(Tom Fletcher is away on vacation this week and next, but will return to his spot on Aug. 1.)
“Yes, my son,” he began, “the only thing golden about the Golden Years is me Depends.”
Thus began a long and somewhat comical discussion about my father with an old fisherman from Newfoundland with whom my parents have been friends for years.
We were sitting in calm water recently, jigging a few codfish early in the morning, when he commented about how much he was missing my father.
The two had been fishing and hunting buddies for half a century, even more tightly bound together once they both retired and had the time to hunt, fish and berry-pick almost daily.
“Well I’ll tell you somet’ing,” he added, “your fadder and I had some pretty good years b’y, and I’m not sayin’ I’d change a thing, but it’s a darn (bleeped and edited) shame that we all got to get older. Yessir, your father would walk a long way, with a full pack, to catch a meal of trout. We had some times b’y; we had some times.”
He looked wistfully off to the ocean, avoiding eye contact with me to be sure that if any tears might be welling up, I wouldn’t know about it.
Birth and death are common elements of everyone’s life, but while the happiness of a birth is charged by the anticipation of much joy to come, the sadness of a death is doubly hit by the recollection of what was and the reminder that it won’t happen again.
I fished with the man because I knew he liked company, and while his own family can come occasionally to share it with him, most of his friends have either passed or are too incapacitated to join him.
Frankly, he probably shouldn’t be out there himself, but if the cliché, “he died doing what he loved most” truly has any merit, then he should be out there, for certain.
It was a strange sensation for me to listen to the voice of a hardened outdoorsman crack with emotion as he regaled me with stories of their mutual “stupidity” at times that led to both comical and life-threatening circumstances.
These were stories rarely shared with wives, who would be mortified and perhaps request limitations.
They were stories of loyalty and deep friendship between men and many of the stories demonstrated a side of my father that I hardly knew.
He’d never be as “stupid” with me at his side for fear something might happen to me, but with his peers, well, a little risk-taking was all part of the fun.
In one of the many silent moments between stories and hauling up fish, I looked over at my father’s friend and realized that while I missed my dad, his friend missed him even more.
My father was a role-model and a guiding hand for me, but our lives were more connected by family roles than by personality or interests.
Family has its mandatory moments, but friendship is by choice and a long and loyal friendship is no less binding than family.
I told him I was selling my dad’s boat. Although I have an emotional attachment to it, and would love to keep it, the reality is that a motor left unused in salt air is a motor with a short life ahead of it, and I know my father would rather have the boat used than falling into disrepair.
I sold it to a distant cousin to keep it in the family.
“Dat’s the proper t’ing, b’y,” he said, “cause if the next feller lives as good a life in dat boat as your fadder and me, well he’ll be a lucky man, a right lucky man.”
That day, listening to stories I’d never heard before, and doing with his best friend what I know my father loved to do, I was, myself, a right lucky man.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare