Fishing with my Dad is a line of memories that runs back all the way to my childhood. I didn’t have a deep relationship with him as an adult and we weren’t in the habit of having real heart-to-heart conversations, so time spent together on an activity like fishing was our bonding time. There were long gaps where we wouldn’t go fishing for years, but in the past few months I was lucky to share a few trips with Dad, including what turned out to be the very last one.
It was almost two years since Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, and though he suffered from various chemo side-effects he was able to lead a fairly normal life. He was also a very stubborn and private man who didn’t want to worry his children and so, when he arrived to pick me up on the morning of the trip, I didn’t realise how much his physical condition has deteriorated in just a week since I saw him last, and that it was the beginning of the end for Dad. Though I got an inkling that something was off when, instead of usual knocking on my door and coming in to say hello to my cat Charlie, Dad called me from his car parked just outside my apartment block to spare himself an extra effort of getting out and into the car.
We made our way to Sale, where Dad’s friends had pointed out a good fishing spot along the river bank. Unfortunately, some ambitious early birds took the coveted spot before us, which put Dad in a grumpy mood. There was nothing left to do but try to find a different location, with a good enough access to the water, so for a while we drove along the river, on a narrow track that I secretly doubted was actually meant for cars. After a few fails, we found a decent spot where the bank was clear enough, though it was still a tad too steep and the chairs Dad brought along had to be positioned carefully among the rocks. The fishing lines got easily caught in the trees above, and you had to watch out for the treacherous branches in the water.
Usually, Dad would insist on carrying almost everything out of the car and setting up the fishing rods all by himself, but on this day it quickly became clear that he’d need a lot of help. His loss of physical strength was hard to watch; after exerting himself early on he slipped and collapsed on the ground and nearly rolled off into the water. He spent the rest of the day mostly sitting on his chair, changing the bait and giving instructions.
At one point I even told Dad off for making the trip when he wasn’t really in a condition for a day out. But his desire for some fresh air was understandable. It was a truly lovely late spring day. In between the trees fringing our spot, the sky was blue and the river’s idyllic calm was only broken by an excursion boat lazily making its way up and down, with the guide’s commentary a distant mumble. So much nicer than Dad’s uncosy one-bedroom apartment that never really had an air of real home. Sitting in the shade, the world narrowed down to the bright speck of the float carried away by the current.
Anyone who commits to a day of fishing must accept the possibility that they’re going to spend a few hours watching the fishing float with no fish action whatsoever. For a while, it looked like we’d be going home empty-handed, but two hours later – oh miracle – the capricious carp finally began to bite, and I caught five fish in the space of maybe half an hour. I can honestly say that I caught the fish, since I had to cast the fishing rod and pull the fish out all by myself, for the first time ever. Both Dad and I were quite stoked with my hidden fishing skills and our change of luck instantly brightened up the day.
Though I had fretted about the trip, in hindsight I’m grateful to have this memory, one of the last good ones before cancer well and truly took over and made Dad’s life unrecognisable.