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Unintended Consequences

"Actions have consequences, whether intended or unintended.” – Mankind Project

I’m not a big fan of folks who try to absolve themselves from responsibility with the “I didn’t mean for that to happen” defence. We all know youngsters who are mature beyond their years, and adults whose immaturity is indefensible. I reckon the separation can be found in the acceptance of responsibility.

I have believed in this for a while, but I still have spectacular failures in execution. This is why Easter 2022 was such a gas. I don’t often laugh from my belly, but this was one for the books.

We like to spend some of our holidays at my mom’s house in Bettys Bay, a coastal hamlet about 90 min drive from our home in Cape Town. Our visits there are characterized by swims in the nearby lake with the dogs and the boys, fending off baboon home invaders, and walks in the famous botanical gardens. When I was growing up, we also did a lot of diving for abalone and crayfish, activities that are not center stage for us given the age of our young boys (3 and 4).

Like my dad with me, many years ago, I thought this holiday would be a good opportunity to introduce my boys to fishing. Their motor skills not yet developed enough to use a proper rod, I bought two of those little hand reels from the local fishing shop. They came pre-loaded with a hook and a floater, so I just had to get my hands on some bait.

Now follow my logic. Neither the bait nor the location, in my mind, were particularly important for their first fishing expedition. It was more about getting them used to the concepts of baiting the hook, lowering it into the water, and then waiting for fish to nibble. I saw actual fish as way down on my list of priorities, and there was no aspiration to actually catch anything.

It was 4 pm, Easter Saturday. The weather was clearing up after a pretty horrid day, the wind was dying down and the sun was peeking out. Caroline and I decided it was time. Our boys were desperate to get out of the house, my mom had just arrived to join us, and the family was ready to head down for some first-time fishing action.

We trooped down to the lake, our regular spot for swimming. Not fishing. I had, not for the first time, made assumptions based on old and irrelevant data. The fact that the lakeside spot had been deserted in frigid gale force winds at 8 am in the morning was not a predictor for 4 pm perfect weather conditions.

We hit the crowd at the lake like a hurricane. The Labrador Leia immediately found a larger canine sparring partner, and I threw her ball deep into the lake. The boys started stripping (their standard move) and I got busy with the job of prepping the fishing lines.

Only I couldn’t quite work it out. The hook here, the line there, a convoluted stringing protocol…the whole thing seemed hard to figure out given all the distractions of rowdy dogs and naked offspring. Caroline heroically minded the children and tried to keep the ball deep so that Leia would not cause chaos on the lakeside.

My mom volunteered to assist and grabbed the second reel. She, despite her best intentions, did more harm than help, and in short order, we had both reels in a messy tangle. We finally got a bit of line liberated with a hook at the middle, and I excitedly called naked Matie across while putting the bait on.

This part is important, so pay attention.

I was using the leftover bit of rump from the last week’s braai as bait. I had no idea if there were any fish in the lake, and if there were if they had the same love for medium-rare beef as we did. I assumed not in both cases, but as previously stated, I thought it irrelevant.

The bait hooked, the scene set, I called again for my eldest, who was actively practicing a new sport called sand diving in the shallow end. He ignored me, so I cast my attention about for junior, the juicy steak still dangling on the hook just above the waterline.

AJ was as reticent as his older brother and ignored my pleas to join me on the little bridge. His attention was held by a different game, called jumping in the reeds. The moment I had imagined – a slice of pure magic, father and sons sitting in an Oscar-winning moment of male bonding for a first fishing experience – was fast slipping away from me. I slightly raised my voice, hoping an authoritative baritone would do the trick. The line dangled…

As I said: Actions have consequences, whether intended or unintended.

I felt a tug on the line, and my gaze shot towards the hook, an immediacy of elation (there are actually fish here) and dismay (the boys missed it) spiking my adrenaline levels.

They were not done being spiked. The fish that I had caught, was Leia. The Labby had earned her stripes as a master scavenger on the Sea Point Promenade. This was a different environment completely, with a shortage of obviously available goodies. But I was making it easy for her, by teeing it up. While I was distracted, nostrils flared and decisions were made, and she honed in on the target.

You know that moment when time slows down? You are aware of your wife screaming “Nooooo”, the dog thrashing about, the line tightening. You know you should let go of the reel, but ancient instinct dictates this is a Hemingway-ish battle that needs to be fought, and you nearly get dragged off the little bridge.

I would love to sit here and tell you that I let go of the line, calmed down the dog, and gently removed said hook from her upper lip. But I can’t. Much like her aquatic associates for whom the exercise was intended, she managed to get loose of it all by herself after what felt like an eternity of violent struggle. And still walk away with the grass-fed beef.

While my mom busied herself with getting the hooky mess away from any other children, dogs, or inflatables, I sat still for a moment, taking stock of my failure in life. And then, my wife and I started giggling hysterically. Giggles quickly became outright hysterical laughter. And it lasted for a while.

The kids were none the wiser, there were a few deeply judgmental looks from some of the other bathers…and the dog was fine. But man did we laugh at all this.

It was agreed to pack away the fishing tackle, regroup at home, and live to fight another day.

It was my intention to take the boys fishing. But a half-baked plan is generally a bad idea, and it’s not the first time I need to be reminded of this. Focus, planning, priorities. If I had chosen an appropriate place, used appropriate bait, and with a deep focus on the kids as opposed to having my mom and wife and dog in tow…well, maybe I might just have had that Kodak moment.

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