I saw some boys fishing in a lake near our house the other day and it started my mind on a journey down memory lane. A reminder that
the crap parents sometimes have to put up with the love between a parent and child knows no boundaries. Including the Canadian border.
I took my 10-year-old son, Kevin, on a father-son fishing trip to Canada several years ago. The week’s catch included 83 northern pike, 133 walleye and — as Kevin likes to put it — a Canadian criminal record for Dad.
Our adventure started with a flight from Chicago to Winnipeg. The itinerary included a quick layover before we hopped on a little puddle-jumper to take us to our final destination. That would be the connection we never made.
During the descent into Winnipeg, I started to rattle off directions to Kevin about which bags I wanted him to carry as we maneuvered on to our next flight. I double-checked his backpack to make sure it was zipped, triple-checked our connecting flight information, and made sure I had our passports and forms ready to get through Customs.
I also gave Kevin a crash course on Customs etiquette.
“These guys are like the police,” I told him. “Don’t goof around. No monkey business.”
Leg one of the journey was almost done and we were right on schedule.
My dialogue with the Customs Officer was by the book.
Officer: “What brings you to Canada?”
Me: “I’m taking my son on a fishing trip up north.”
Officer: “How long will you be in Canada?”
Me: “We’ll return a week from today, sir.”
Everything seemed routine to me. The guy looked at Kevin and smiled. Just a couple stamps were needed and we’d be on our way. But then, he glanced again at Kevin who now was sporting a Canadian goose-in-the-headlights kind of look.
I was no longer a part of this conversation.
“Son,” the Customs Officer said, “tell me who this man is that you’re traveling with.”
Then came those words out of the random world of this 10-year-old that forever changed the course of our trip. “I don’t know who he is!” Kevin cried. “I want to go home!”
Before I could even process what he had said, before I could begin to spit the words out of my mouth that were trapped in my throat, before I could try to help bring some parental explanation to the little joke my son was apparently playing, I found myself bookended by two police officers.
And, I discovered how uncomfortable handcuffs could be.
During the next two hours, I learned what drug smugglers go through when they are greeted by officials in foreign countries. Kevin, I later was told, was taken to a room where he played video games.
It’s a funny feeling, being locked up under those circumstances. Job one, I knew, was to convince these folks that this was all a kid’s silly joke, that I’m a loving dad, that life is copacetic, and we should all laugh at this “goofy kid” moment and move on. But they weren’t buying my story.
“Why would he say that, sir?” they kept asking me.
How was I supposed to respond? Was I supposed to say he was an idiot and they should be more concerned about what I was contemplating doing the minute I got him alone?
We went round and round. I was their fish at the end of a line. They’d reel me in and then randomly let out the line. This was sport.
They finally got tired. Or bored — I don’t know. Maybe their shift was over. Either way they handed me all of my paperwork before leading me out into the hall where I found Kevin, sitting, holding a slice of pizza.
“You’re free to go,” one of the Custom Officers said to me as she pointed in the direction I needed to walk. “Have a nice trip.”
And Kevin and I were suddenly alone in an empty back hallway.
“Are you out of your mind!?” I screamed at Kevin in the loudest, whispering voice I could manage. Kevin’s face now burst into Niagara Falls.
“Are you…you…you okay?” he managed to ask me through some hyperventilating quivers.
“Alright. Stop crying. Let’s go,” I said as I started pulling all our gear together. “I don’t want to get arrested again.”
So how did this story end?
From an itinerary perspective, we were able to catch a later flight a few hours later — providing us with plenty of downtime in the Winnipeg Airport.
It also provided me some time to have a mini blow-up with Kevin —something I desperately needed. What I quickly realized, however, was that my blow-up wasn’t necessary. Kevin was so shaken from the events of the day — and scared for his dad. What he thought was a funny joke quickly escalated to a nightmare.
That lesson was being ingrained in his growing brain with each minute we were separated. I could see it in his eyes. And I could hear it in his apology.
Which left me the keeper of perhaps the most important lesson between a parent and child that day: Putting mistakes in the past, learning from them, and moving on.