***Before beginning this post, I would be remiss to omit a sincere thank you to my wife and children. I truly appreciate your efforts to make this Father’s Day a special day for me. I love the char–coal grill. I love the hugs, kisses, and cards. I love my cake. And I love you. When I look at you, I know I am truly a blessed man. Thank you for making every day feel like Father’s Day.***
To celebrate Father’s Day, my family and I headed east towards Sleepy Creek Lake in Berkeley County, West Virginia, for a day of paddling our canoe and kayaks. To ensure that we had enough energy for such an adventure, my wife prepared my favorite breakfast – buckwheat pancakes, real maple syrup, and oven–baked cinnamon and sugar bacon. After gorging ourselves sufficiently, we left the comforts of home towards the mountains. As we drove the winding gravel road, bouncing over potholes large enough to swallow small Volkswagens, I once again instructed the little ones on proper paddling and safety. “Yes, there may be snakes. Yes, you may flip over and fall in the water, but the most dangerous thing on the lake today will be your paddle. Most paddling accidents happen because people were playing with their paddles and accidentally knocked someone’s teeth out. That’s not going to happen though, right???”
Within an hour, we were at a boat ramp on Sleepy Creek Lake. We carried our canoe, kayaks, and gear to the edge of the lake and prepared to ease our way into the water – the three older children in kayaks, Misti, Turtle, and I in the canoe. The three of us in the canoe slid from the ramp and paddled a few feet into the water. Misti and I are old pros, and Turtle has no fear, but the other siblings, that was another story. After sliding their kayaks off the ramp and into the lake, it took a while for them to feel comfortable on the water.
We paddled slowly at first, allowing the three kayakers time to acclimate to this new type of adventure. Within moments, my oldest daughter was paddling further and further away from us, looking back only to check for approval. Misti and I both yelled to her, “You can paddle a bit further away. We just have to be able to see you.” She seemed like an old pro at paddling, and I fully suspect that she’ll become my “whitewater buddy.” This wasn’t the case with the other two children. Both paddled closer and closer to our canoe until I’d finally use my paddle to push them back to a safe distance. I didn’t want to unintentionally smack one of them with a J-stroke, and I didn’t want to baby them too much either. Children (and even adults) need to be pushed from their comfort zone. With no challenges and no adventure, we have no room to grow. To their credit, both fearful paddlers finished the trip with a stronger sense of accomplishment and confidence in their abilities. Even so, it didn’t help that the water in our cove of the lake seemed surreal. Within a few feet of the surface, the water turns a deep greenish–black. As you paddle around dead tree trunks towering overhead, you realize that many more are standing beneath the water and reach almost to the surface. Brown tree trunks covered with a touch of green algae standing tall in the black water seemed more akin to a Tolkien novel than anything in my known universe.
As we paddled, I imagined countless bass–fishing trips to our newfound paddling location. Sleepy Creek Lake is known for it’s large bass, and many “experts” expect that the next state trophy will come from these waters. Apparently, all of those standing trees are the remnants of a forest no one bothered cutting before damming Sleepy Creek and filling the valley with water. The remaining trees and underbrush provide great habitat for those smallmouth bass we anglers get so excited about.
My state trophy bass–fishing daydreams were frequently interrupted by Turtle’s constant movement from left to right. Even though he is relatively small, the shift in weight would cause the canoe to shift just enough to startle me. I’d lean to the opposite direction, balance the canoe again, and then quickly react as he shifted once more to the side of the canoe where the grass seemed greener. As I watched him splash his feet in the water, my wife dutifully taking photos and worrying about her goslings, and the other children experiencing their first paddling experience, I gave up any inclination to dream the day away. Why waste a perfect day on such follies as daydreaming?
To lighten the spirits of the more worrisome children and to provide a brief reprieve from the heat, I started using my paddle to splash everyone. Misti would yell back to me, “I’ve got my phone! Don’t get me wet!”
I’d reply, “OK, baby” as I accidentally splashed a bit more water onto her already sunburned shoulders.
We paddled for about two hours. We didn’t cover much of the lake. We just took our time, enjoying each other’s company as we paddled along. This allowed me and Misti an opportunity to survey the lake and to keep a watchful eye on our brood while also allowing each child to learn at their own pace. Even with such a small area of observation, I still found the lake to be beautiful. I enjoyed seeing those tree trunks reaching to just below the surface. I enjoyed the water lilies and their beautiful yellow blooms. And I enjoyed getting a chance to be a father on Father’s Day.
We returned home exhausted. The heat and the paddling diminished all of our energy, but I somehow managed to find the motivation to use my char–coal grill for the first time. We enjoyed my (almost) famous hot dogs topped with Misti’s mom’s special chili and my dad’s timeless cole slaw. I thought of all the time I’ve spent with him, and I thought of his passing down the tradition of making the best cole slaw. As I finished dinner and had a celebratory cigar, I thought back to my dad again and again. I can only hope that as my children grow older they will respect me as much as I do my own dad, that they enjoyed the chance to spend time outdoors with me… and remember that I made the best cole slaw ever.
If you have any Father’s Day traditions or family canoeing stories, I’d love to hear about them! Send me a link to your post or share them here in the comments.