That’s my dad and me in the picture above. It was Christmas Day may 1995 or 1996. We were playing Nintendo. If you note my Pop’s hair was uncombed. Christmas Day was the only day of the year anyone ever saw his hair uncombed, and his face unshaved. I’m not sure. Maybe that was his Christmas present to himself. Or, in this case, maybe the excitement was too much to wait to shave even when you’re playing video games with your 31ish year-old son. Though it was always that way even when I was a kid.
I remember, as kids, my sister and I waking mom and dad up on Christmas morning with such excitement that he would come to the living room to unwrap presents in just his underwear and t-shirt. I never thought about it much. I’ve never been a dad, though I do wonder now how many dads have done the same thing on Christmas morning with their kids.
I still have the first stub from the first baseball game we ever went to. It was at the new Riverfront Stadium in Cincy. Reds against the Mets way back in 1972. The Reds won. My dad was wearing a yellow short sleeved shirt. It was the same shirt he wore when he was baptized.
Dad always had a yellow dress shirt. He preferred his shirts to be short sleeved, except with suits. Always long sleeved shirts with suits. I have three yellow long sleeved shirts. I’ve always liked long sleeved shirts more.
I’m not sure if my dad was happy I was a Reds fan in baseball. He grew up a Pirates fan. He and his dad, my grandpap, would talk about the 1960 World Series at length. I think it was one of their favorite things to talk about. They never fought talking about that series. It was common ground for them.
My pop and I, we didn’t fight or have disagreements. I think the Nintendo was probably because he refused to get me an Atari when I was a teenager. I never really understood what the big deal was with getting me one. Now, after wasting hours and hours playing Candy Crush and other games… Dad was onto something smart for not getting me one. I never got super grades in school, but I did explore my imagination a lot. I wrote a lot. I became a newspaper reporter, and now a writer. I probably would have still gotten junk grades but wasted all my time on the Atari if I’d had one. I may have never become a newspaper reporter.
My dad was a cool, smooth guy. People would call him “Mr. Clise,” and he’d say “call me Stan,” and people would. He seemed to empower them, and set them free from the social constructs of that time. I tell people to call me John, and they just keep calling me Mr. Clise. Mr. Clise was my Grandpap. My dad, though, he was so smooth like that. People loved him. Understandable. He was a pretty cool guy.
Curiously we never went out shooting, but I knew how to clean, load, unload, breakdown, reassemble, and in, in general, how to treat weapons with respect. We may have target practiced with my Daisey Red Ryder BB gun, which is the easiest way to learn the cornerstones of good marksmanship. Cheaper too. I think back in those days you could get a 1,000 copper BBs for about a $1.
What we did do a lot was fish. We had one tackle box. No boat. One pole each. And streams, rivers and lakes to explore through the eyes of a fisherman.
We fished for trout mostly, though we did play around a lot fishing for blue gill. That was always fun. We would fish, and talk when we were going after blue gill. We didn’t talk much beyond trout when we were going after trout. We talked about the swirls, depth, and currents. That sort of thing. We’d talk about trees that had fallen into the creek or stream and whether that could be a good hiding spot for a “big one.”
We never did keep any fish we caught. We’d just set them free to catch another day. It was always the battle of fish against angler for us. Who was smarter? Who could out whit who? Some days we were the winners. Some days the trout were the winners.
We were fishing in Missouri in the early 1980s along a stream I can’t remember the name of at this moment. We’d been fishing all day without success. A suddenly there he was. The biggest trout I had ever seen right near the bank. He must have been close to three pounds. On his lips were at least four flies still hooked that he had stolen from other fishermen. It was like he was showing off championship trophies.
I was standing on a log looking down at him. He seemed to be looking back waiting for my next move. For a split second I thought about jumping in and just grabbing him with my bare hands. Then I remembered pop’s warning about getting water over your waders. I wasn’t exactly sure how deep the water was, but I could see it was moving at a fair pace down stream. So we just stayed locked in eye contact for a minute or so before my dad beckoned me off the log back to the safety of the shoreline. The trout just moved off ever so slowly. It’s been nearly 40 years. I still remember that fish. How he looked. His trophies. His resolve.
The other thing related to fishing we did a lot of was talking about fishing. Lures, line test, drag, reels, poles, hooks, knots, sinkers, bobbers, flies, jigs, poppers, spoons, weather… we talked about it all.
When I was 6 years-old, we talked about what pound test line I should go to as I was progressing quite well as an angler. I had been using 14 or 16 pound test line up to that point. It was a thick blueline that was difficult to reel in or cast out. After a talk it was decided I should graduate to eight pound test line. It was a light blue and a lot easier to cast. Dad released the drag on the pole so I could determine what was needed to bring in the big fish. Not bad for a kid who just finished Kindergarten.
As my dad got older I made the terrible mistake of thinking we had more time than we did. I didn’t take as much time as I should have to be with him, and do things with him. We did do things together. We could have done more together. I could have done more. We could have had more time together. It was a life lesson my pop was trying to teach me, and one I know quite well now.
There were and are no lingering regrets. We didn’t leave any words unspoken. My dad loved me, and I knew it because he told me so. I loved my dad, and he knew it because I told him so. We didn’t have one of the macho, testosterone driven relationships where we were men, and therefore not capable of sharing our feelings. Nor did such things make us feel uncomfortable or like sissies as many dads and sons that period in time felt, and may still feel today. Not to be rude, but the hell with all of that. Tell the people you love you love them. Let them know so there is no doubt.
My dad has been gone for almost 20 years now. And I’ve felt kind of lost for about 20 years. Even now when something fantastic happens, or something terrible happens, I have an impulse to pick up the phone to call dad… and then it hits me all over again.
My dad passed on May 8, 2002. He was 60 years old. He was away at work, and died alone in a hotel. I was 36 years old. I thought there would be more time. I was wrong. I know now the only time we have is right now. Don’t waste it. Don’t let anyone come between you and spending time with your mom or dad or sister or friend or spouse or lover… just do it. Don’t lose time because you think there is time to ahead.