Losing a parent has been even harder than I ever expected. I made it through the slow death-by-cancer and then the funeral part in one piece but once all of that's over, once the house becomes quiet again and holidays come and go, leaving you feeling empty, there you find an unearthed desperation that longs to find some way to continue your relationship with the lost parent. In my case, I started fishing in the strangest of places, looking for my Dad.
My father loved to fish. The annual family fishing stag was a big ordeal in our house and it drove me mad. As a young girl, I quite liked fishing. My grandfather taught me how on Rice Lake and I could spend afternoons out there all by myself, just staring into the water and dreaming of a big catch. Apart from taking the slimey fish off the hook at the end, I found the entire process both soothing and exciting at the same time. But the fishing stag was a male-only event - only the sons and uncles, fathers and grandfathers and male friends of the family were allowed to participate. The young feminist in me found this tradition cruel and sexist. Especially since we girls were meant to go 'shopping' while the men were out in their boats. I didn't want to shop. I wanted to drink and smoke and gamble on who was going to catch the biggest fish of the weekend.
When I finally got back to Paris, my father's would-be 60th birthday was approaching and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to him on my own, somehow continue our relationship in one way or another. He had no grave to visit. His ashes lay in my mother's apartment in Newcastle, a million miles from where I live. So I decided to put on my waders & my bowler and head to the Seine to fish for my Dad. Pretend to fish, of course because the only thing you're finding in that water are some dismembered body parts and empty beer cans.
The first time was one of the funnier experiences of my life. Thanks to Ryley& Angela, I had the confidence to sport the look of a young man by the Seine with a fake fishing rod made out of a broom handle, some beading thread & some crystals while the French stared at me like I was the strangest woman in the world. We blared Louis Armstrong & Frank Sinatra's 'Gone Fishin'' on the stereo and went for it, taking turns casting our lines into the fishless Seine. It was a wonderful sunset full of laughter and liquor and cigarettes. My father would have loved it.
You see, one of his last words of advice to us was to work less and spend more time fishing. By fishing he meant a lot of things: enjoying friendships & family, good company and conversation, good times, mostly. His warning was not to do as he had done and spend a lifetime worrying about nothing but money and work. In the end it all meant nothing and he wished he'd spent more of it - ALL OF IT - just fishing.
The next year, I invited new friends to do the same and it has become an annual March tradition on my Dad's birthday to come out in your most 'male' attire and to fish in an unlikely place with me, for my father. My friends have been ultra supportive and these 'fishing' trips have left me with my own happy memories, which I think was the best birthday present I could've offered my Dad. I believe it's what he would have wanted anyway.
It isn't about the catch, of course. Fishing rarely is. It's about good friends and feeling good. It's about doing nothing. It's about a good laugh and surely, nothing is funnier than being dressed in costume in the streets of oh-so-serious Paris, fake-fishing through dirty looks from the French along the Seine. The pictures make me smile every time I see them and for the past three years, at least for one evening of the year, it feels like my Dad isn't gone. I know that the photos would have irritated him a little, he'd have found it absurd me fishing in a fishless river in downtown Paris, dressed like a man. We argued about a lot, though and pretending I'm getting under his skin a little makes me feel even more like he's still around. Like our relationship goes on, despite his permanent absence.
I hope it's a tradition that I will keep up all my life.