A lesson in letting go and a Republican father’s ‘biggest failure’

Hey there readers! I am introducing you to George Smith on this snowy Friday. George blogs for the Bangor Daily News at George’s Outdoor News, and recently left his post of 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He is a father and now a full-time writer.

Born and raised a Maine Sportsman, George does everything from keeping readers apprised of upcoming legislative bills to watch to reviewing tales of a tale of murder, mayhem, and mystery.

The following essay on fatherhood and letting go was written Aug. 4, 2004.

Courtesy of George Smith

Courtesy of George Smith

Letting go of a treasure is always difficult especially one that you have loved, nurtured, polished, protected, and admired from near and far for 22 years. All the way to Manchester, New Hampshire’s airport, transporting my son Josh to a plane that would take him away toward his new job in Oregon, I pondered.

Did I teach him everything he needs to know? Were there any last minute instructions that I had failed to mention? Can I let him go?

The closer we got to Manchester, the more I panicked. Of course, there is more he needs to know! Of course, I have fallen short in his education! But of course, he is ready to step out into the real world as a young adult.

For Pete’s sake, he’s traveled all the way around the world, backpacked through the jungle of Thailand, visited Mother Theresa’s orphanage in India, stood on the Great Wall of China, communed with refugees in Tanzania, and even sat through a four-hour speech in Cuba by Fidel Castro. By the tender age of 22, Josh had already visited more countries than me, and in many ways was more worldlier.

Sadly, all of this education has made him a person with liberal tendencies – a Democrat if I must confess all here – perhaps my biggest failing as a Republican parent.

Nevertheless, I am immensely proud of Josh. He’s an independent thinker, a young man of great empathy for the poor and marginalized citizens of the world, who puts his words and deeds where his heart is.

He has chosen to give a year of public service, and that too makes me proud. He’ll be working for Holy Cross Associated, serving in a program for the homeless in Portland, Oregon, and living modestly for the next twelve months.

I know not where he’ll go from there. Sometimes that scares me.

Everything he found necessary to possess for the next year went into two packs on earlier this year – less stuff than I take on a week’s fishing trip. He’s a well-organized young man, and that is not a trait he got from his Dad.

As we drove from Mount Vernon to Manchester, scenes passed by that were not out the car window.

Josh, on the front porch with his tiny backpack and casting rod, with the toothless grin of a 5-year-old, ready for our spring fishing expedition to Maranacook Lake for white perch. It’s one of my all-time favorite photos.

Josh with his first large trout from Sourdnahunk Lake where he learned to fly fish, creating his own unique casting motion by ignoring my efforts to teach him to cast. I gave up when it became apparent that he was casting better and farther than I was!

Josh with a 6-pound brook trout during our amazing trip to Labrador’s Little Minipi Lodge the summer before his senior year in high school.

Josh with a huge smallmouth bass taken taken during a leisurely canoe trip down the Androscoggin River from Dixfield to Canton. Hey, all those images are Josh and fish! Go figure.

Of course, there are many other images and memories: graduations, ball games, home, camp, church, school and family activities. But it is our love of fishing, I think, that most closely binds us as father and son.

And that was my strategy all along: imprint Maine’s wondrous waters and fighting fish, those outdoor experiences that make life in Maine “the way it should be,” hoping he’ll return to his home waters when he is finished wandering and experiencing the world.

There must be more than woods and waters here for him, I understand that, and as much as any Maine resident, I will be hounding the governor and legislature and business leaders to create an economy and opportunities that will bring Josh home.

During a competitive family card game the other night, I proclaimed our work on Josh to be completed. “Job done,” I shouted. “You’re on your own now.”

Everyone laughed because they knew I didn’t mean it. Even as I pulled away from the curb at the Manchester airport, eyeing Josh for a final time as he stood in line waiting to check his bags with the skycap, another scrap of information popped into my head. I pulled over and rolled down the passenger window.

“Josh, don’t forget to get name and address tags from the skycap and put them on your bags,” I said.

“Sure Dad, I know.” Of course he does.

And with that big smile I miss so much already, he leaned down to the open window and said simply, “Bye Dad.”

“Goodbye Josh,” said my voice, while my heart said, “Come home soon.”

Update: Josh now works for My Brothers Keeper, an outstanding program that serves the poor in the Brockton, Massachusetts area. He and his wife Kelly would love to relocate to Maine, but have not been able to find the jobs they’d need to make that move. I’m still wishing. Still hoping.

Natalie Feulner

About Natalie Feulner

Natalie Feulner is a journalist and “semi-crunchy” cloth diapering momma to a rambunctious toddler named after a county in California. She drinks too much tea and loves to climb rocks but not at the same time.