A Salute to My Dad

Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.If there’s one thing I’ve learned in adulthood, it’s to be thankful for the good upbringing my parents gave me, and to appreciate every moment I spend with them on the phone and in person.

My dad is the one who taught me to fish, standing by my side and coaching me in the youth fishing derbies, or more often, saying those magic words in the late afternoon that sent me scrambling to the barn for my pole and tackle box. He was the one who looked on with a proud smile when I caught a bass larger than he ever had, the same smile that was on his face when I came home from college one weekend to see an even bigger fish on the living room wall.

Dad is the one who taught me to hunt waterfowl. With five boys to feed and him sometimes working seven days per week at multiple jobs, spending resources on boats, decoys, retrievers and camo wasn’t an option. Rather, duck hunting meant we spent a few hours walking from farm pond to farm pond, sneaking up on the back side of the dam, finding the location for the best shot, then jumping up to get the birds in the air. The first time Dad let me try his 12-gauge, the extra recoil caused me to go somersaulting backward down the dam. I think Dad suspected this might happen and wisely put only one shell in the gun. Despite the mud in my eyes and ears I did hear him yell “You got one!” Who really shot it I’ll never know, but in retrospect I realize that Dad was moving me along the continuum of responsibility, allowing me to learn from my own mistakes, benefiting from greater knowledge and understanding.

As time passed, we reversed roles: my brothers and I took Dad fishing and hunting. The tipping point of inviter versus invitee came the day when I really wanted to be sure he got a bird. I yelled go, we headed over the dam, the ducks flew, and...silence. Father waited for son to take the first shot, and vice versa. We had a good laugh about that one and Dad, gratefully I think, accepted the role of revered elder. When we went out, there was rarely any deep conversation, no long-held secrets shared nor scrapping over politics or religion, just a father and his sons enjoying a long sunset together while squeezing in a few more casts, a father reaping the rewards of having taught his children the value of contact with nature and spending time in the woods. For a time we would walk from pond to pond to jump the ducks, later we took the 4-wheeler, and then the pickup so that Dad wouldn’t get cold. We’d scout the pond then help him up the back side of the dam, holding his arm or gun as needed until he was in the best position. There were rarely big takes or photo ops; I treasure the single photo of us with our shotguns and a pair of Canada geese at our feet. When the hunting was good it was usually so frigid all we wanted to do was get the birds cleaned and get back in front of the fire before our hands froze solid. More often we would go through a few shells, Dad would utter his standard comment that his gun barrel was bent, and we’d go on to the next pond.

When I was 10 I was so concerned about this sickly gun that I took out a yardstick, looked the barrel up and down, and tried to figure out exactly how it was bent and how to fix it so dad could get more ducks. Dad would say I was unsuccessful on both counts, though he continued using that pump 12-gauge up to his last hunt.

I learned about the blood vessel that had ruptured in Dad’s brain upon landing in Chicoutimi, Quebec, literally minutes after we had finished surveying our last transect. While such an event is always sad and difficult, Dad lived very well for over 91 years and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tell him many times what a great parent he was to me, and remind him that his are the examples I use when raising my own children.

For Father’s Day this year, take your dad hunting or fishing. Better yet, create that memory this weekend or even today. Someday you’ll be glad you did.

Former NPS ranger Roland Earsom and son Steve celebrate a great day in the field.

Former NPS ranger Roland Earsom and son Steve celebrate a great day in the field. Photo by Steve Earsom, USFWS