For Father’s Day, give me your memories

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David McGrath fishes with his son Mike in about 1987.

Note to kids: No gifts for Father’s Day, please.

At least, not the kind you purchase.


Yes, I know,my three childrenwanted to get me a Diawa spinning rod, orJohn Legend’slast album, “Love in the Future”; so they’ll be disappointed.

Believe me, I appreciated every paperback novel, music CD, or fishing lure I’ve received over the years. I like stuff — lots of stuff. And Mike and Jackie and Janet have put time and love into shopping for the perfect gifts over the years.

But pragmatically speaking, I have all the concrete possessions that I need. Besides, my birthday follows Father’s Day in almost exactly one month, when they must do the gift-giving all over again.

So it would mean more if, instead, we just had a conversation about “the greatest hits.” Not songs; not material objects, either.

The “greatest hits” to me are the most memorable times we shared. More specifically, what wouldmy son and daughtersconsider to be among the best memories, or the best day spent with their old man.

That may seem self serving, and self absorbed on my part. But we are talking about Father’s Day,right?

I’ve thought about this, and I can only wish that I had such a conversation with my own father before he died. What a gift it would have been, had I told him in person about a time shared for which I’d remember him forever!

Getting back to my own kids, I offer as an example a day that Mike and I had together, one of manyextraordinary momentsI’ve been lucky to have had with each of my children.

Right around the age of 21, Mike came back home. It was after he had gone to college (in Champaign) and beyond our reach. Like most who move away, he became someone else, someone I didn’t knowso well. And I admit that I was sad with a vague sense of loss for the sweet smiling kid in all the picture albums.

So when Mike finally caught up with us in our summer cabin in Wisconsin, it happened to be a windless and extremely hot day in August. And as we did often when he was a boy, the two of us decided to wade the Chippewa River to fish for smallmouth bass and northern pike.

We walked upstream to our favorite honeyholes, and we got along like old friends.

Of course, he had changed. He was taller, stronger than his old man. He was able to get into backwaters and past trees and other obstacles that I had to avoid, so he caught more fish.

But something else happened. It was when Mike set out ahead in an ankle-deep riffle, while I lagged behind a hundred yards or so. That was when he stumbled upon a new fawn hidden by its mother in a thick clump of river grass on a small island, not much bigger than a pitcher’s mound, in the middle of the stream.

The newborn deer lay calmly in its mossy bed. Eyes green and trusting.

Mike’s own eyes were shining at the discovery, but also appeared concerned.

I watched his hands, careful and precise, fold the long leaves and stalks to cover up the baby deer, the size of a small dog, while he looked about, searching both banks for a sign of the doe.

We resumed our fishing, stepping carefully over the stones and through the water, in wordless agreement to keep the doe’s secret, trusting in nature’s providence.

Again, Mike led the way. Intermittently, he turned to see where I was, which made me smile. For this was the same kid I’d once carried in a panic to our back porch, comforting his crying, giving him every assurance I could that he’d be all right, while I used a loop of fishing line to extract a fish hook from his knee.

Today he was looking out for me.

Younger, more powerful than his father, he had become a careful and compassionate man, sensitive to nature and its marvels.

Seeing the man he had become made me glad for him and hopeful for this world. And there’s no better gift for me on Father’s Day than vicariously reliving that day with him.

Now it’s your turn. Everyone visiting a dad today, tell him about one of your favorite moments with him — one of those greatest hits. Use this column as an excuse. I guarantee you’ll make his day.

Emeritus English Professor, College of DuPage, David McGrath is author of THE TERRITORY.

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