It isn’t easy being a father. And it’s not just the kids…sometimes it’s their mother. John and I have been married almost 43 years, and I am just now able to make the admission…I was a difficult mother.
It wasn’t a matter of different approaches to child-rearing. We agreed on rules, for the most part, and when we disagreed, we usually came to a quick resolution. It’s just that I didn’t quite understand some of the ways he went about relating to the kids.
For instance, hunting. Hunting is a huge part of John’s life, and he sort of expects it to be a huge part of everyone else’s life, too. When the kids were little, it rankled me that he couldn’t get out of bed to help get them ready for school at 7 a.m. That was my job. But come duck hunting season, he was out of the house by 5 a.m., or earlier, to get a good spot on the marsh. Then when the kids were about 6 or 7, he wanted to take them out on the marsh with him!
I didn’t come from a hunting background, but I got my fill of hunting when we were first married and childless. He even bought me a shotgun for a wedding gift, much to the bemusement of my parents. The first time I used it was at the Lewiston Sportsman’s Club, and even though I never hit a target, I ended up with a gorgeous bruise on my cheek and shoulder. If I’d been in Massachusetts, they’d have thought he’d been beating me. But this was Lewiston, and everyone knew what a recoil bruise looked like. (And they’d have known if John beat me, because somehow they knew everything!)
I continued to try to shoot something, but my gun-toting days were over when I almost shot John’s hunting dog (who was a wedding present from me to him). But I soon figured out that if I wanted to spend time with my new husband, I’d better tag along on hunting trips.
I could usually get by just trailing after him and being quiet, although reading a book in the marsh was an affront to Nature, apparently. But one day he got a great idea. It was on a pheasant hunting trip to Iowa. The dog was not along because, as I remember it, the trip started out, in my mind, as a little mini-honeymoon, but turned into a hunting trip when John threw his shotgun in the trunk. So there we were, with not much to do before our romantic dinner for two at some roadhouse, and “we” decided to hunt pheasant.
“Tell you what,” John said, as though he had just thought up the light bulb, “You get down in the ditch and walk through the underbrush and flush the pheasants.”
“You won’t shoot me, will you?” I asked, kind of joking. He assured me he wouldn’t, because the pheasants would fly, and I wouldn’t.
Down in the ditch, I struggled along, mostly watching the brush for dangerous footing. But I looked up, and there was a rooster pheasant, just looking at me. “Shoo!” I said. He looked at me. I waved my hands at him, and he looked at me. “John,” I yelled, “here’s one.”
“Flush him!” John yelled back. I tried, really tried. Then I said, “I’m coming out, he won’t flush.” And just as I said it, the pheasant made a huge racket and nearly decapitated me in his rush to fly away. BOOM! John got the pheasant, and I got full of burrs.
So when John wanted to take the kids along hunting, I put my foot down. No down-in-the-ditch flushing pheasants for my little darlings. He took them duck hunting instead. I figured he wouldn’t make them jump in and retrieve, as he always took the dog along. I had the kids so bundled up they could barely get the life jacket to snap shut. They seemed to like it, bonding with Dad, the dog, and nature. I can say that none of them turned into little hunters or huntresses, though. Mostly they liked to collect the pretty feathers. They do love to eat wild game, though, which I think is quite sophisticated.
I don’t think they picked up hunting-worry vibes from me, but someone else I know begs to differ. If I had really wanted to put the kibosh on things, I could have told them about the time John wanted me to put on my winter coat and stand a couple of rooms away with my back to him so he could shoot at me to figure out if the pebble-shooting device he had rigged would get the attention of his Black Lab when he got out of range. No, I never told them that story.
But hunting aside, I think John is a very good father. He gave them a love of reading and literature. He encouraged writing. He made sure they had a good education. He gave them good lectures, but knew when to keep out of it when he disagreed with a choice they made. He sticks to his rules, but will let them break the rules on special occasions. He let me teach them to drive the car, because his idea of teaching driving is to have them sit in the back seat and watch him. And he loves them dearly, and they him. What more could a woman want?