these questions, regardless of their aim or stadium means that I have, must, or will stop anything.  They mean simply that being has been replaced by learning to be. And that, honestly, is where I always have been; I just didn’t realize it.


  1. Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm | #

    Sorry to hear about your Dad, Will. While I don’t understand the death of ones father, I understand the loss of a parent. No matter what anyone ever says, they will never know how you feel about it because they have never been in your exact situation. Heal on your own terms, in your own time, and in your own way. Just don’t alienate the ones or the things that are still here like your son, wife, or even fishing because they are the key to your healing.

  2. Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm | #

    Will- so sorry about the loss of your father. Mine died suddenly and tragically a few years back, and it left me reeling for quite a while. You very aptly expressed what happens to us inside. I hope that you find some serenity and peace on the water.

  3. Posted February 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm | #

    Thanks for sharing such a thought-provoking look inward. As you honor your father’s legacy, try not to be too hard on yourself. It seems that we never want to allow ourselves to become equal to our heroes, yet we become heroes to others in the process. You’ll never become your father, but you will become your son’s father.

    • Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm | #

      A great deal of wisdom there Kirk. Thank you for the encouragement. Long stream to fish….

  4. Matt Holz
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm | #


    Thanks for putting into such eloquent words so many things I felt when my Dad died in 2004 and Mom in 2011.

    You have a great gift and without sounding patronizing, you have the gift to communicate your feelings in much the same way that C.S. Lewis conveyed his.

    As I said last Wednesday, your Dad was proud of you and God IS pleased with you – His son!

    • Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am | #

      It is amazing even with the range of emotions, thoughts and reactions that people have to loss and during any grief the common threads that run through each of our emotions, thoughts and reactions. Those to whom serious loss is not yet a reality it may seem burdensome to hear others share these things, but to those of us who have experienced it…we also recognize the need to share ourselves with others and welcome the sharing of others.

  5. Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm | #

    When my father died, it was if someone had kicked out a leg from under the table; everything wobbled for a while.

    I don’t think you ever “get over” the death of a parent as much as make peace with it, and I guess that’s what I wish for you: peace.

    Good luck, TC

  6. Matthew R. Holz II
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 2:11 am | #

    Rarely have I had the wonderful opportunity to glimpse into someones heart the way I have when reading this. While I was never close to your father the way you or my dad was he still represented something great to me. I want you to know that. As for my father, you have shown me that I do need to get closer to him so that I can learn from him all the things that make him a great man so that, like you and your dad, I too may become a great man among my friends and family. I am praying for you constantly and praying for your continued service to God.
    ?????? ????? ???? or ? ???? ????? ???? ???
    Matthew R. Holz II

  7. Posted February 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm | #

    A very moving piece of writing…it came from the heart and soul of a loving son. Thanks for sharing. Hope it helps your healing and always remember that there are those around you that care and support you.

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