Adults should always have the chance to speak for themselves.
After a smooth float plane landing on a remote pristine Alaskan lake, our group of five male relatives stand mesmerized by the incredible breathtaking scenery as far as the eye can see. Standing next to the fishing vessel that is resting against the shore, our captain summons our team to get on board. We are off!
Before taking you on this journey of an unforgettable fishing experience, I must tell you about Alfred John “Al” Hackbarth, my father, who, when invited to join us, stunned us with his unlikely response. One of my brothers-in-law, Jerry, organized this trip to Alaska. In the discussions that followed in the developing plans, I confided in my wife Carol that I would really like to persuade Dad to go with us. Based on his historical emphatic “No!” in previous invitations, I assumed that he would surely decline again.
Now, you need to understand that Dad absolutely loved fishing! Throughout his life, we were fishing buddies. However, as he advanced in age, he consistently, persistently declined any invitation if the occasion was overnight. If I wanted to fish with him in the later years, it would have to be in local fishing holes.
Delora, a lady friend who came into Dad’s life after Mother died, will always be remembered with thankfulness. She was a wonderful person whom Dad truly loved. My three sisters and I never worried about him after he found Delora.
One day Carol told me that Delora’s daughter mentioned that I should ask Dad to accompany us to Alaska for fishing…she thought he just might agree. Reluctantly, although certain of the outcome, I called him. “Hey Dad, I want to give you a present and I want you to think about accepting it.” He roared back, and in his familiar gruff voice, with a strong hint of his predictable answer said, “It depends on what it is. What is it?” I strongly urged him to consider letting me give him this gift. He replied again that it depended on what it was. I told him that I wanted to give him the gift of an all-expense-paid trip to go fishing in Alaska. He listened to everything I said, and then responded, “Give me a moment and let me go ask Delora.” As he put the phone down, I figured that I must be dreaming. Did he say he was going to ask his lady friend? Was my Dad considering the invitation? I needed to wake up and clear my head. This could not be happening!
A few minutes later, he picked up the phone and said, “Ok, I am going.” If I had not been sitting down at the moment, I probably would have fallen on the floor in complete disbelief. He was going. He had accepted. All these years and long-distance trips offered and all turned down until now – at age 84. That “yes” set off a process of steps that ended up with us now on this beautiful remote lake in Alaska.
Our guide’s name is Eric Mann. He even brags about being “The man.” He is a great guide and really loves providing service for his customers. Everyone should find passion in their job. This guy has it. We stop along shore and he beaches the boat. He instructs all of us to separate from each other and to wade into the water a short distance. We are using salmon eggs for bait. He tells us to cast about 30 feet out into the stream and then let it sit. He emphasizes that we have to “let it sit” for the fish to have time to find the bait.
Before finishing this fishing story, I must tell you about my Dad’s disorder. He was a perfectionist. Most things he did, he did about as perfectly as it could be done. This also led to his disorder. I am sure such a characteristic has been studied. He would overdo things when he was in his perfection mode. One example was when he was trying to attach one piece of wood to another piece of wood using a screw. If flush to the wood was good and a tight fit, then three extra turns were even better. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I said to him, “Dad, the wood is splitting. I think it is tight enough.” It was just his way. When he was drinking coffee and added milk, he would stir the coffee until every single bit of coffee and milk had been perfectly blended. The coffee might be cold and the spoon might wear out, and the cup start showing signs of wear as the spoon slid around the side. But no one in this world ever stirred coffee as thoroughly as my dad. I am not exaggerating. If the Guinness Book had such a category, Dad would have set the record in the book. We all have these quirks. Well, at least that is what people say who have these quirks. I suppose I have them, too, and maybe I will get to them in another newsletter edition or book.
Eric, the guide, has given the “30 feet and let it sit” instructions. All of us on the trip are doing what he told us to do, except for one person. One-by-one we all start to catch fish. All, except my dad. If 30 feet is good, 50 feet is better. If letting it sit is good, cranking it in is even better. He has to turn that screw three more turns. Ok, enough of the excessive tightening of screws, although I think I could add more to that story.
The guide sees what is happening and shouts to my hearing-impaired father that he needs to fish closer to the bank and to ‘let it sit.’ My dad nods in understanding and then casts it again 50 feet and cranks away. He is having a great time overdoing it, as he always has done in life. Dad is in his zone. The guide does not give up. He starts moving closer to my dad and once again hollers, “Let it sit.” My dad looks at him and repeats the question “Let it sit?” And Eric answers, “Let it sit, Al.” Dad finishes cranking it in and once again casts it a long way out. By this time, the guide is standing beside him. Dad puts his hand on the handle and again starts to crank.
We are all watching with much humor as the young man battles the old man. The old man has many more years of experience doing it his way and the young man keeps trying to get through. We have all paused from our own fishing to watch this incredible scene. And then it happens. ‘Eric the Man’ takes hold of my Dad’s hand and in a kind, but firm manner, spanks it while repeating once again, “I said, let it sit, Al.” My Dad turns and looks at this aggressive young man and asks again, “Let it sit?” Eric repeats, “Yes, Al, I said to let it sit.” And then, while we all watch, my dad succumbs to the young man’s direction and let’s it sit. By this time, we are about to fall over with laughter. You cannot write this script or produce it. You have to be here. And true to the guide’s wisdom and before a single minute has passed, my Dad hooks a fish.
I have told my three sisters this story so many times I have lost count. No one has yet asked me not to tell it. They know the story completely and yet we all end up crying tears of laughter as we are reminded of our father. These stories remain wonderful memories. They also provide powerful life lessons. An opportunity to grow in wisdom.
Life is all about relationships. My dad had some weird idiosyncrasies, but in spite of it all there remained love. As human beings, we are fashioned with traits and characteristics that defy all reasoning. I am no longer surprised about the oddities and ironies in life. My dad had some “stuff.” We define this through life in our own terms. Flaws, weaknesses, oddities, and terms used by only our family, are the words we use to describe it. We laugh and cry at times about the stuff. The very thing we complain about in a very vocal manner may later become our badge of courage. The complaint we loudly broadcast, in an ironic twist changes to a boast about the person. It defies adequate explanation. This may sound weird, but the weird stuff makes it all worthwhile.
Even at his age, my dad could learn and try something new. You would think that no 84-year-old could make a change. But who would believe that a young person might spank the hand of someone 60 years his senior and challenge him to see it differently? My Dad could change his pattern and try something different. He did and found success in doing it.
You are never too old to make a change. All of us have the ability to learn and modify our approach. You are also not too young to contribute your own wisdom to others. Everyone has something to offer. We need the answers of everyone. We are stronger and better when we use the combined knowledge and wisdom from others. Someone once said, “It is not who is right, but what is right.”
On that very memorable fishing day, “Let it sit” was the correct model. A young man took a little risk and helped an old man to have some fishing success in a treasured scene in Alaska. And in the process, those in the family watched and recorded one of those special cannot be forgotten moments in life that we call “Let it Sit.” We, the family, know what it means. But underneath it all, we know that we are like Dad in many ways. We have our stuff and others see it just like we are able to so clearly see it in Al. We are a “work in progress” an accounting term used for products in the warehouse that still need work before ready for sale. In that moment in the stream, Al represents all of us. We are a “work in progress.”
“No” is not a final answer. Successful sales people are keenly aware of this concept. They keep asking. Another powerful principle, perhaps the most important one in this story, is that we should always let people answer for themselves. Not asking someone takes away their option. If I had never asked my Dad, I would have taken away his chance to say yes. Adults should always have the chance to speak for themselves. Sometimes we assume their answer, robbing them of their opportunity.
Changes in life, even when it is for our own good, are often resisted. Even when others are loudly proclaiming what we need to hear, we may resist. My Dad fought against Eric the guide again and again; even though he saw others catching fish and knew the advice was good. Eric persisted. He did not give up on my Dad. Parents should take heed. Never give up on our children. Never give up. I have seen people change enough in life to believe. Even a drug addict on meth has the ability to change, however remote that may seem. I admit that this change caught me by surprise. My personal life lesson is I will never give up on anyone or anything. Ever! There is always hope.
All who went on this trip have raved for years about the scenes we witnessed. But, the truth is that some of the best scenes were the ones in which we got to know each other better. The ones, where we laughed and joked and made fun of each other, are what we remember, too. The ones where we were too sleepy to get on the boat and do the next trip, complaining about it, are now great memories. How about the ones where we talked about stuff we did not talk about at home? Some of it was just plain silly. Then, there was that incredible, magical scene where we watched Al catch fish. The scene where the young man and the old man came together in the stream became a special moment in time. “Let it sit” is a story that will never sit on the shelf. There will be other family get-togethers and one of my sisters will say, “Rob, tell us the ‘Let it Sit Story.’” And before long, I will be telling the story for the 452nd time. “Just tell it one more time,” reminds me of Dad turning the screw one more time. I love overdoing some things. (Dad would be proud). And so, I cast the long lines of the story into my audience, and without pausing, I start cranking away while they listen.
I can’t leave this story without telling you one other thing. We lost our dad two years later. He lived a full life until the very end. He was loving life on the last day before his departure. I will always be thankful for a single seemingly inconsequential comment made by Delora’s daughter to my wife who then relayed it to me. I was not going to ask my dad to go on the trip because I knew he would say no. Then, in a large – there are no small ones – moment in time, I was encouraged to do something that transformed into one of my very best memories of my dad. We spent 10 days in Alaska and fished on six of those days. I would not trade that for anything. He is gone now, but the special memories of that trip remain with me. I can still hear the guide saying, “Let it sit.” I can still see the battle of the young man and the old man. I hope that one day in the future I will return to Alaska and get a chance once again to “let it sit.