Raising a Boy on a Boat

There are certain things that are passed down from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild. A child does not even have to be around the parent to pick up the inherent elements of the family’s DNA. There are scientific facts that prove that say a boy will have his father’s nose or his mother’s hairline. The way a person walks or talks can be identical to their parents, or even their favorite foods can match up. Family traditions, habits and hobbies can also play a part in who a person becomes as they grow older.

I remember when Cody Ryan, my oldest, was in his single digits and we would get up before sunrise and go fishing at one of the many local lakes. We would fish late into the afternoon. As the day began to wear down and we would be driving home, he would be sitting shotgun. The hum of the tires, cool air from the AC and the low volume radio was comforting. I would be talking to him and his little eyes would drift off. Finally he would ask, “Can I rest my eyes a little while?” He never wanted me to drive alone and never wanted to miss a conversation. This was pre-cell phones and other electronic distractions. It was great. He would sleep the rest of the way home.

When I was a single father, I had certain things that were important to me. My dad was not available to me from junior high and when I became a single father and my son was still in elementary school, I made the decision I was never, never going to be that guy. I moved when his mom moved, I asked for him any time she was busy and coached his baseball teams. The other thing we did, and did a lot, was fishing.

In his early years, we lived near the Texas coast and we spent a lot of time fishing off docks, piers, jetties and wade fishing. We had a lot of fun and caught a lot of fish. I remember times he was too small to wade out or even reach over the rail of the pier. But it wasn’t until we moved into the central hill country of Texas that we started to get serious.

All around the Austin, Texas region are lakes and rivers. One Saturday, Cody Ryan and I decided to go check out the boat show. It was cheap and full of things for a father and son to do. As we worked our way around the room we ended up drawn to a small red shiny boat. A “Mean 15” Champion bass boat. At almost 16 feet in length, it was a fiberglass beauty of fishing joy. She sported a Mercury engine and a sleek trailer that matched it all. It was just about two weeks later that I was sitting in the sales office for that boat dealer and placing an order.

It seemed to take months for our first fishing boat to be birthed. We waited on the edge of our seats each day waiting for the call to come. Then it happened. I returned home from work and the answering machine light was flashing, “Hello Mr. Greaney,” the message began. “I wanted to let you know your new boat has arrived and is ready for you to come pick her up.” The next day I took Cody Ryan out of school early and we drove out to the dealership. There she was, incredible, beautiful. She was black with a deep red stripe and deep red interior that matched our S10 Chevy Blazer to a T. She was as perfect as perfect can be in a fishing boat. We had never bought a boat before, never captained one, never even considered it until that day at the boat show. But we knew it was right and this girl was now ours. She was more than what we hoped for.

For the next 15 years we fished a lot. Every Saturday, every holiday. We didn’t just stick to the local lakes either. We fished every hill country or power point lake within 100 miles. We fished the Texas border lakes and over into old Mexico. It was a great time of adventure and father son time.

These days were, if I am honest, selfish too. I loved the fishing, I loved the exploring new lakes. We even fished some tournaments together. We never won anything really but we fished and had fun. It was an amazing time. Cody Ryan finally grew out of the “hang with dad” stage. He went on to college and then began a life of his own. After college, he moved into his own home and wanted to start fishing again. The ole Mean 15 was always garage kept and maintained perfectly. One day God spoke to me. I pulled it over to his house and delivered it to him.

I felt emotional about passing on the ole boat. She was good to us and we had created lot of lifelong memories on her but he would put her to good use, my interest had faded the last few years and his hunger to fish competitively in tournaments was growing. It was good to pass her along.

It has been 10 years since I delivered “Blackie” to Cody Ryan that day. He eventually sold her to finance a newer bigger boat to support his tournament angling. We both talk about how sad it was to see ole “Blackie” hitched to another person’s vehicle as they drove away. He is five or six boats into his career now. The boat he has today is over 22 feet, has a big 250 horsepower engine and talk about scooting over the water. Wow. He is fishing some of the most prestigious bass tournaments in the country professionally and he needs it to compete.

The last few months he has invited me to fish with him as he pre-fished for a big tournament or just for fun at small local tournaments. There is not a lot of pressure to for him on these days, but I can see the competitive twinkle in his eye. We laugh, joke and catch fish. It has given me a renewed interest in fishing and I have started asking him when we will be going next. He laughs at my desire to fish and my competitive comments taunting him. I love it.

Last Saturday, we were up early and pre-fishing a lake he has on his tournament trail soon. He needed to scout it out and I was available. We were early to rise and just after noon the sun came up and it got hot. He fished hard till about three. I fished along, we talked, laughed. I enjoy watching his skill and thought process. I cast and fish as I can but I also know when to stay out of the way. It is pretty cool as a dad to watch his passion.

As we were driving back from the lake, we talked about how the wind played a part in the fishing. We talked about docks and grass and shoreline. He was fully engaged and processing what we did, what he did. The sun was warm and the AC cool. The music from the radio was turned down low, the hum of the road was steady. I found myself nodding off as he talked. I tried to stay awake but it was so comfortable and I was tired.

“Dad, you can rest your eyes if you want.” Wait, what just happened? I laughed to myself. He smiled. Did that just happen, am I old? All those days on the boat, the summer weekends, powdered donuts and countless adventures. Time is going by so fast. I don’t want to miss a minute. I forced myself to stay awake. When we got to where I had left my car, he swung around and stopped. I looked at him, he still looked excited. I leaned over and hugged him, got out and closed the door. He pulled out of the parking lot in his big truck with long sleek boat. That was a good day, a long day, but a good day.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I don’t want to miss fishing with Cody Ryan. I can’t wait to see him take his kids fishing. The gift of the ole 15’ bass boat and those days way back when were a gift from God I will always cherish.

These days, each moment seems to be more poignant, the time with family and friends more important. Things to buy or have don’t have much value to me anymore. Time is the one thing no money can buy, no favor can release, no marker can save.

I forgot how much I enjoyed catching fish and the competitive adrenaline that comes from competing. Cody Ryan is way past anything I ever reached in my fishing skills but I do claim partial responsibility for the DNA that flows through his blood that gave him everything but gills and scales. “A boy can learn to be a man growing up with a cane pole in his hand,” is a line from the one song I wrote in my life. Seems to fit. Thanks, God.

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