THE BIRTH of my son takes top honours in the family timeline, but my company’s three months’ paid paternity leave is a photo-finish second place.
My wife, by comparison, worked on contract and received no paid leave. So a few weeks after having the baby, she went back to work in the Covid-era Franken-office we’d cobbled together in the living room, and I became the newborn’s full-time employee.
I was excited to take care of him—feed him, put him down for naps, dry-heave over his diapers. It quickly became apparent, though, that the baby and I needed to clear out sometimes if my wife was going to get any work done.
“Where can we go, little man?” I asked him.
Anything indoors was off-limits thanks to the pandemic, and it wasn’t as if I could take the baby fishing.
Wait a minute.
Why couldn’t I take him fishing?
It would be fine as long as I didn’t let him start packing lips of Skoal. I could manage that.
But first I had to manage to leave the house. After timing his nap, bottle, and diaper change, I got us into my truck and on the road, where I discovered my son loved driving but detested stopping. Red lights triggered enraged wailing.
I cycled through most of Spotify before theRamones, against all logic, soothed him into silence. Hey, ho, let’s go!
At the lake, I strapped my son to my chest in a carrier, a bad call in July. By the time we reached the water, we were both wild-eyed trying to decide if he had peed or if I had just sweated through all our clothes. (Answer: It was both.)
We went back to the truck to change and regroup. The stroller worked out better. It wasn’t a trail model, but it handled the bank well enough if I pulled it along behind me. We made our way around the lake, where I caught a few bluegills. I fed him a bottle and changed his diaper under a tree. He fell asleep a few minutes later.
I had the same thought, I imagine, as the first Neanderthal to successfully bring down a woolly mammoth with a sharpened stick: I can’t believe that worked!
It was the unmatched joy of slogging through the swamp of an untested plan—or, more precisely, dragging a stroller through one—and coming out the other side to discover you’re not a crazed masochist. You were headed somewhere good all along.
The prepping, the crying, the T-shirt soaked in urine—on the other side of those calamities was a familiar pastime. My son napped to the sound of the wind in the trees, as if he knew he could relax because I finally could.
I was a more confident father after that first excursion. Whenever my wife needed an empty house, the baby and I got into the truck, clicked on the Ramones, and checked out different lakes and ponds.
Folding a new child into the well-creased origami of our lives was never going to be easy, with or without a pandemic, but difficulties birth new skill sets. After catching pacifiers before they landed in poison ivy, or holding a bottle in one hand and a pole with an irate fish hooked on it in the other, I considered more common challenges a snap.
My wife watched one day while I changed a diaper on the fly standing in a parking lot, the baby in the crook of one arm. I shot her a wink: I got this.
Still, knowing my son would never remember his first fishing trips nagged at me. The pandemic accelerated a rite of passage I had envisioned taking place when he was older. But I adapted to that, too. My son was happy, my wife was happy, I was happy.
I would tell him all about it when he was older, as we climbed up into the truck headed into the winds of whatever we were doing next.
Hey, ho, let’s go!
This article originally appeared on menshealth.com.