Little Moments Mean a Lot When Repeated Often

By Patrick DurkinAugust 15, 20221 Comment

While paging through one of my old copies of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine, I paused when seeing a photo of me with my oldest daughter, then age 10.

In those days, roughly the mid-1990s, I wasn’t surprised when acquaintances, new or old, asked, “Are you a single parent,” or “Is Leah your only child?”

The first question, of course, was a polite way of asking if I was divorced. Nope. My wife, Penny, has often looked at me sidelong and probably even asked herself, “What was I thinking?” So far, though, after nearly 42 years of marriage, she’s still living with that youthful lapse in judgment.

And no, Leah, now 37, is not my only child. She has sisters who are now 36, Elle; and 33, Karsyn.

Little Moments Mean A Lot When Repeated Often
Patrick Durkin laces up his daughter Leah’s boots while bowhunting years ago.

A hazard of including family members in my writing years ago was that all three of my daughters didn’t join me every time I went fishing or hunting. Therefore, depending on which article people read, they often got a partial picture of my life. From there, they used intuition, imagination, and assumption to fill in the rest.

Things even got confusing when personal stuff got into the magazine or newspaper. One year, for example, Deer & Deer Hunting magazine ran a fictional article about a divorced man who took his daughter, “Katie,” deer hunting. The writer didn’t have a picture or artwork to illustrate the article, so the magazine ran an uncaptioned “mood” photo that showed Leah and me approaching a doe I killed.

Based on that photo, co-workers in distant parts of the building assumed I was divorced, and that I wrote the article under a pen name. One by one, they quietly told me how much they liked the article, and expressed how nice it was that I still spent “quality time” with my daughter.

When I heard all that sympathy in their voices, I tried not to embarrass them while correcting their assumptions. “I’m glad you liked the article. Sam Johnson is a great writer. I wish I had his talent.”

You mean that wasn’t you in the photo with that article?

“Yes, that’s me with my oldest daughter, but the editor needed a photo of a man hunting with a daughter. They just happened to use one of me with Leah.”

Oh. But why did they do that?

“Probably just because it was a good photo, and they didn’t have anything better to help tell the story.”

Little Moments Mean A Lot When Repeated Often
Patrick Durkin and his daughter Leah hunted together often during their time together in the 1990s and 2000s.

Other readers had a different worry, which I took more seriously. They sometimes wondered if I favored Leah at the expense of Elle and Karsyn. My first thought was to ask about their own parenting skills, but they hadn’t been rude, so I explained things as best I could: Leah’s blessing and curse was that she always shared many of my interests. I don’t think I neglected Elle and Karsyn. They just didn’t enjoy early-morning trips to lakes and woods. Elle truly hated cold weather and numb hands.

Plus, I didn’t believe in forcing the girls to go hunting or fishing, figuring that would surely burn them out on the outdoors.

Karsyn came to appreciate the many outdoor activities I enjoy, and she likes it when I share them with her kids. She also inherited my love of books, spelling, and storytelling. When I took her fishing years ago, her hands held a book 90% of the time, and a rod-and-reel the rest.

Even when pike or perch were flopping on the boat’s floor, and everyone else was jabbering with excitement, Karsyn just glanced at her watch and asked how much longer we’d stay.

Elle was never so easy to classify. I was flattered every time she joined me in the boat. In fact, she still fishes with me today, takes her kids fishing, and sends me photos of them with little bluegills. However, she never took up hunting.

All three of my daughters also share my fondness for venison, a bond that brings many shared moments of appreciation. In fact, I taught them how to make chipped venison (yes, the deer version of SOS), and venison jerky. Even though I enjoy cooking about as much as I do snow-blowing. Fortunately, their mother is a great cook and served as a great role model.

Little Moments Mean A Lot When Repeated Often
A long routine of small, shared moments in the outdoors help forge lifetime bonds.

And yes, I concede my experiences with Leah, Elle, and Karsyn weren’t always great, indoors or outdoors. One winter, for instance, I took the girls to see the “Spice Girls” movie. Figuring, if they would go fishing with me, I could even the score by taking them to a movie of their choice. I made it through the first 30 minutes of that movie, and then tilted sideways in sleep. I felt guilty upon waking, but soon realized my daughters found my slumber endearing. Suddenly, those $6 tickets became a bargain.

No matter how much I tried to balance our time together, some folks judged me harshly for spending too much time with Leah. I still won’t plead guilty or innocent. I think no one outside our home really knew how my family parceled its affections. After all, they never saw me teaching my girls the intricacies of mixing flour, butter, milk, and dried venison for breakfast. In fact, I hope those lessons have become a lifelong memory of me.

Some people might think big events best secure warm spots in their child’s heart. Maybe they’re right, but I think many small, possibly trivial, shared moments do the job more reliably.

Patrick Durkin
President at Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association
Patrick Durkin is a lifelong bowhunter and full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He has covered hunting, fishing and outdoor issues since 1983. His work appears regularly in national hunting publications, and his weekly outdoors column has appeared regularly in over 20 Wisconsin newspapers since 1984.
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