Thursday, January 16, 2014


When I was a younger man, few things mattered to me quite so much as fishing. My schedule was decided not by life's most necessary pursuits (education, gainful employment, meaningful relationships, etc.) but entirely by the pursuit of fish with a fly rod. Trout, steelhead, bass, carp - any fish was fair game provided I could coax it into moving to a fly. And when I wasn't on the water I was tying flies; when I wasn't tying flies I was planning my next trip. College courses were scheduled around major hatches. I worked nights so that I could fish during the day. I caught the biggest brown trout of my life on a day when I played hooky from both graduate school and work.

Contrary to everyone's expectations - except for perhaps my wife's - marriage did little to change my habits. Throughout our courtship (if they still call them courtships) my wife tolerated - sometimes even indulged - my obsession with all things piscatorial. It was she who first suggested I take a trip to Montana, and later encouraged me to make that trip some seven or eight times. I like to think she wanted to see me happy, but just as easily I suppose she could have been using that time to find another husband. I didn't much care; I was in Montana.

If God exists in the world then Montana - western Montana in particular - must be his backyard. For a bug chucker, Big Sky Country is like a shot in the neck with some manner of powerful antibiotic, an inoculation against those days when we are not out in the world doing that one thing we are truly meant to do. When I returned from my last trip I did so knowing that I might never again see such big skies; I knew that the memory of Montana would have to sustain me for years to come. My wife and I had decided to buy a house, and we were going to try to have a family.

On February 15th of 2007, our triplets came into the world, kicking and screaming and - at 4 lbs 8 oz, 4 lbs 10 oz, and 4 lbs 12 oz - just slightly underweight. If I'm honest with you and with myself then I have to admit that I did not take to being a father, at least not right away. I had never so much as held a baby before the doctor placed one of our precious little girls into my reluctant hands. In that moment, all the clichés about being a father were true. I was simultaneously terrified and desperately in love. I wanted to shout my joy to the rooftops and crawl into a dark corner and cry. I had no idea how I would do it, but I wanted to give the world to my children. I started by giving my daughter a little piece of God's backyard: the Madison River.

Madison Sarah Daley.

Maddie playing in the Battenkill ... I thought about naming my son for the Kill ... bad idea.
In short order, however, all the romantic notions about fatherhood quickly gave way to the reality of caring for three newborns. Together, my wife and I fed the children 24 bottles of formula per day. We usually changed in excess of 30 diapers - often two or three at a time. We were assembly line parents working overtime. My wife handled it all with aplomb. While I floundered and fumbled my way through the early years, she was a maternal warrior fighting and winning a battle she had trained all her life to fight. Most days I was in awe of her while quietly brooding and dwelling on one simple question.

"What the hell was I thinking?"

My frustration and apparent ineptitude could only mean one thing - that I was not meant to be a father. On even the best of days, I was overwhelmed to the point of teary-eyed exhaustion. I could never tell what it was my children needed whereas my wife seemed to operate on some preternatural plane, a place where the kids communicated with her via clairvoyance and astral projection. She was the baby whisperer, and I felt like Jo-Jo the Idiot Monkey Boy.

And then something happened. I'm not sure quite when and I cannot put my finger on why, but at some point along the way I started to get it. I began to see fatherhood for what it is and - perhaps even more to the point - for what it could be. Maybe because my kids had grown a little but probably because I had grown a lot, I discovered the joy of being a dad. Most days I still felt like Jo-Jo, but I realized an odd satisfaction in being perpetually bewildered.

I'm not sure what all of this has to do with fly fishing. Probably nothing. Maybe everything. All I know is that just yesterday I was tying flies, and my son crept quietly into the man-cave and startled me with a question.

"Hey Daddy, want to go upstairs and play Legos?"

Know what I did?

I did the only thing a man who is both a bug-chucker and father should do.

I played Legos.

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