by Veronica Szczygiel
Growing up, my father took our family hiking and fishing almost every Saturday. My mom, big sister, golden retriever, and I happily packed into the old Buick station wagon for Dad’s adventure. With a picnic basket full of goodies and the dog’s drool splattering across us in the backseat as she excitedly stuck her head out the window, the Buick crossed the George Washington Bridge to Seven Lakes Drive or further to the Catskill Mountains.
What a gift my father gave me, to show me the wonder of God’s creation. I found these days spent in the depths of the forest and at the feet of lake beds to be glorious. They were formative of both my character and imagination. My love of nature — and my writing about it — were seeds planted long ago in my heart within those woods. Needless to say, these trips also enabled our family to spend time together, nourishing our love for each other, and thanking God for the blessings in our lives.
My father decided to teach his daughters how to fish. My sister excelled at it. She cast the line carefully and well. She had the patience to wait and watch for a bite. Young me did not share these proclivities. I ran out of patience fast, and I grew tired of waiting. Eventually, I undertook other activities: playing with our dog, searching for fairies under mushroom caps, and collecting acorn hats for our pet guinea pigs. My favorite game was to throw handfuls of mud into the bait bucket and stir it with a stick to make “soup.”
Thankfully, in these moments, my father was patient with me. Though he cringed when I messed about with the bait bucket, he let me discover myself and the natural world. He saw in my sister the gifts of perseverance, patience, and deliberate thoughtfulness. He saw in me the gifts of imagination, spontaneity, and creative inquiry.
Like God the Father who gifts each of us with unique talents, my father saw that his daughters were not similar and were not always similar to him — and that was OK. My father loved and treasured us both, encouraging us to blossom, each in our own way. God encourages the same in all of us. He doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to others or to be jealous. We each have special gifts that he has given us for unique purposes. We are to cultivate our talents with the help and support of those around us, like our earthly fathers.
Now an adult, I embrace the peacefulness of fishing and the opportunity it provides to truly relax and reflect. I still go when I can with my dad. It’s a time for us to be together, and for me especially, it’s a time to be grateful for such a wonderful father. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about what we catch. It’s about who is standing next to us, whether or not that catch will come.
Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director of Online Learning of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University.