The heat from his little body radiated into mine as beads of sweat raced down his cheeks, mixing with the stream of tears carving their course for the tip of his tiny chin. “Hold me tight, Daddy! Hold me tight! Please, hold me tight!” Jacob’s pleas filled the room as he continued to sink into me, pulling my arms ever tighter around his chest. Finally, the nurse had her sample; with a little luck we would have our answer within a week. After all, how long should a father have to wait to find out if his son has Leukemia?
That day I realized there is no lifetime guarantee on tomorrow. What we do today must outlast us. Building my legacy, and helping him begin his own, has become more than just a sappy dad’s goal. It has become the very fabric of our bond.
Revelation Just a few nights after receiving the miraculous news that our son had tested negative, I tucked him in with a kiss and headed toward his doorway.
“Daddy?” I watched him search his bedroom wall for the right words. “When I get older, can I have your truck?”
I smiled, “Why do you want Daddy’s truck?”
Still searching the wall, he responded with an answer that took my breath away, “So I can take you hunting.”
It never dawned on me that what he was taking from our trips to the woods was something he wanted to give back to me. Our trips were really something special to him. I hadn’t realized the most precious aspects of my legacy were being formed in the woods. If you’ve ever wondered what your purpose is, keep reading!
Why on Earth Are We Here? Introspection and outdoor observations revealed opportunities as obvious as the blood-trail of a heart-shot hog. Appreciation for life—including wildlife, love, family, freedom, heritage, stewardship, ethics, integrity, conservation, preservation and yes, even death—all play out here upon the majestic stage of our great outdoors.
The first time Jacob sat with me in a blind on a hog hunt, we watched several does walk across the field with two fawns in tow. “Which one would you shoot, Daddy?”
“The big doe in front, son.”
“Why that one?” he asked.
“Because the other two are younger and the one in back has those two fawns to look after.”
“Why don’t you shoot it then?”
“It’s not deer season. We have to wait until the season opens.”
In 30 seconds of conversation, my son learned that I genuinely love both wildlife and the outdoors. It was a lesson in both ethics and stewardship. He also learned about integrity; he’s heard me say many times, “What you do when no one’s looking is what really matters. That’s the stuff character is made of.” He saw my words in action and they stuck like glue.
Jacob was with me when I caught the biggest bass of my life. You should have seen the look on his face when I pulled the fish from the water. He touched it repeatedly before finally petting it down its slick side. I reveled in his nervous excitement as he watched my entire fist disappear into the fish’s mouth. His excitement quickly turned to doom and gloom when I told him to say goodbye as I lowered the bruiser back into the water. “Maybe someone else will get to catch their biggest fish now.”
He smiled, “Maybe me?”
“Maybe so. He’s in there waiting for you to catch him,” I said.
Purple, gold and scarlet hues of a sleepy sun gave way to silver light dancing on the water as we finished cleaning our fish and stowed our gear. Great memories and another lesson were born. My son understood what giving back to our outdoor heritage is all about. Lesson learned.
The opportunities to teach our children the core values our country was founded upon are endless when you search for them outdoors. Whether you are fishing, hunting, camping or hiking, never lose an opportunity to teach children lessons. They shape the men and women our children become.
Author Kevin Reese and his son Jacob are building parallel legacies during their shared time in the outdoors.
Reflection To this day, Jacob’s pleas to hold him tight still haunt me. Recalling those few minutes still invokes emotions that are tough to swallow back. Yet, my darkest hour gave way to my greatest awakening. Realizing I am not promised another day with my son shattered my someday-soon attitude and replaced it with the hope that my legacy will add to a mosaic of memories and actions serving to build his legacy for what I hope spans many, many years to come.
My son once told me I was his hero. It wasn’t long ago my words echoed his as we sat and hunted together, watching lessons unfold for both of us. Our outdoor world, whether a stone’s throw from suburbia or seemingly endless miles off the grid, is exceedingly special. Out there, in wild places brimming with untamed creatures and still void of man’s industrial touch, our legacies grow together.
And, for this particular dad, the notion that the fabric of his son’s own legacy—woven with mine in those special moments we’ve shared—now veils him in such character there seems little left to teach. To such an end, if tomorrow didn’t come for me, I would be alright with that.
Editor’s Note: This heart-warming story is ideal to post today—America’s 46th Annual National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHFD)—celebrating sportsmen as the nation’s No. 1 supporters of fish and wildlife conservation, habitat enhancement and scientific wildlife management. NRAHLF.org honors this day each year as we sportsmen go afield with our families and friends to acknowledge our contributions the best way we know how: by going hunting and fishing. Congress proposed a resolution in 1971 authorizing NHFD on the fourth Saturday of September. President Nixon signed the proclamation in May 1972. Decades later, NHFD activities nationwide are sponsored by like-minded organizations from the NRA and National Shooting Sports Foundation to numerous hunting and fishing industry companies.