Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fishing: NO Girls Allowed

I've never been one to bow to gender expectations or to limit my choices simply because I was a girl. When I first went fishing at age 5, I thought nothing of the fact that A. I was a girl participating in a sport dominated by boys or B. That it was unusual that I would catch a fish before my 9 year old brother. The picture of me holding my first fish--3, maybe 4 inches long--was one of sheer joy and pride.

But as I grew up, fishing was never my top choice for how to spend an afternoon. My husband, however, describes his childhood as if he were fishing every day. Growing up a few miles from the ocean, he would pack a PB&J, ride his bike down to the pier, and spend 5 or 6 hours fishin'. He also developed the fine art of dragging and trapping crabs. His knowledge of bait, tides, fishing gear, and what to do with the darn things when you catch them far out-weighs mine. Nevertheless, when he decided to take the boys fishing, I wanted to tag along. I had no idea what territory I was about to intrude upon.

Their trip to the bait shop is just Bob and the boys. Devin demands, "You and Brooke stay here. WE go to bait shop." Whatever. They also pick up some gear. Up to now, our 6 and 3 year old sons have been content with fishing line tied to a stick on one end and a bobber on the other. No hooks helped me relax. That time has passed.

When I get in the car to go fishing and leave Brooke with the grandparents, no comments are made. At the pier, each boy is presented a genuine rod and reel and a hook spearing a tiny fishhead. When the boys begin flailing them around dangerously, I quickly search my first aid memory bank for how to remove a hook from appendages. Can we please skip that lesson today? I pray.

Patiently, Bob shows the boys how to cast and reel it back in slowly. "Don't reel it in right away; just leave it there and watch for any signs of movement, " he encourages. I go over to help Devin, but he gives me the cold shoulder. He would listen to Daddy's guidance but not mine. He uses no words but his actions speak volumes: "Fishing's for boys; no girls allowed." It's at this point that I truly feel like a fish out of water. I don't belong. I've intruded on a male bonding activity and my presence isn't appreciated. How did I not see this coming?

I ask Bob if he ever brought girls along on his fishing escapades as a boy and he responds, "Never." After I snap a few pictures, I decide to just relax and soak in nature. That lasts about five minutes when I begin to get eager to interact with nature. "Any nibbles yet?" Nothing. "How you guys doin'?" Nothing. This is fishing? I wonder. How does anyone do this for 5 or 6 hours?! Regardless of my gender,this sport is not for me.

It turns out I'm not the only one bored. Within ten minutes, the boys have wedged their poles in a rock and are off on a nature scavenger hunt. A funny thing happens when fishing is no longer the focus: I am once again included in their adventures. "Look, Mommy, isn't this shell neat?" "Ooh, ahh, let's show Nana and Papa that when we get home!" They beam with pride. The lines have been clearly drawn: fishing isn't for Mom, nature hunts are.

After an hour, my frustrated husband packs it in. His vision of being able to share his beloved pass-time with the next generation is a bitter disappointment. "When the fish are biting, it will be a very different story," I console him. "You might also need to give them a few more years when their patience and attention spans are superior to that of a knat."

A few days later--despite my resolution to leave fishing to men--the whole family including aunts, uncles, and cousins return to the pier for another go at fishing. I spend most of my time shadowing Brooke hopping along rocks way too dangerous for a 16 month old. The child has no fear; wonder where she gets that?! Just as we spot a red jellyfish, I hear, "Alright, Bobby, your first fish!!" Everyone huddles around to sufficiently admire and praise the young fisherman. His memories of boredom during fishing are quickly masked by the thrill of the catch. Once sufficient pictures have been snapped, Bob tries to get the hook out and release it, but no luck. Bobby is thrilled to take home his grand prize of nature. He even surprises us by trying a few bites of his prize catch breaded in a frying pan.

I can't say as I've given up fishing with my children, especially when Brooke begs to go too. But I have realized fathers need a few activities that are "boys only" just like Brooke and I will need our "girls only days." It can be a fine line between feeding into gender expectations and acknowledging some preferences are normal, but I'm sure we'll find our way.

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