Tag Archives: faith

Thank You

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I’ve had more help from family than any one person deserves (Uncles Tom and Don pictured above).

On this holiday, when we all get together to share a meal, watch some football, reminisce about great memories from the past and plan a few adventures for the future, I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I truly am for help from so many people around the country in the past 33 years.

My parents have given me more opportunities than any one person deserves: My mother is the kindest woman you’d ever meet, and helps anyone who asks for it. My father was the most driven, hardest working person I’ve ever known. For as long as I knew him, until the absolute final weeks of his life, he woke at dawn, walked for two or three miles with our golden retriever, was to work by seven, and rarely came home before 9 p.m.  He lifted himself from the absolute utter depths of poverty to park a Lincoln Town Car in a three-story suburban home. My mother’s kindness, compassion, and forgiveness and my father’s work ethic, drive and faith are characteristics that I’m grateful to aspire to emulate every single day.

I am so lucky to have a large Irish Catholic family that our grandmother, Marilyn Jones, kept together for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m lucky to have cousins that have joined me on fishing adventures everywhere from Naples, Florida to the flats of Brewster on Cape Cod and in countless missions to places like Sandy Pond, Chittning Pond, Sauquoit Creek and the West Canada Creek, right in our own backyard.

Thanks to my father I was able to pursue a love of the written word at Syracuse University. Thanks to the editors at On The Water I had chance to work at a fishing magazine, and thanks to Gerry Bethge and Outdoor Life, I had an opportunity almost no one gets: fishing 36 of the lower 48 out of a Jeep.

The anglers — from Brooke Hidell in Maine who I just spoke with last week, to John Kobald in Seattle — and everyone in-between: I want you to know that I think about those trips, those fish, and your sincere hospitality and help, every day.

Thanks to Emerson College I was able to at least get a start on my dream of building you a fishing magazine, a project I’m still thinking about, and working on, every day. And thanks to Buff and Outdoor Sportsman Group, Todd Smith specifically, I got a chance to try and raise a few dollars to contribute to the Melanoma Research Foundation in memory of my Dad. The editors at B.A.S.S. gave me a crack at a second Catch a Cure, and Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing,  Rick Roth at Mirror Image T-shirts, and Sunology Sunscreen all got on board to help. Thanks to Joe Higgins, who creates some beautiful artwork, I was able to work at a truly fascinating shop while I lived in Salem, Mass.

I’m thankful to be working at Bass Pro Shops, where passionate and kind co-workers have helped me out time and again over the past two years. (I’m hoping I survive my first Black Friday).

My father had a fondness for nature, one that was no doubt distilled to its purest form by the incredible hours he forced himself to put in at an office on a daily basis. He always made note of the geese flying overhead this time of year, and I’m reminded to appreciate those subtle but important details every time I hear them heading south. My grandmother appreciated the overwhelming beauty we’re able to see every day, and she didn’t take a single sunset for granted. Hers is a gratitude I try to maintain as often as I can in her absence. In our first Thanksgiving after her passing, the Buffalo Bills, a team she loved to watch every Sunday during football season, pulled off an impressive victory to continue a shockingly strong run of wins this year.

Almost our entire family cheered them on, and I’m grateful for those people who’ve been with me, and have supported me, for as long as I can remember.

If you’re reading this, I’m thankful, and I hope you have as many altruistic and helpful souls in your life as I’ve been lucky to encounter, so far, in mine. Whether you’re a guide who helped on Fish America or Catch a Cure, a professor or former classmate at Emerson, or one of the kind customers or co-workers I’ve met at Bass Pro Shops: Thank You.

 

 

How Living in a Jeep Changed me as a Person

DSC_0049 13I was reading this article by the tremendous people at Outside Magazine, about “How to live out of your car,”  (there are some great tips in there) and it got me thinking about the trip I took with Outdoor Life’s help in 2010, fishing my way across the country.

I did not, at the time… “plan” to live out of my vehicle when I left. I was working a great job that I was lucky to have, but couldn’t shake the feeling that… there’s an entire country out there of drop-dead gorgeous stuff that… I might never see. I was dealing with some problems that I’ll not get into, but suffice it to say… I felt an urge to move, go, escape, travel… anywhere.

With a bare-bones budget and nothing but a road map full of places that I’d been dreaming about for the better part of 20 years, I put everything that I owned in storage and headed for Maine in late May.

Now… I’d set up trip itinerary of places to fish, things to see and friends I’d had that I wanted to visit, but planning an itinerary for a cross-country road trip is like making a plan for what you’d do if your house caught on fire: It might ease some anxiety prior to the actual event… but rarely is it something you can execute in practice when the time comes.

I did see the things I’d hoped I would (Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, the Grand Canyon, The Pacific, the Florida Keys), I got the chance to fish with a rock star, and I even lived with a marine artist named Pasta for the better part of a month (it got to the point where he started saying: “I’ll see you ‘home’). I lost about 40 pounds and grew my hair out for the first time in my life.

Prior to that trip, I was a quiet, soft-spoken guy with a lot of anxieties about the little things in life (‘Did I wear this shirt already this week?’ ‘Am I coming down with a cold?’) and to some degree I still am.

But on that trip, more people helped me than I ever could have imagined would prior to undertaking it. Anglers from Maine down to Florida and out to California and up to Oregon had me stay at their houses, introduced me to their families, and took me fishing.

I’ve always been a religious person, although I’ve come up short of that definition more times than I can count… but I’ve always believed in God.

What that trip did, the way it changed me… was that it gave me a faith in other people that I’d not had before then. It also reassured me that you don’t need to know how something is going to work, you just need to keep trying everything and believe that it will. My idea of Divinity changed from some all-powerful master on high watching our every action… to a collection of souls down here on earth that, more often than not, want what is best for not only them… but for all of us as a group, together.

That’s what I brought back from the road, and I carry it with me wherever I go today. It has been a saving grace in the days that were to follow.

What I’ve Learned: Never Give Up

The sun sets on one of Florida's best bass lakes.
The sun sets on Rodman Reservoir.

Perhaps the greatest thing about fishing, as a sport we can get into while we’re young, is that our fortune or fate insofar as the fishing is concerned is always dependent upon, and only upon, ourselves.

If we get into basketball or baseball and are cut from the team, we can choose to blame a host of different factors. Maybe we can say “The coach was biased and kept his favorite kids,” or “I’m just not tall enough.”

In many other arenas in life we can choose to blame a variety of factors if we don’t have the success we’d hoped we might.

A pond or a lake, on a very calm, windless summer day, will almost look like a mirror from above. So when the results of our efforts don’t meet our expectations… the water’s there to remind us exactly what went wrong… which isn’t to say that we were doing anything wrong, per se.

Maybe we were, maybe we timed the bite wrong, were on the wrong part of the lake or the river, maybe we didn’t imitate the forage well enough or get up early enough in the morning.

But more likely than not, we just failed to spend the amount of time there that would have ultimately led to the result that we wanted. The answer, with all due respect to recent Nobel-Prize winner Bob Dylan, isn’t “blowing in the wind,” it’s in the water and in the time we have to devote to it.

And because I grew up as a fisherman, I learned not to take one unsuccessful outing to heart, not to absorb failure or hardship any more than might be necessary to glean a lesson from it.

I learned that if you spent a day on the water and didn’t catch, didn’t bring fish home, or perhaps didn’t even get a hit… it only meant one thing.

You had to go back. You had to try again. Maybe you’d try in a different way, during a different time of the day, or with a different approach…

But in fishing, and hopefully in the rest of life’s endeavors, failure or a lack of success is absolutely no reason to stop, only a reason to change, adapt and grow.

Suicide Prevention Day

Blitzing Striped Bass
A nervous bird eyes a school of blitzing striped bass in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

It seems that every day, thanks to social media, now has some significance, and some are more serious than others.

Yesterday, I discussed “celebrating your weirdness,” but today seems to bring a more pressing and difficult issue to the forefront: suicide.

Whenever I think about loving the water, the outdoors and fishing, I can’t help but think that part of it, even if we don’t realize it, is that it connects us to something ancient, instinctual, and animal.

Thousands of years ago men pulled fish from the ocean, not for sport or recreation, but to survive. To survive.

That is at the heart of our love for the outdoors: An ingrained, ancient need for survival.

D.H. Lawrence wrote: “I have never seen a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Lawrence, I think, was speaking in admiration of an animal’s singular focus on staying alive, no matter how it went about that process.

Human beings are more complicated. We explore deeper questions, asking “What is my purpose here? What am I meant to do, or be? Am I succeeding to that end?”

Lawrence’s bird, I think it’s fair to assume, never questioned its purpose. From the moment it was born, to the moment it took to the air, searched for its first meal, and right up until the moment it fell frozen from the branch, it knew, instinctively and without hesitation, what it was and for what it was meant.

We can posit that the bird never wished that it were a fish, or wondered why it weren’t a giraffe. We can guess that the bird, until its death, accepted its bird-ness and did its best to stay alive, care for its young, and, perhaps, if animals can be said to experience these things, it enjoyed soaring over some beautiful country.

My point is this: perhaps it merits consideration that you are not supposed to be anything that you’re not, you’re not supposed to want more than you have, you’re not supposed to be taller, smarter, richer, skinnier, bigger, more tan (certainly not), more popular, better looking, worse looking, you’re not supposed to be able to play two instruments, or speak three languages…

Perhaps is merits consideration, that you are supposed to be… exactly the way that you are, even if the reasons for that have yet to be revealed to you. Maybe, like the bird’s destiny to live its life as a bird…

Your destiny is to be you, and you are in the process of shaping that future.

I think it’s worth considering that all of the great and terrible, beautiful and difficult, wonderful and heartbreaking things that happen to us are supposed to happen so that we can be created to be, exactly who we’re meant to be.

And that you, through everything you’ve experienced, endured, suffered, enjoyed, loved, hated, and dreamt of…

Are meant to be… you. And that our most singular focus, our one job, mission or goal… should be to become that, stay that, embrace that and be grateful for that, even if we don’t always understand it.

And since the you that you are is here, reading my blog… I just want to say thank you, and please, keep being you.

The Unheralded Hero: Bonnie Bach

13173206_10103005628732776_2807476143193203519_oI’ve written extensively in this blog about my father, a man for whom there are not words: he was tough as nails, moral almost to a fault and funny to boot. I’ve sung the praises of my grandmother, who amazes me daily with her strength and optimism.

I don’t, I don’t think, give my mother the credit she deserves… if indeed anyone ever could. Maybe I’m afraid to try to put into words what an inspiration she’s been and how much joy and hope she’s brought into my life… fearing that I’ll come up short.

Were it just the case that she was an amazing woman, who worked her way out of poverty to build a beautiful home and life for her son, that would be almost amazing enough in itself.

But for almost three decades she has struggled with Bipolar Disorder. This is hard to write, and certainly I never would without her permission. And it’s easy to see how far we’ve come as a society when we’re talking about medical advances in cancer research or battling diseases like leukemia, but our understanding and treatment of mental illness is, I promise you, far, far behind.

The doctors and medications that have failed her, at times spectacularly, would bring me to tears to describe. So I won’t.

Her perseverance through those disappointments, those medical attempts to provide her the healthy and fulfilling life so many of us take for granted, is stunning to the point where it almost defies belief.

Anyone who knows anyone who has struggled with mental illness knows that the word ‘struggle’ here is not at all an exaggeration. She has battled it every day with a courage I cannot imagine.

The oldest of 8 before losing a sister to leukemia,  she has helped her sisters whenever she could, and has helped her mom, my grandmother, more than anyone could have imagined she might be able to when their family of 9 was living in a second-story walk-up, using a dresser drawer for a crib for the youngest daughter.

On some days, I’ll either call or stop by the house and I’ll be telling or listening to a story, sharing a memory or a laugh, or talking about my crazy dream of building you a magazine… and I’ll just stop. A wave of realization washes over me about what this woman has been through, overcome, and what she continues to battle every day.

I don’t say it as often as perhaps I should, but not a day goes by when I don’t think: “That’s my mom, damn straight… and thank God she is.”

Don’t Give Yourself a Choice

One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”

I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.

It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.

I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.

I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.

A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends.  She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.

“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.

When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”

And then her answer, always her answer…

“Don’t give yourself a choice.”

You Can Take it with You: Places we Save

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The Rapidan River in Virginia is as beautiful a place as it gets. I tried to fool a few wary trout with a Tenkara rod in 2010. 

If you get the chance to travel and see the American landscape while you’re young, especially in today’s social-media driven, share-everything culture, you’ll have one beautiful difficulty. I can almost guarantee it. And if you’ve aspired to wrap words around ideas, places, or experiences to keep the heat on, this will become especially vexing.

Because for some places… There are not words.

I could rattle off a few just sitting here: The Florida Keys, The Grand Canyon, the Montana landscape, the Maine Coast, the Outer Banks… but there are too many to list in a blog, a Facebook post or any online list that you’ll read, if we’re being honest.

And what happens when you stand before these natural monuments is something that’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. With most every other experience in life, no matter how far-fetched or absurd, we experience it by sharing it. If we are crossing the street and a car runs a red light and nearly hits us… we share this story, others recognize its absurdity and agree. We get it out, we see our estimation of it mirrored in the reaction of others, and we move on.

When we experience love in the way of marriage, there’s a church full of onlookers to share in our excitement and gratitude and congratulate us. When we experience loss, there’s a church full of loved ones to console us.

These experiences are defined by our sharing them, describing them, and having some type of community around us to verify and reflect their worth and value. If a man lived and died alone in a forest, would he have ever “lived,” in any real sense? Would his death be a “loss,” in the way we typically understand a death to be? It’s hard to say.

But when we stand in front of the Pacific crashing on the beaches of Cape Flattery, Wash., or see the ocean lapping on the shores of Islamorada, Florida, or see the sun light up the sky in the Outer Banks in North Carolina a thousand shades of fluorescent orange, that’s not necessarily an experience that’s defined through sharing, but rather internalizing.

Sure, in today’s social-media driven culture we’re bound to photograph, hashtag, and post images of these places and landscapes… but truthfully we could just as easily sit in an apartment, download a .JPG, and upload it to our timeline. Sharing the experience doesn’t define it, but absorbing it does.

When you see these places that defy description, you can’t help but absorb them. Somehow that beauty that could only exist in nature, could only be manifested by some divinely inspired creator, becomes part of us when we witness it. “We are what we eat,” has become a cultural slogan, but a more realistic and accurate one might be: “We are what we’ve witnessed. We are what we’ve seen.”

Because when this life’s done and we ultimately leave this place for another, we’ll take only the things that we can hold onto, and fortunately material things don’t fall into that category. “You can’t take it with you,” is right. Except for the waves crashing on beaches, the sunrises over forests, the last shades of silver on the clouds from a setting moon, or the afternoon shadows playing on a meandering river. Those, when we absorb, we keep. And we carry. For today, tomorrow and forever.

 

The Best Part about Being an Angler

Hip-Deep in the Fall Run
Taking a breaker in the chest while fishing the Montauk surf.

I have a vivid memory of my first time fishing the Montauk surf in a wetsuit. I remember, vividly, because I was fishing with a guy named Mike Coppola, who is about the most extreme surf fisherman you’ll ever meet (‘extreme’ here meaning crazy in a way that yields incredible results) and I was trying to follow Coppola out into the surf in a borrowed wetsuit.

He’d climbed up on a boulder off the beach, and was casting, when a wave caught me, picked me up, and pounded me on the Montauk sand hard enough to rattle a few ribs.

But I got up. I kept fishing. I share this story not to brag about some intense fishing experience, because truthfully I was pretty terrified, but because I think it demonstrates one of the most important things we learn as anglers from almost the first time we pick up a rod.

Fishing demands of us, more than anything else, that we be self-sufficient, resilient, that we bounce back. It’s very rare for any angler to catch a fish on his first cast, but even if he does, his ratio of casts-to-fish, even if he’s good, will be about 1,000-to-1 after that if he keeps at the sport for the rest of his life.

And more likely than not he’ll get pounded on the beach, fall through the ice (2003), get swept off a sandbar (2001, 2004, 2007, 20… you get the picture), lose his footing in a river (2004), get stuck in an electric storm (2010) and be closer to a hurricane than any human being without a death-wish would ever want to be (2012).

Which is to say that if you’re older than 12 and still love to fish, you’ve probably been battered around, soaked, frozen and exhausted.

And the reason these experiences are so valuable to anyone navigating this ‘life,’ thing we’re all stuck in, is because they’re demonstrative of a greater truth: No one, anywhere, attains anything worth pursuing without a little punishment or sacrifice.

And as fishermen we come to understand this fairly quickly and that truth becomes ingrained in us. So when we… say, apply for a job, ask out a girl (or guy), try out for a team or try something like… raising money to find a cure for cancer... we do not expect, at first, that we will be successful by any measure any more than we might expect to hook a fish on a first cast.

We understand, in fact we’re certain, that consistency, resilience, and faith are absolutely necessary in any endeavor we undertake.

And if that means picking ourselves up off the beach, getting a few ‘No’s, or even ‘no thank yous,’  being passed over, turned down or ignored, we understand that that’s no more personal than a fish passing on a lure, it’s just life. What’s more important, we understand that the reward after the effort is almost always worth it, and then some.

And we make another cast, effort or attempt. And then another.

A Word (or Two) On Anglers

When I was 23 years old, I undertook a mission for Outdoor Life to fish the entire country. I was young, naive and had more ambition than was perhaps healthy at the time, but my goal was to see these United States, while I was young and crazy enough to do it from the back of a Jeep.

I saw a great deal of the country, and as many of you know… My God is it beautiful. There are not words to describe the Outer Banks at sunrise, the Keys are like pieces of Heaven that mankind hasn’t totally ruined yet, New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich places you might imagine, the forests of California, especially when you’re so close to the Pacific, are the stuff outdoorsmens’ dreams are made of and Seattle… don’t get me started on Seattle. As a writer I can’t help but thinking this all sounds cliche and repetitive, but it’s true, so what the…

But I discovered something I wasn’t looking for on the road. On a bare-bones budget, I was sleeping in parking lots in the back of my Wrangler… which I wouldn’t recommend unless you happen to be crazy, like I undoubtedly am. But what I discovered was that the people of this country, and fishermen especially, are more genuinely giving, helpful and beautiful souls than I might have imagined anyone to be before that trip. In the past decade or so, if we had any illusions about how evil human beings could be, those crumbled with the twin towers, I saw them explode on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon, and whether it’s a greater access to a constant news cycle, or the world is in fact getting “more evil,” we’re reminded every day the depths humanity can sink to in its darkest hours.

I was looking through pictures of this past trip when I decided to write this. I was looking at an image of Steve Niemoeller, a guide with BassOnline in Florida. Steve was kind enough to help not once, but twice on my initial Catch a Cure effort.

And I don’t mean that the guy just took an extra hour and got me on the water… he took me out for an entire day, then texted me later during the trip to fish a second time with his grandson. On this most recent trip, he had suggestions and ideas for how to best utilize the project to raise money and awareness for the cause. The guy did everything but crop and caption my photos for the gallery. It was astounding.

But Mr. Niemoeller’s kindness is, if anything, a microcosm of the overwhelming generosity I’ve found from almost every angler I’ve encountered between Maine and Seattle. I don’t think I am, nor do I try to be, a pessimist about human nature. But not even the most optimistic human being could reasonably expect the kindness I’ve been shown repeatedly from so many fishermen like Steve.

Were I to name-check the anglers from Maine (Jeff McEvoy) to Montana (Angler’s Tonic blogger and FR&R editor Greg Thomas, pictured above ice-dancing with a trout in Montana) who just, without any incentive whatsoever, went out of their way to help out a fellow fisherman, this blog would be a novel. And maybe some day it will be.

B.A.S.S. Social Media editor Tyler Wade saw my message about Catch a Cure through the Facbeook messaging app, and went out of her way to reach out to me, and help set up this project. This wasn’t some big-deal businessman reaching out via conference call… this was a young man mad at melanoma and wanting to make a difference in a positive way. Each sponsor who got on board did so in much the same way: opening and e-mail and getting on board. Native Eyewear, Sunology Sunscreen, Buff, Get Vicious and Rick Roth at Mirror Image… Thank you all.

There’s a beautiful, and relatively new, fishing magazine, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. It’s called Angler’s Journal and the prose and the photography in this magazine are some of the best I’ve seen in print in a long, long time. I reached out to editor Bill Sisson, hoping I might share the story of this trip and what it has meant to me, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone. Try reaching out to the editors at the Boston Globe or the New York Times (I have). I’m certainly not implying anything negative about these publications, but at a certain point in an editor’s career he or she presumably gets too busy to read a note or an e-mail from someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody. Except the people I’ve mentioned above: they weren’t too busy, they made the time.

At Emerson College where I’m working on my graduate degree, a professor named Gian Lombardo went above and beyond so that this trip might work in a capacity to survey the audience for a forthcoming magazine, helping me create a survey to assess a potential readership for the magazine I’m hoping to build for you.

For the entire decade I’ve spent trying to work in this industry, I’ve been reminded again and again of the impact that humility, kindness and compassion can have on a life. Indeed the people in this business have saved mine more times than I can count. I was fresh out of college and working construction when I reached out to Field & Stream. A few months on a roof in the beating sun had gotten me pretty desperate for an alternative source of employment. Now this is Field & Stream we’re talking about… the Field & Stream. Not only did they bring me on as a paid editorial intern, they kept me on as a web intern after that, giving me more experience than anyone at 21 could have asked for.

I never would have been brash or bold enough to apply for a job at On The Water Magazine in Cape Cod, but I did send them a story idea. Chris Megan and Kevin Blinkoff took a chance on a 22-year old young man and gave him the opportunity to be an editor at a fishing magazine before he’d had almost any experience in that field whatsoever.

And that cross-country fishing trip that I attempted? That would not have even been remotely possible had not Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life believed that I, or anyone for that matter, might even be capable of such an undertaking. I ask myself daily if I did that opportunity justice in my attempts with words and images to share it… and I don’t think I’ll ever know that answer. On that journey I got to meet Jerry Gibbs and John Merwin (rest his soul), two of best writers and most well-known content creators this industry has ever seen. Both invited me into their homes. Neither could have been nicer about it.

In truth, a lot of what might seem like courage is in reality a combination of self-doubt and anger with the disease that took my father. Had I actually considered the prospect of fishing the entire country from a Jeep, I might never have tried it. But since I deemed it almost impossible, I figured: “Why not?” It was only the people I met and fished with on that journey, and these most recent ones, that made them anything more than a tumbleweed of an aspiring writer going where the wind took him.

And the motivation behind Catch a Cure is less altruistic ambition and more of: “I have  to do something for this to make sense in my life.” And hopefully the funds raised will make what difference they can, and you can contribute here.

And this trip, and the one that preceded, have made sense. They’ve not only made sense of why, perhaps, melanoma came into my family’s life… but they’ve made sense of the world for me, and restored my faith that it’s an incredible place full of tremendously kind, helpful, altruistic, caring and genuine individuals. “Thank you,” to those of you that’d have aided this effort, and made it possible, is nowhere near enough. Nowhere near enough.

The Untitled Blog (World Cancer Day)

cropped-p8270428.jpgIt’s 1 a.m., so I suppose World Cancer Day is over. It was heartbreakingly beautiful to see the outpouring of support on all forms of social media in support of our battle against humanity’s deadliest foe.

I’m an optimistic guy, on most days I truly love my life and I’ve been blessed in so many ways. But I got to thinking about cancer, and what it means to me, what it has done to my family. And the temptation in today’s world of “share-everything social media,” is to remain constantly upbeat and optimistic in your presentation of self.

I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films, Cinderella Man, when Paul Giamatti’s character, boxer Jim Braddock’s manager, opens the door to his New Jersey apartment to reveal that he and his wife have sold everything they own during the Depression. They’ve kept the apartment, “For appearance’s sake,” but it’s bare inside. I can’t help but wonder how many Facebook profiles that friends use to showcase recent meals, smiling faces and 24-hour happiness are hiding, to some degree, that emptiness underneath. And that might be fine, or even “strong,” had I not chosen a profession that demands, above all else, honesty.

I’ll shut the door on my apartment tomorrow, but on today of all days, it seemed a sin to keep it closed.

I’ve tried having a conversation with my Mom in which my father doesn’t come up, but it’s impossible. On the good days we laugh about how much we loved him. On the bad ones we don’t. Our house in Upstate New York always seemed big to the kid inside me that moved there from my grandmother’s basement at four, but it never felt as enormously empty as it has since he left.

Because in truth it’s not what cancer takes that makes the disease so awful. Sure, those last months spent with Hospice care, with the drugs making communication harder, with the nightly phone calls that you think might be the last… sure… they’re painful. And if I ever wish he were here, I think of those days and nights, and I’m glad he’s not… not like that.

But it’s the emptiness that it leaves behind that is the absolute worst. I know that I am not alone in all those moments when I’ve almost gone to dial his number, just wondering if he’d answer, somewhere. I know that there are millions like me, staring at their phones, wondering where that number goes, now.

It leaves so much behind: His shoes, suits, favorite books or old files. It leaves the hollow inside of everything that’s not him.

My father was the type of guy who never got so much as a common cold. I imagine he got in the habit of waking at dawn in the Army, where he served his country in Arizona and Alaska, and it never left him. Even at 77, he woke at 5 a.m. and was to work by 6. ‘Retire,’ was a word you used when going to bed for the night, not when discussing life and/or work options.

“He would have lived to be 100,” my mother always says. “Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Saying that cancer “just takes a loved one,” is like saying that a wrecking ball only takes out the window it first collided with after the building that held that window crumbles.

I didn’t take great care of myself when my father was sick, which is no one’s fault but my own. I’ve rebuilt my life, because it is what he’d want, but it took a while.

If there’s a 27-year-old man that could have flown home to say goodbye, waded through a living room of Hospice nurses to hold a hand connected to an unresponsive father, and then continued with graduate school for a week, flown back to give the eulogy the next and then kept moving forward without missing a beat, I wasn’t that guy then.

I hope I am becoming a man capable of not only enduring that kind of pain, but using it for good. And the people at Outdoor Sportsman Group, B.A.S.S., and so many sponsors have helped and are helping me turn hurt into hope. I hope I am becoming that man in his memory.

I guess I wrote this because I wanted someone to know that if cancer comes into your life, steals a parent, a loved one, a friend… that you can get back up and be better for having known them, for having shared the part of your life with them that you did. I wanted that person to know that they’re still with you.

And as I sat awake wondering whether or not to write something so personal, I couldn’t help but think about what the purpose, the point of “writing,” as an art must be, at its core. And certainly we all have our own definition of that purpose, but I know that the writing that has most moved me, changed my life for the better, and inspired me, has in some way articulated an expression of one single sentiment: “You’re not alone.”

So if you’re feeling this way, or have felt this way, about a loved one cancer has taken from you, know that you’re not alone.