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A Second Chance for my Son and I

Updated on August 5, 2013


Recapturing the love of my son


“Hey, Bobby”, I said, as he headed for the door. “Yeah, what.” came the surly reply. “How about heading out to catch some crappie for dinner?” “Naw, I’m headin’ to the mall with some friends. Later.” As he walked out the door, a heavy feeling settled in my gut. It almost seemed that, once he’d hit 16 years old, he had no interest in any of the things that we’d shared for so long. I was losing him, and didn’t know what to do to stop it. My wife and I had spoken about it, and she tried to help by saying, “You’ve done a good job raising him. Trust he’ll come back.” I tried, but sometimes, I just didn’t know. The crowd he ran with, and the ones he called friends, did nothing to calm that feeling that my son was drifting away, and I was powerless to stop it.

My wife, Renee, loves to surf the net in search of puppies. She is a saint when it comes to helping dogs and cats. She will buy them, or adopt them, then get them shots, have them spayed or neutered; then find them a good home. I’d hate to say what we’ve spent on these pets; enough to put our kids through college, I’ll bet. It had become a running joke in our house. “What are we going to name this puppy?” she’d ask. “Next.” I’d say, with a smile. “It doesn’t matter what we name it, because when you find it a home, they’ll name it something else. So to keep us from getting confused, we should name it Next.” She’d playfully slap my shoulder, telling me to keep my big mouth shut, and then ask the kids for their opinion. One day, I happened to glance over her shoulder as she sat at the computer, and there was a beautiful female black lab. I’ve always been partial to males, but something about this dog tugged at me. Her story was sad enough: her family was divorcing, and they had nowhere for her to live. The ad stated they only had a few days to find her a home, or else something drastic would happen. “Let’s get her” I said. “But she’s older; just look at her gray chin.” my wife said. “So what. She’ll be good natured, and past the chewing phase. Who knows, maybe she’ll be a good hunter.”

When the kids came home from school, we introduced Abby to them. She was older, so was not too rough and tumble, but still active enough to chase a ball around our yard. Bobby tried not to smile, but I could see it creeping in at the corner of his mouth. An idea began to take hold, and I decided there might be something I could do to bridge the gulf that threatened our relationship.

The next day was Saturday, so I got up early and headed to the local sporting goods store. I bought all the necessities: training dummy, whistle, leash, and a starter’s pistol. I knew I was reaching for the stars, to try and train a dog this old; but I had to try. Once back home, I took Abby out back, and just played fetch for a while. She had a knack for it, like most retrievers. She knew sit, so I tried to have her stay, while I placed the dummy out of sight. She watched intently, and when I sent her, she was off like a rocket. Straight there, and straight back. I couldn’t believe it! It was like she had waited all her life for this type of work. Full of confidence, I continued to work her, and day by day, she came to understand what was required of her. As the summer wore on, I looked forward to the first of September. That was opening day of Dove Season, and I hoped against hope I could get Bobby out with me.

About a week before the season, I took him shopping with me, and casually asked if he thought he would like to get a shotgun. “Why? Are we going somewhere?” he asked. “Well, I thought we might see if we could pop a few dove next week. I haven’t been in years, but when I did, it was a lot of fun. It’s always better when you go with someone, and I’d like to go with you. What do you think?” He stood there for a minute, and looked at me. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. Finally, he said, “That might be ok. Can I pick it out?”

We searched through the shotguns, trying on one after another. Of course, he wanted the beautiful over and under, but I just couldn’t see spending that much on his first gun. “Maybe in a year or so. Let’s see if you even like bird hunting, first.” We settled on an old standard. A Remington 870 12 gauge pump. He was thrilled. We had tried muzzle loaders a few years back, but the difficulty of accuracy and the public land hunting got to him quickly. This would be different, and I prayed he would enjoy it. We went to the local firing range to go over the basics. With a rifle, his left eye dominance had always been an issue. He did everything but write right-handed; so being accurate with a rifle had been a problem. However, with a shotgun, he could keep both eyes open, and still hit the target. He did well at the static targets, and soon was hitting the clay pigeons I was tossing up. With each hit, I could see the light in his eyes grow brighter. By the end of the day, with my arm hanging low from throwing the targets, and his shoulder tender from the shotgun, but we were both smiling, and ready to go.

The season opened on a Thursday, but with a little help from my wife, we headed out opening morning together. I had planned for a couple of days off from work, and what better way to spend them than with my son. I had called some friends, and we had permission to set up near a cut corn field, overlooking a pond. I explained to him how to wait until the birds came to water, and what to look for as they got ready to settle in to drink. “They’ll flare their wings just before dropping down, so shoot then. Don’t worry about hitting more than one; just focus on that one bird. If you miss, no big deal. More will be along.” We sat in our chairs, and waited. Abby knew something was up, because she kept looking at us, then at the sky, as if she knew something important was coming.

About an hour or so after the sun had come up, we could see the dove beginning to head our way. “Keep still, and wait for them to flare.” I reminded Bobby. “Okay, okay. I’m ready” he said. Then, the moment arrived. From our left came about a dozen or so. Winging in, and then, magically, starting to settle in to land. “Now!” I whispered. Up he stood, and as if he’s done it a thousand times before, casually dropped the first bird he’d ever shot at. As it headed down, I saw it was going to land in the pond. “Fetch it up, Abby!” I yelled. She was off like a shot, bounding through the shallow water until she could swim, and straight to the downed bird. Gently gathering it in, she turned and headed back to us. “Wow! I’ve never seen a dog do that! She charged right out like she was shot out of a cannon!” Bobby exclaimed. I couldn’t say anything, for if I did, my emotions would betray my fierce pride at my son, and his unbounded joy at watching Abby do what she had been bred for, over who knows how many generations. As we stood there, waiting for her to rejoin us, I knew without a doubt, that what my wife had told me was true: he came back. And I knew that regardless of where he went on his journey in life, we’d always have this moment to bind us together. We’d always be able to count on the simple joy of our love for each other, and the wonderful dog that brought it out in both of us.


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