Sweet sixteen to graduation, wedding bells to baby wails; life is undeniably about countdowns and the excitement that accompanies them. The life of an outdoorsman is no different. The cathartic aspect of the hunt is the countdown to the climax, scouting, the stalk, setting up decoys, or choosing the perfect tree, outdoorsmen live for the expectation of the unknown. The most successful outdoorsman is not defined by the shadow of the deer casted from above the fireplace or the tattered photo album on the mantle; a successful outdoorsman bears a story that was once an expectation.
As an avid waterfowl hunter, my expectations typically presented as anticipation for the first click of the safety to fire, a bumper toss that will evolve into a downed mallard drake, and perhaps the most enticing countdown of all, the final five minutes before legal shooting time. Recently, the manner with which I define expectations has a new unit of measurement… nine months. The sleepless night following putting a field full of fowl to bed with expectations of filling the freezer the following morning pale in comparison to the agony of the suspense of a first time father-to-be. Historically, the months leading up to waterfowl season were garnished by camouflage, neoprene, and shotgun shells however when expecting a new hunting buddy I found our hallways pink with swaddling blankets and Winnie the Pooh memorabilia.
Hours of trolling bookstores and “how to be a father for dummies” articles and blogs informed me of the lack of parenting articles relevant to the outdoorsman. As a result, I embarked upon the process of explaining what it means to be expecting through the lens of a waterfowl hunter. As I sift through my blind bag contemplating whether or not to hunt tomorrow, and how quickly I could migrate home following a text notifying me that labor has induced, each inanimate object personifies a characteristic of parenting I humbly long to possess.
A test blow through a call that was once a simple tool to convince an unsuspecting drake of one final pass is now a reminder of my role as a father to direct my daughter through life and lead her to the right choices just as this call has lead many ducks into the strategic pocket of the decoy spread. On the contrary, this same call reflects the deception that is lurking around every corner of today’s society. Just as a drake faces the punishment of the temptation of this faux raspy quack, children are often deceived by selfish pride and fear. What once solely held a place on a cherished lanyard is now playing a new tune as expectations configure with every night prefacing the arrival of this cherished child.
Muscles and facial hair, refusal to shed tears, there are numerous scoreboards for manliness in society. As wool gloves hug my hands while making sure all is dry from the previous morning hunt, I am reminded that there is no shame in the emotional embrace of a father and his child. Manliness, once determined by testosterone production and bench press max, is now personified by a tear that will surely fall as this baby enters the world. While stuffing these gloves in their usual pouch I will never again limit their importance to warmth, but a reminder of a father’s love for his children and the importance of daily embrace.
At one point in my life, a youngster venturing into the woods for the first time alone, a headlamp was a valuable commodity in the arsenal against the fear of the dark (or as I liked to call the fear of impaired eyesight which is a result of the dark), it is also a tool for setting up the perfect decoy spread, and today, the headlamp is a reminder that as a father, I should provide the same care and provision. When she is unable to see what is in her path, it is the role of the father to light the way. Illumination is the ability to reveal the unseen; this small headlamp is a reminder of a father’s large role of doing just that, revealing the conflict between right and wrong. Just as the headlamp transformed from a fear eliminator into a tool for the purpose of setting out a spread, a father must transform into a comforting wisdom, always willing to listen objectively and teach through grace and love. To this day, if I find myself in the woods without a headlamp the morning never goes as planned.
One of the final objects I place in the blind bag for the morning is a box shotgun shells. As I expect to shoot this steel down a warm barrel in the morning I also plan to shoot this child into the world as prepared as possible for all that may come her way. As the pattern expands my prayer is that her wings will also spread, becoming a young lady chasing her dreams (and hopefully waterfowl too). All that remains after the call to “take-m” is a spent shell and a story… at this point, the child’s trajectory is unknown, but I long for the campfire that we sit around and talk about the story that led us to what she becomes.
As I write this article I patiently wait… after all, every story begins with an expectation. Thirty-nine weeks feels like a lifetime leading up to a childhood that all warn passes in the blink of an eye. In many instances in life, time feels like a cruel trick leaving a longing for more or less of itself. Regardless of my expectations for parenting, for my child, and for the future, it is all God’s plan and that is the beauty in every story… the anticipation of what is to come. Tomorrow, as you anticipate shooting time, sift through your blind bag and remember to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you.