What a catch: What happens when you fish with a 7-year-old

I can’t write about every daddy-daughter date.

We do this one a month, during the soccer offseason, my girls and I.

Each girl has her day. Teaching Marie to score a baseball game made such an impact, I had to write about it.

As the dude in the adjacent cubicle would say, “you GOTTA blog about THAT.”

I do, dude. I do.

Grace wanted nothing more than to fish on her first daddy-daughter date of this offseason. Her shins still bruised and scraped from the rigors of the season, she’d set her sights high on reeling in tiny fish on a Friday evening.

Oops, that’s Marie’s team banquet night. But when you get to terrorize a pizza line and attack the game room Reno-style, you can postpone your dream date by a day, apparently. (Especially if cupcakes are involved.)

Finally, there she stood in the doorway on a Saturday afternoon, flip flops, knobby knees, jean shorts, a Dutch soccer shirt and a pink-and-black baseball cap, waiting to cast some lines into the deep.

Right at that moment I’d love to have unzipped her head, to snap a picture of what she envisioned the day to be.

There she was, head full of dreams, cup full of worms, window down, breeze in her face, and a pond of unsuspecting fish ahead. She went right for the bait in the bait shop, forgoing the kiddie poles with Barbie, Dora and Spongebob in full endorsement.

Just give this girl a cup of worms. And a pond full of hungry brim.

I wonder what she thought when the muddy pond came into view. They’ll never tape Dangerous Catch in these waters. It’s a puddle, really, lined with trees and backyards and a slab of concrete we’ll call the dock.

This won’t be a chronicle of all the things said between a dad and a kid on her first fishing outing, but I did have questions of my own: How would the kid who spontaneously combusts into a cartwheel; who will make a jump rope out of anything she can swing and jump over; or seems to have two speeds – sleeping and turbo – handle the quiet and discipline necessary to fish?

Marvelously, as you can see.

As I fumbled in the tackle box, with a steady stream of accidental finger hooks and dropped lead weights with muffled curse words, she cast, and reeled in, using that perfect motion she used for soccer throw-ins to cast deep into the murky waters.

When a misfired cast nearly dropped hook, line and sinker on top of her head, I took the rod and reel, and gave it a good daddy cast – whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr – past a lazy turtle and into the snack zone.


Before I could hand the reel back to Grace, the bopper dipped, the rod bent, and the chase was on.

“You got one!” I told her, handing her the rod. “Reel him in!”

She smiled and leaned back, then reeled in like a champ with a form I can attribute only to the Wii. We hadn’t covered this part yet.

In she came, a decently-sized brim destined for mobile-phone pics and the distinction of being Grace’s first. Then, a kind release back to the muddy waters.

She posed and grinned with the prickly-finned prize, and, one not-so-graceful attempt to de-hook and release that left the fish agitated and dad’s shirt slimy, it was right back to how nature intended.

Grace cast her line again. And began to think.

“Dad,” she said, that look of disappointment on her face like she’d just chomped a broccoli stem she thought was a green M&M, “you really caught that fish. Not me. You threw out the line, and it bit while you were holding it.”

“But honey, it was your rod.” (This is fallible, as any good Latino knows – if you’re wearing the Lakers jacket with the switchblade in the pocket, it’s your switchblade, no matter who owns the jacket. Ergo, he who casts … )

“I’ll catch more,” she said. “Remember the lunch I just ate? And how I scored a hat trick the last time?”

How could I forget? Here’s all you need to know about my failed track record as dad – Grace equates gluttony and regurgitation with athletic glory, ever since the day she downed 10 McDonald’s chicken nuggets, upchucked, then turned in a three-goal game, all in the same day.

I looked over at the cleaned-out nuggets box and defiantly crumbled McDouble wrapper by our tackle box. That’s not such a bad display of gluttony, is it?

Then I remembered the bag of sour-cream-and-onion chips and bottle of Bug Juice she conned me into at Bi-Lo …

(What would Dr. Oz say?)

I’m happy to report this story ends not with daddy holding the baby’s ponytail, but the baby’s line, six times. In between a wrangle of hooks out of fishes’ mouths, she asked about water snakes, marveled at a blue heron that flew overhead, attempted three times (OK, five) to convince me a brim would make a marvelous pet, wondered out loud how a nightcrawler could survive a triple impalement, water-ski action and constant nips from from hungry turtles and fish.

As dinner time approached, she insisted on one more cast. I wondered about the monster I’d created. Something right out of a country song.

When the lid finally closed on the tackle box, she’d collected (and released) six fish, two turtles, one tree branch that for just .002 seconds convinced dad it was a water moccasin, and about a million stories.

Fish tales.

“Looks like you’re daddy’s little fisherman,” I told her as she wrote a sweet thank you note to the friends who let us fish here.

“No daddy,” she answered.

“Fisher girl.”

And you don’t need a Barbie rod and reel to be that.

How to face your fears, or at least blog about them.

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photo credit: 137194_7306 via photopin (license)

So, the first-grader was less than pleased last night with my effort as a goalkeeper to stop her sister’s shot.

“It’s like you’re scared of it, dad!” she said with disdain and disbelief. (Star players sometimes have precious little tolerance for the everyman on the roster). No no no. I can make a remarkable save now and again.

But sometimes, the mind moves quicker than the feet.

And the hands. But usually not the tongue. That’s fodder for another story. “Dad’s not scared of ANYTHING,” I declare with a boom. “Not anything??” she asked, unbelieving. If you only knew, honey.

Know what scares me?

1. Bridges.

photo credit: Sydney Harbour Bridge via photopin (license)

Not for me. But for you kids. I know it sounds silly, but every time we go to Charleston, or any town with a big bridge, I have a nightmare that night. You girls cross it by yourselves, hand in hand, while skies threaten storms, through angry, unrelenting traffic.

Probably with snipers lying in wait, resentful poisonous snakes and oakland raiders fans with weapons and bad attitudes just beyond my scope. Not to mention mean-spirited jellyfish and hungry sharks and really sharp pieces of glass waiting in the waters below.

I wonder in my sleep – where am I? Why am I not with you at a time like that?

2. Playgrounds.

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I’ve touched on this one, but yeah. When you were toddlers, I’d walk around the little structure, all its steps and poles and slides, and walkways, just to see that you were safe.

It probably looked ridiculous from afar. Things only got worse as you got bigger, and moved to the bigger playgrounds. They seemed three, four stories tall, with no abundance of guard rails.

Watch Dad circle the structure like a clown firefighter waiting for you to fall. A shade or three beyond silly, I realize.

3. Peanuts.

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Marie is highly allergic. We check labels, ask restaurant owners about peanut oil, and survey any picnic spot for empty peanut shells or open containers of peanut butter.

When Marie was first diagnosed, I had nightmares. The common thread: She couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t help her.

Her own peace with the condition and her sisters’ hyper-vigilance about all things peanut have eased those fears and stopped the nightmares. But I’ll never rest easy.

4. Being late for games.

photo credit: Kent Denver girls varsity v. Frontier Academy via photopin (license)

This annoys the kids. I feel the need to be on the playing grounds (they hate also when I use this term and not ‘soccer field’) an hour prior to game time, although I admit this happens about as often as I eat a salad before I eat pizza (the land of good intentions).

A coach should check the field for dangerous spots and be on hand to greet his mighty warriors, have cones lined up and balls pumped and goalkeeper shirt pressed and ready for battle.

Or, in my case, to have a snack, get the bench I want and wait for Jesus or Allah to give me a sign whether we’re going to win that day. But mostly to have a snack.

5. My pants falling down.

 It’s quite a well-founded fear. I always tie my soccer-pants drawstrings extra tight on game day, after Grace, um, exposed her daddy between the third and fourth quarters on a fateful Saturday morning.

And just in case, I try to always wear my most appropriate/visually appealing drawers.

6. Disney Channel/Nickelodeon.

disney channel
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I fear shows that depict kids who smart off to dim-witted parents, choose to do whatever they want to get whatever they want, and usually with little to no consequence.

Of course, we had this too, in the day, with Silver Spoons and Diff’rent Strokes, but we came out all right, right?

I praise Opie for every “yes, pa!” on the Andy Griffith Show or Beaver Cleaver’s “yes sir!” on Leave It To Beaver. The damage of I-carly and the bratty wizards from Waverly Place has been done.

I have the eye rolls to prove it.

7. Traffic/Rottweilers.

photo credit: Like a bat out of hell via photopin (license)

I’d categorize rhinos on the charge, women on the go in really tiny heels, and any form of space matter that crashes to earth in this department, too: Any threat to their bodies that I could at least cushion the blow with my own body.

A natural airbag/safety barrier/chew toy for any oncoming threat.

Kids their age are tender to meteorites and tasty to angry dogs and pachyderms.

8. My girls, dating.


9. My girls, blogging. Someday.

OK, so I just acquired this one, while I wrote this post. I thought about their stories about me being mad or mischievous out there in the blogosphere without an opportunity to edit or correct or cover my assets.

To hear, “wow, did you see what you kid blogged about today??” Getting a forward with a note of sympathy, or a look from a co-worker that tells me she knows more than she should, and isn’t glad about it.

Hopefully it isn’t about the time they walked across the Charleston bridge alone while I sat in the hotel and wrote on my blog …

I fear quote