My little girl turns seventeen today. As I write this the chorus to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella” flows through my mind (if you don’t know the song, check it out and listen closely). It seems like it was just this morning that I was strapping her into her car seat for the ride home from the hospital. Now I think of this spectacular young woman whom I get to call my daughter and realize how little time I may have left.
A few months ago it hit me that my little girl was spending more time with friends or hanging out inside than with Dear Old Dad in the outdoors. She has always loved canoeing in the Boundary Waters and, more than once, has out-fished her brother on spring crappies. As soon as she could walk she was outfitted with her own hunting hat, a special hunting coat, and her own purpose. We would bundle her up and head out. Sometimes it would only last ten minutes while, other times, a whole hour. Many days she’d hold my hand as we made our way down a favorite grouse trail. Other times she would scout the way perched on my shoulders. Mostly, it was just us spending time together in awe of the Creation around us.
So today I am writing this to all the Dads out there with daughters. Pay attention now! At Game Fair I got to speak to many parents and grandparents lamenting that we are losing our next generation to pursuits not related to the Great Outdoors. I also witnessed many success stories and picked up a few nuggets of wisdom that I want to share with you today. Some have worked well for my family and may work for yours, too.
First, Dad, know that taking your daughter afield is NOT about you at all. Until they are on their own, this time together has to focus on their enjoyment. All kids need to be comfortable in the outdoors: warm, dry, and well fed. They need to be engaged: show them the squirrels, the flowers, or the clouds. Youngsters are not designed to sit silent and motionless. One great idea is to let your child sleep in while Dad does the early hunt. Have breakfast together, then head out to the stand. I know this can feel like it may disrupt your hunting, but getting them started young means more memories together.
Another thing to remember is that girls are different than boys. Just because something works well for you is no guarantee that it will work for your daughter. If you want her company, you need to get her equipment made for her. Women’s apparel has come a long way. Buy her the same quality you buy so that it fits properly, it keeps her warm & dry, and it looks good. Yes, I said it should look good. Most young ladies don’t want to step right from the pages of a fashion magazine to a duck boat, and they will not be happy wearing old hand-me-downs that have been buried in the back of the truck. Deal with it, Dad. Your little girl is hanging out with you, not that punk down the street with his undershorts sticking out of his pants.
Firearms, bows, and fishing poles should also have the proper fit for your daughter. I know you have a spare 12 gauge in the closet already. If it doesn’t fit them, it won’t work for them. I know a new gun will set you back a couple hundred bucks. I also know that you will NEVER regret a single morning watching the sun break over the horizon with your princess at your side.
As I said earlier: my little girl turns 17 today. Her birthday has practically been considered a National Holiday in our family. Not because of her arrival on the scene, but because it often falls on the traditional Duck Opener. I assumed that this was a prophecy of things to come, never dreaming that she would want to spend her special day anywhere else but in a swamp with her Daddy. (What was I thinking??) As I also said earlier, I realized that she was indeed spending her time on other things. What to do?
With typical Motherly wisdom, my wife came through for me with a warning to not force the issue. That would be a colossal mistake. But I missed our time together, so maybe I need to change something. I began looking for ways to plug into her life. Maybe it needs to be about spending some time in her world, not forcing her into mine. I should figure out what gets her excited and help her get it. Then one day I found it! As soon as I saw it I just knew! It is a fishing pole-A cheap fishing pole. It is perfect!! It is pink and has little colored LEDs that shine like jewels when the reel is cranked. Our next trip to the cabin found us out in the boat together- just her and I. Not always talking. Not always catching. But we saw eagles, loons, and ducks. Mostly, we saw it all together. That fishing pole might be the best $15 I have ever spent at a sporting goods store.
Chapman’s “Cinderella” reminds us of “something the Prince never knew. Soon the clock will strike Midnight, and she’ll be gone.” Finish reading this, then go find your little girl. Whether she is 3 or 63, give her a hug, and tell her how much you love her. Let her know that you still adore her. She may not be at your side on opening day, but you can forge a bond with your princess that nothing will ever break.