Teach a Child to Fish

TEACH A CHILD TO FISH…FOR THE COMMON GOOD - March 17, 2013

State Representative David Perryman

My grandfather was a fisherman.  I think that it was probably a genetic disposition. He was the great-grandson of Swedish immigrants who came to New York in the 1840’s. Two generations later, after homesteads in Iowa and Kansas, my great grandparents homesteaded near the Caddo-Kiowa county line.

In the early 1900’s in western Oklahoma, for my family, farming was a vocation and fishing was a passion.  Times were hard. The wheat and the cotton were not always plentiful, but fishing in creeks and streams and small natural lakes provided both food and pleasure.

Fortunately, my grandmother loved fishing every bit as much as my grandfather and most of the stories about my mother’s parents involve some aspect of camping, picnicking and “angling.”

The Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”  Well, my family didn’t wait until we were adults to teach us to fish.  We learned to tie our fishing line long before we knew that the knot we used was a surgical knot.

My first fishing story happened when I was about three.   I remember parts of it and the rest has been related to me more times than I care to recall.  My grandmother was as loving as she could be, but the etiquette of fishing required hushed voices and any movement had to be slow and steady.  Rocks were not thrown.  Without fail, her fishing attire was a faded cotton print dress and a pioneer woman type bonnet with slatted sides.

This particular day, I accompanied Ma Clara as she dug a dozen or so fishing worms from the soft, moist dirt and placed them in an old coffee can.  The creek wasn’t far and she carried her old five gallon bucket that held her fishing rods, tackle and enough bait for most of the morning.

Arriving at the creek, she unloaded her bucket, cast her baited hooks into the water and turned the empty bucket upside down for a seat, settling in and waiting for a fish to pull the cork bobber under the water.  Appropriately, this is where my memory fails me.

According to my grandmother, the discovery that a fish had cleaned one of her hooks preceded by mere seconds, the discovery that the bait can was absolutely and completely devoid of fishing worms.  Now I can honestly say that there were no witnesses to the disposition of the worms and the only incriminating evidence was the dirt around my mouth.

Suffice it to say that after that fishing trip, she kept a closer eye on both me and the bait can.

Of my five grandchildren, two are old enough to fish and I have been blessed with the opportunity to take them fishing and be with them when they experienced the exhilaration of catching their first fish.  I hope to continue that tradition.

Allegorically, many children are not born with a fishing pole and even if they were, the number who have no one to teach them to fish is alarming.  In so many ways, attaining life skills, social skills, training, education and success in life can be compared to learning how to fish.  We would never expect a young person with no one willing to invest time, care and compassion in their life to learn to fish simply by being handed a package containing an unassembled fishing pole.

Sadly, many of those who have been equipped and mentored since birth, fail to recognize the advantage that they have over those who were not so blessed.  When we believe that we are discharging our duty to the disadvantaged of our community by simply throwing money at their plight, generation after generation, scowling at their condition and grudging their existence, we are not being honest with ourselves.

The answers are not simple and they are not inexpensive.  However, money alone will never be the answer.  We must invest ourselves in our communities.  We must have the compassion to slow our lives down enough to understand the cause and effect of poverty and of physical abuse and of addiction.

The response of otherwise intelligent citizens to societal problems with emotions of hate, anger and contempt is illogical and destructive. Our continued failure to invest in humanity takes us further from the shores of a stable, productive and healthy society.

Our challenge must be to insert ourselves into the lives of those we do not understand.  Our challenge must be to care about humanity.

We must teach a child to read and to play.  We must feed all children emotionally, physically and mentally.  In short, we must personally, teach children “how to fish.”  Children who are invested in and shown compassion are less likely to “eat all of our worms.”

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.  If there is ever anything that I can do to assist you, please call me at 405-557-7401 or eMail me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov

I look forward to seeing you soon.