It’s July 17th, 1999. I’m in my granddad’s pickup truck with my dad headed to Atlanta, Georgia. I have a terrible memory, but I know the exact date because I have the original bill of sale from where I bought my first bass boat that day. Well… from where WE bought my first bass boat.
See, dad and I had borrowed my granddad’s pickup because dad had an SUV, and I was of course 12 with nothing to drive. But I had been working all summer cutting grass to save up money for a Basstender 10.2 from Bass Pro Shops and we needed a pickup to haul it. Dad and I had made a deal. The boat was roughly $800 and I would work and save up $400, he would match that $400 and help me buy my first boat. And I was 12…
It was a great deal in my mind. So I busted my butt all summer. Dad was a realtor and had some houses for sale where his clients needed their yards cut. He would drop me off with a push mower (self-propelled before you go to feeling too sorry for me) and then come back and pick me back up in an hour or so when I had had time to finish.
That was something you could do back then. It wasn’t as dangerous or inconceivable as it is now. And it was extremely important. It was work. Dad taught me how to have a work ethic at a young age. How it was ok to want something as long as I was willing to earn it.
Dad Lesson Number One: Do That For Your Kids
So it’s July 17th, 1999. We finish the 2-hour voyage to the nearest Bass Pro Shops at the time, and when we get there, it’s like a vacation in and of itself. The place was amazing. It is amazing. It’s like stepping into a whole other world. Everything you could possibly think of relative to fishing and the outdoors all in one place, before the era of TackleWarehouse, Amazon, and all the other “.coms” would deliver it straight to your door.
We walk in, and despite the aisles and aisles of distractions, my singular focus has me on a direct path to the marine department. I drag dad by all the stuff he wants to look at, because after all, he was nothing more than a kid in a candy shop himself at that moment, to the Basstender 10.2. The object of my affection and obsession that whole summer. It was a plastic boat with two swivel seats and a trolling motor mount on the back. All a kid wanting to pond hop and piddle around in a slough at the lake could possibly want. But…
Right next to the Basstender 10.2 was the Basstender 11.3. The equivocal “Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle” that I had to watch Ralphie pine over in a Christmas Story throughout my childhood. This thing was unreal. A two-seater, the same as the 10.2, but with a casting deck, navigation lights, an aerated livewell, bilge pump, and a place to mount a foot-controlled trolling motor upfront and a little outboard mount in the back.
The catch, it was another 500 bucks. Even if dad was still willing to go 50/50, I didn’t have the $650 necessary to meet him halfway. So I tried to catch myself and refocus, control my wandering gaze. But dad had already seen it.
Dad Lesson Number Two: Go Above and Beyond When They Deserve It and You Can
To be honest, dad hardly needed convincing. He had been eyeing all the bells and whistles of the “next step up” model sitting alongside the 10.2 as well. Before long we were cramming an 11-foot, 3-inch boat into a 6-foot bed and tying as much orange flagging as we thought necessary to prevent a ticket for the inevitable 70 MPH drive down I-85.
When we got back home, we dumped it in the local farm pond and I gave it a test spin. No outboard yet, just a small hand-controlled trolling motor on the back. But you’d have thought I was in the fanciest rig that’s ever competed for $100k. I was on top of the world.
All sorts of modifications came over the years to that little ride. My mom actually went with me a year or two into owning that boat and we bought a little 5 horsepower Nissan that still runs like a top today. She saw how important that boat was to me and wanted to be a part of it. So, shout out to mom and all the moms out there who don’t get enough love.
Back to the story though. So we had a stint where we had a lake house on Lake Martin. I was probably 13 or 14 around then. I had my sick ride pulled up in the doc and there were only two rules: “Wear your lifejacket and don’t go more than two miles”. The “two-mile” rule was so I could always be reached if my parents wanted to check-in on me. See, I had a walkie talkie with a 2-mile range and they had its counterpart in the house. Cellphones weren’t real yet. Bag phones were, but that’s a whole other story.
I would sleep in the basement so I could set an alarm and be out the door without disturbing anyone before daylight. I would get up around 4:30, ease down to the dock, hop in the boat and have my foot on the pedal with a rod in my hand to greet the sunrise. There were few days that I came back before dark.
Fewer even still where I would have had a five-bass limit for more than 7-pounds. But still, I was in love.
Dad Lesson Number 3: Give Them Controlled Freedom
Countless memories were made in that boat. Some even in recent years as dad and I would load it down during my college days with enough camping gear to support a commune through the apocalypse. We found that a 5 horse Nissan takes roughly one hour to transport 2 tons of meat, eggs, cheese, lanterns, bass fishing gear, catfishing gear… you get the point, a grand total of 5 miles. But once we got where we were going, we lived like kings.
I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood, a better set of parents, but I have friends who are far less fortunate with the dad draft. This is a Father’s Day piece. A day when dads should be celebrated. But I think it’s also a day when dads should be challenged.
This next part’s a little tricky. Because I think all good dads feel inadequate at times. Like they could always do just a little bit more. But that drive to be better proves you’re doing great. To those dads, I say, atta boy. Keep it up. I’m not a dad yet, but I’m sure it’s tough and no matter what you do you likely won’t feel like it’s enough. I’m sure my dad felt the same way at times and God willing I will too someday.
But for those of you who know you should be doing better. Who know you’ve been dropping the ball. Step up. It’s so simple at the end of the day. It seems like kids want and need so much. But they really don’t. The only thing they really need is love and a good example. I’m so thankful I had and have that.
And you never know where it will lead. I was a 12-year-old kid drooling over a plastic boat in Bass Pro Shops. And now I write about fishing for a living. Reaching out on behalf of all kids out there.
Do the best you can, there’s no telling the difference it will make. But I guarantee, it will make a difference.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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