On Father’s day, most of us will take a moment to reflect on our fathers and give a small thanks for the impacts they had on us. For those of us that fish and love fishing, many of us had that fire sparked by a father or a father figure. That at least was the case for me — a father and a father figure.
This is my first father’s day celebrating it without my father. My dad, Daniel Sealock, passed away roughly 90 days ago. So I’ve had a lot of moments since to reflect on many memories and experiences and wanted to share some of that reflection on this father’s day for not only other anglers who have lost their father’s recently or previously but also for sons who now have their own sons, especially those new fathers.
I will give you a brief background and then talk my fishing experiences with my father that paralleled my life experiences between a father and son.
Growing up a military brat
My father was in the Navy a decade at the tail end of Vietnam and into the nuclear submarine boom during the Cold War. He fondly recalled running maneuvers in the trenches outside of Russia popping up here and there to listen to radio transmissions off the coast.
At the end of ten years, my father was given the option to move on to Captain which would require another lengthy commitment to the military. With sub captains, it can be 6-9-12 months away from home at a time. With three small kids at home, my father chose to leave the navy early seeking employment in the nuclear energy field, where he went on to be very successful.
The step-father influence
I will back up a bit to a relevant piece to my reflection and the dynamic with my father. My father was actually my step father. My biological father, also a Navy guy, didn’t have the capacity for fatherhood or marriage as it turns out.
So at 4 years old, my mom and I were on our own. My father Daniel stepped in shortly thereafter and married my mom and would later officially adopt me.
I would be lying if I said our relationship was smooth and beautiful throughout. But I will let it be known that I loved my father dearly, and hold him in high regard as a man. Nevertheless, he was rough on me at times.
To put it bluntly, my father could become a scary, imposing hard ass at the blink of an eye. He wasn’t a bad person. His own upbringing in a small 2-bedroom house in Iowa with 10 siblings made for a challenging childhood of his own. Being in a sub for months on end right out of high school made him a very direct and no-nonsense guy, although he had a really great sense of humor and loved to bust people’s balls.
But I think he missed out on the development you have as a new father that usually coincides with transitioning from being your parents’ kid to your own man. His first kid was 4 years old and he was thrust into it in the package deal for my mother’s hand in marriage.
Fishing’s saving grace
My father made me laugh— a lot growing up. But, he was also the only person in the world who could make me cry. He wasn’t really raised in a “positive-reinforcement household” so he in turn didn’t really father that way. Most of my lessons growing up were hard and painful. He could tear my psyche down in a single phrase. And to his dying day, I never heard the man utter the words, “I’m sorry.” Just how his generation was.
Most of my young life, I walked on pins and needles around him and was probably pretty rambunctious when he wasn’t around. Which, during the Navy years, was a lot.
The one place where he and I connected on another level, however, was fishing. He loved it! And at first, I just loved how much he loved it. I loved those early morning rides on a foggy Mirror Lake in his old tin boat. The smell of his coffee when he uncorked his Thermos. The stillness of nature and the peace I saw it gave him.
His oversized, accordion-style three tier Plano tackle box was the enchanted chest of dreams to me. Every lure represented a special fish, a fun memory, something was magical in every single tray and the egg carton in the bottom with his prized Bagley’s crankbaits weren’t to be touched save for special occasions. A separate hard plastic yellow box housed his stash of the prized go-to bait … An 8-inch grape fire tail Mann’s Jelly Worm.
I got to where I equally loved fishing. Fish, tackle, articles… didn’t matter. If it had to do with fishing, I was enveloped by it. Eventually as I matured, I cherished when I got to share that love with him on much broader level.
When we moved to Arkansas I was in middle school and early high school and was fishing every minute I could. Getting to go with him on the weekend in his old Bass Tracker was the highlight of every week or month for me. I learned so much from him about fishing slow, having patience, watching for visual cues, reading water, navigating water, driving a boat, lures, knots and so much more. I can remember most of these lessons decades later like it was last week. Thats how impactful that time was for me.
The latter years
Through my later high school years, our relationship became very strained. Because of my Dad’s career path, I lived in Florida, California, Idaho, Hawaii, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Florida again, Arkansas again, Florida again and eventually Arkansas one more time and now Kentucky.
So I moved a lot for a kid. I attended 11 schools before I graduated from college. I was good at making friends, but have never called anywhere home.
That stresses you out as a young adult. I was struggling navigating peer pressure and always being an outsider trying to fit in. I resented that at times. Was bitter about it at times. But it toughened me up. Made me excel at everything I did. And you can probably guess what my one constant was that kept me sane and grounded.
Fishing. No matter where I was, fishing was an escape for me.
Dad and I spent a lot of time in Florida learning to fish the flats, canals and oyster bars for redfish, sea trout, flounder, sharks, and tarpon, and we got really adept at wade fishing for tailing reds on oyster bars.
You couldn’t hardly talk to me about a bass my last couple years of high school. I was enamored with the salt and my time spent with dad out there.
When I finally went to college, our trips together were dwindling and my trips alone were building. He was pretty busy with work and I’d grab the Nitro and go pick apart a lake nearby.
After I moved out of the house, he let me take his boat for a few months to learn Beaver and Table Rock. When I took it back to him, I had to go the next month and buy my first Tracker at the annual Spring Fishing fair at Bass Pro in Springfield, where dad had gotten all his boats.
I eventually got a side gig writing fishing pieces for the newspaper and got on the Skeeter Arkansas State Team in the late 90s when I bought my first Skeeter TZX 190.
Who knew those little influences would open up an opportunity for me writing and shooting for FLW full-time in the 2000s. I eventually became Editor-in-Chief of the FLW Magazines before being asked to take over operations for Wired2fish in 2010 when we were first starting out.
No growth without hardship
I have my father to thank for this amazing and blessed life I have now. My mother of course was also integral to all of this. But my father sparked that love of fishing in me and nurtured it over decades. It gave me such a base of peace I needed in a turbulent childhood.
The world is becoming way too soft about everything. And some people may have experienced a hard fathering like I had growing up and carry around a lot of emotional baggage. I don’t.
I appreciate those hard lessons now. And those harsh words made dealing with any hardships along the way easier for me. It might have put some chips on my shoulder. It might have made me cross with my father at times. But those encounters caused me to prove I could do things on my own and want to prove to anyone I was the better man.
Yeah it’s probably why I’m more introverted than some, but as I turned 50, I realized being introverted is a blessing not a curse. I deal with a lot less fake people and fake energy and my small circle is as loyal, loving and hardworking as one can be blessed to have.
My father didn’t have social media. He didn’t care about pretend friendships and doing things for likes. He cared about having a few close relationships and making sure things got done for others.
His hard lessons and occasional missteps helped me figure out the father I wanted to be and where I would try to do better in those places that were hard on me.
I’ve used that raising my own son, who is praised by the many adults he encounters for being a strong willed but likable, approachable, smart, funny kid. A lot of my dad shows up in him.
When Dad got cancer 10 years ago, the surgery and treatments were hard but he joked and laughed along the way. He raised my niece and nephew like his own kids during that time and was hard on them too at times I’m sure.
When his cancer came back 2 years ago they told us it would be a matter of months before he was gone. But he pushed past the first year and then the second.
I tried to call him weekly to catch him up on fishing stories, my travels, my business dealings and his grandson who he always wished he got to see more. My niece and nephew need him as their father for a period, so they stayed in Nebraska more than they may have wanted. Some times when I would call, he couldn’t talk, but he still wanted to listen.
It was harder than I thought when he passed, but I was thankful to be there in those last moments. I cherish our time on the water more now than I probably did as a kid. I hope some of what he instilled in me I can pass on to others. The world needs more hardened men up to the challenge and less self entitled little boys as society seems so keen on producing nowadays.
I have his old tackle box in my office now.
I opened it up last week, going tray by tray and remembering fish catches of years past. Some of the lures I took out of their trays because I didn’t want the pooling tears to rust their hooks.
The enchanted chest of dreams … and memories.
Thank you dad for taking me fishing so much …
It made me a good man and gave me a great life …
In loving memory of my father,
Daniel Richard Sealock
10/12/1954 – 3/14/2022