Repairing an estranged relationship is never easy. It’s even harder with a child with attachment disorder and harder still if that child also has oppositional defiance disorder, especially towards her parents.
But if you want something, you find a way to make it happen.
After driving my daughter home to her mother’s house following an incident too complicated to describe here, I told her, “I did you a favor by driving you home. Now I want you to do me a favor and spend some time with me.” I suggested we could decorate my apartment for Christmas on Sunday after the Bengals game.
She texted me during the game wanting to know if I could pick her up at five o’clock to go fishing. Fishing? We hadn’t fished in almost two years, and I’m not very good at it to begin with.
“You know it’s only going to be 30 degrees outside,” I texted back.
“Soo?” she responded.
“Won’t it be dark by five?” I replied.
“Can we at least try?” came the response.
And there you have it. How do you say no, when you are trying to reach out to a child you want to repair your relationship with, and she’s doing her best to meet you halfway?
So I dressed warmly and headed over to her mother’s place at five. The sun was rapidly fleeing towards the west. The kid was making us a picnic dinner — ham sandwiches, Wheat Thins, cans of soda, and puppy chow for dessert.
She doesn’t say, “I love you.” I’ve only heard those words come out of her mouth about twice in the seven years since I adopted her. But I’ve learned she has alternate ways of expressing her affection, and taking care of you is one of the principal ways she does so. She wanted to make me dinner.
So I let her run all over the kitchen trying to stuff one more thing we “needed” into the cooler for about 15 minutes. Then I told her to look outside at the failing light. We left shortly thereafter.
When we got to the lake we tromped out onto the dock and set to trying to get her pole set up. I never realized before how fishing line is designed to be invisible. After all, I could always see it. Then again, I was always looking at it in broad daylight. It’s a different story at dusk.
I did my best to thread the line while The Kid tied on the hook and baited it. But naturally, the line got fouled back by the reel. By now it was getting pretty dark, and neither of us had a flashlight. (Sometimes my foresight could really use a pair of glasses.) So we got out our cell phones and took turns holding the phone for light and trying to unfoul the line.
Only six months ago, this would have been cause for great frustration for me. It was cold, we couldn’t see, and nothing was going right. I knew going in this hair-brained scheme of hers wasn’t going to work. I probably would have yelled.
But a lot has changed in six months. I’m seeing life differently now, and all I really wanted was to spend time with The Kid. So I just sat on the dock patiently, freezing my ass off, and hoping she would get it worked out soon.
We probably spent 30 to 40 minutes trying to get the line set. By the time it was done, it was truly dark. The only illumination came from the half-moon shining on the lake. I showed my daughter how to cast, and, after we worked out how to unlock the reel, she sent the line sailing out into the cold water. After a second, I heard a plop as the hook broke the surface.
“Now what?” she said.
“Now we wait for a bite,” I told her.
I explained that fishing is a sport that requires patience and that the object is often less to catch a fish than to sit out on a lake and relax.
We sat down on the dock and dug into the meal she made. We chatted a bit as we watched the moon on the water. She almost knocked the pole into the lake, when she thought she saw a spider on the dock. I explained that the dropping temperature was prohibitive for insects and arachnids.
After about 10 minutes, she said, “I’m cold; let’s go home.”
So, after we finished our sandwiches, we packed everything up and reeled the line in. The hook was gone. I surmised she had failed to tie it on tightly and had thus, thrown it into the lake when she cast.
“You mean I just fed the fish for free?” she said.
I consoled her by telling her that, since she had used artifical bait, she hadn’t really fed the fish.
We walked (rather quickly due to the cold) back to my truck. We hopped in, and I turned on the heat. We finished our dinner. Then we headed home. The whole adventure took about an hour and twenty minutes.
My father used to take my brother and I fishing when we were young. It wasn’t a lot of fun, because my dad really didn’t know much about fishing, and we never caught anything worth keeping. On the rare circumstances we did hook something, it was always a small catfish.
But fishing with my estranged daughter was immensely satisfying. In many ways, it was more comically disastrous than any fishing trip from my youth. But what I didn’t know when I was a kid is that the point of fishing with your children is to spend time with them. It builds connections.
So I will take my daughter fishing again if she wants to go. And I will sit there patiently as the line gets fouled and the hook gets thrown out into the lake, and every other little amateur fishing disaster occurs. Because it was nice to spend time with her.
I just hope it’s summer the next time she wants to go.