Bob Eldridge took Joshua fishing at Jackson Harbor. Before heading out the door with a fishing pole, Bob had Joshua sign a paper declaring that when Bob said so, the two of them would come home and Joshua would get in the car. Joshua signed the paper. Off they went.
Hours later, Bob came back alone. "He wouldn't get in the car," said Bob. "I left him."
I get in the car and go after Joshua. Joshua wouldn't get in the car with me. He kept fishing.
Joe went to fetch Joshua from the fishing post.
Joshua wouldn't come. Joe waited until dark with the boy still fishing. When the last light began to fade, Joshua got into the car.
Ground him for life? Take the fishing pole forever? What would you do?
I called the police.
"Joshua really likes to fish," I told him. "He fishes intently and he doesn't want to come home. Can we drop him off at Jackson Harbor and let him fish? My dad fished from Jackson Harbor when he was half Joshua's age. My grandpa fished at Jackson Harbor. Can we set him down at the Harbor with a sack lunch and water bottle until he is fished out?"
I don't remember what the officer said exactly but I got the message that there weren't no crime to it.
I called the parent educator.
"We are going to try something," I said. "Put Joshua out at Jackson Harbor and let him fish. He loves to fish. I'm listening to him."
"Does he swim?" she asked.
"Like a fish," I replied.
"Check on him during the day," she countered.
I drove out to the Harbor and made the rounds of the DNR, the "Time Out" concession at the Jackson Harbor dock, the Karfi ferry captain.
"We aren't asking you to baby sit. Joshua is going to try fishing here. We will check on him during the day. He has ONE CHANCE. If we hear any ill report he won't be here to bother," I promised. Joshua stood beside me and heard every word.
We walked together to find an overhanging roof where he could hang out in case of rain. We located the public phone and practiced dialing home. Joshua pointed out the bathroom and confirmed he knew where to go. We set a boundary for no wandering. Absolutely NO getting into a boat even it invited.
"No second chance," I told Joshua. "We get one bad report and you are out of here," I said sternly as he gathered his pole and set down his bucket on the dock.
Joshua fished through the summer. Catch and release. Fishing till dark some days. Fixing rods for other fishermen. Talking fish talk with other anglers. Untangling lines for visitors. Reminding Joshua to pick up his trash was the extent of the needed redirection.
"That boy sure does know his stuff," we heard more than once. "He is the most intent fisherman I've ever seen," said a spectator. "I've never seen anyone fish all day without stop."
We accepted our son as a fisherman and let him be.
9 months ago