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River Town Chronicles: The lengths a father will go for his son

There are two kinds of people: those who bellyache, and those who accommodate.

A week before Christmas in a large sports store, I’m waiting to check out when, in another line, someone cuts, and the cashier begins ringing up the reprobate.

“You can keep your [items]!” The offended woman throws what looks like a bag of cotton balls on the counter. “I’m leaving!”

Minutes later, elsewhere, I approach the one feeder checkout line while holding a small container of “30 BIG REDWORMS.” A woman bearing an armful of Bears jerseys who easily could have beaten me to the line says, “Go ahead. I hate it when people don’t let someone with only one thing go ahead of ’em.”

See? Some bellyache, some accommodate. Same thing holds true for parenting. Last weekend, my son, Jay, walked up to my desk, hands behind his back. “I’ve got some early Christmas presents for you.”

Since spending a semester in Colorado (at what I call Winter Camp College) spawned a passion for ice fishing, Jay has tried to share his enthusiasm with me, analogous to a spelling bee champ coercing a dyslexic to play Scrabble.

“Great,” I said, dreading the gifts.

“This can save your life if the ice breaks and you fall in.”

I unwrapped a coiled cord with plastic orange handles at either end where two spikes protruded.

“You lie flat in the water, kick hard and pull yourself up on the broken ice with the spikes.”

I imagined myself sinking into the seaweed.

Next was something resembling an orange whoopee cushion. “It’s a fanny warmer.”

I imagined toasty warm buns while my fingers and toes were falling off.

“Now all we need is worms, an ice fishing sled and 2-cycle motor oil.”

Doing nothing except deciding which movie to see, a prospect no longer possible if I didn’t want to crush my son’s excitement, I volunteered to go. He’d spent big money on a foldout tent, gas-powered auger, sonar fish finder, butane heater, and two or three different kinds of state-of-the-art fishing apparatus.

We went; he augured; I froze. After two hours, Jay caught a good-sized bass and huge sunfish. Ecstatic, on the way home he exclaimed, “I don’t have to go fishing again this year.”

Making me ecstatic – until at dinner he allowed, “Next weekend I want to try Oakhurst Lake or Blackwell’s.”

“You taught him how to fish,” Tia, my wife, reminded me later.

“On water. Not on something that better belongs chopped up and cooling a Big Gulp.”

“There are limits,” a school colleague advised after hearing how I accommodated my son’s interest by going on an expedition that would have given Byrd and Shackleton pause.

“He gave me gifts I couldn’t refuse.”

Earlier that weekend, walking out of a store with $40 worth of lures the size of bedbugs, Jay said, “I love you, Dad. Thanks for going ice fishing with me.”

Oh, for all the frozen hours I’d spend on the ice, that moment melted them all.

• Rick Holinger lives in the Fox Valley where he’s taught high school since 1979. Contact him at

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