I knew parenting could get messy. But I had no idea how messy.
Hey, I’m a modern dad. I’ve changed my share of dirty diapers. I’ve been thrown up on.
But I wasn’t prepared to deal with two gigantic catfish in my bathtub.
In the spring of 2002, I suffered a severe back injury that put me flat on my back for a month. It hurt too much to sleep in my bed, so I spent the better part of a month on the sofa in our living room. Near the end of the month I had recovered enough to where I could hobble around, but I still walked like a bent-over, 90-year-old man.
It was at this time that my son and daughter decided to discover the joys of fishing in a nearby catfish pond. The pond belonged to our neighbor, and he gave Chris and Charlene permission to come over and fish anytime they wanted to. Since Dad was incapacitated, it seemed like a good way to pass the time.
My 13-year-old son Chris headed over to the pond with some fishing gear that a friend had given him. Not to be left out, nine-year-old Charlene tagged along with her little Mickey Mouse fishing rod.
Now there are three things that you have to know before we go any further with this story. First, I am not an outdoorsman. To the best of my recollection, I’ve caught exactly one fish in the entire 56 years I’ve lived on this planet. And that was by sheer luck.
Second, this particular pond was stocked with catfish that were fed—regularly.
Third, nobody had fished this pond in years.
So, I lay comfortably on my sofa that summer evening, resting in the knowledge that my children were engaged in an activity that I wouldn’t be caught dead doing. And since neither of them had been fishing before, I expected they’d come back empty-handed.
It wasn’t long before my son burst through the front door carrying a huge catfish. He ran past me and deposited the fish in our bathtub. I tried to ask him what happened, but he ran back out the door, yelling, “I’ve got to go help Sis! Wait till you see hers.”
A few minutes later they came through the door carrying a catfish the approximate size of Rhode Island.
Along with the catfish came my nine-year-old daughter, beaming with pride.
They deposited the second fish in our bathtub and then went back to the neighbor’s to retrieve their fishing gear.
“Those fish aren’t staying in the bathtub,” she said.
I don’t remember what else she said, but it was pretty clear she had no intention of cleaning the catfish. My son had never cleaned a fish before, so I couldn’t pass the buck to him. And so, even though I still couldn’t stand up straight, when my kids got home I was going to have to clean two gargantuan catfish.
Two problems: One, I had no earthly idea how to do it. And, two, the whole idea made me nauseous.
Knowing that my wife would never agree to turning our bathtub into an aquarium, I did the only thing that a geeky, non-outdoorsman could do in that situation.
I turned to the Internet.
A quick Google search on “how to clean catfish” took me to a Web site with step-by-step instructions—and photographs. I won’t go into the details, but the procedure was somewhat reminiscent of Nightmare on Elm Street. Nevertheless, I knew that this was a time that I was going to have to step up and get messy.
So when my children returned, I took the necessary utensils, hobbled out to the front porch with kids and catfish in tow, and got ready to clean the catfish.
Before I started, I looked my son in the eye and said, “Watch carefully. I’m only doing this once!”
By the time the sun went down, the catfish were cleaned and filleted, I was back on my sofa, and my children were delighted. Charlene was particularly happy because her fish was bigger than her brother’s.
I’d cleaned my first catfish. I also learned a lesson about being a dad that day.
Sooner or later, in order to be a dad you’re going to have to leave your comfort zone and get messy. What it means to “get messy” will be different for each person. It usually involves something you normally wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
But if you love your kids, you’ll push yourself out of your comfort zone and get messy.
And when you do, you’ll connect with them.
[Photo Credit: Raymond Gregory, istockphoto.com]