"May you grow up to be righteous … "
There is a secret I have never told my children.
There is a secret we all keep from the children.
It is the eyes in the mirror.
The eyes looking back at me.
Not my dad eyes, not my reporters eyes, not my husband eyes, not my brother eyes, but the eyes I see when I stare at me.
When I stare past the baldness, when I stare past the fat face, when I stare past the wrinkles and the redness, the eyes in the mirror I see, are the ones I had as a child.
Young eyes, stuck in an old face.
And behind those young eyes stuck in an old face is the secret I have never told my children … all this stuff happening in the world around me, all this growing up, all of it is just as much a mystery to me, as it is to you.
It is the universal secret of parents.
We were once you, and then suddenly we became us.
And then came you, a human being we made who started asking us stuff even while we were still asking ourselves stuff.
And the secret I never told my children was the fact that the answers I gave them were not based so much on what I knew, but what I hoped for.
Hoped that the answers I gave, would make you a better person.
A better person than me.
Answers given not so much based on experience, but more so based on hope. Answers not so much based on the real world but based on the ideal world we all want. All hope for.
Four years ago, on this very spot on the planet, Lake Guntersville, a child walked up to me, and very politely, even calling me "Sir" all the time, very politely asked me this exact question, "Mr. Barone, Sir, can I ask your advice?"
Two complete strangers, one asking for advice, one giving advice.
One hoping to hear something mystical.
One hoping not to screw anything up.
One with very young eyes.
One with young eyes, found only in the mirror.
" … may you grow up to be true … "
"Mr. Barone, sir, my name is Connor Bedsole, and, and I want to be an Elite angler, what do I need to do to become an Elite angler."
This Connor Bedsole kid looked to be all of 12 years old, a face all free of age, no wrinkles, no hair, head up, body straight, he came up maybe to my shoulders, his eyes locked onto mine.
I was standing in the Lake Guntersville Lodge waiting for the Elite registration to begin. Just walking around admiring the Arts & Crafts influence on the architecture and furnishings of the lodge, very beautiful place.
Just minding my own never mind.
And suddenly this Connor Bedsole kid appears.
Asking for advice …
So in the fraction of seconds before I give this kid some advice, this is exactly what runs through my head … can this kid sue me … can his parents sue me … can B.A.S.S. sue me … should I just sign his B.A.S.S. hat and then go hide, always the safe thing, one my attorney pretty much always advises.
But instead I say this, based not on being wise or even understanding the world around me, I say this, as I have to my children, children I know, an answer based only on hope.
"Get an education … go to school … become educated then become an Elite."
Then the Connor Bedsole kid said a couple of other things about reading my stuff, thanked me, and walked away.
Later that day, when I saw him hanging around and just looking at all the Elite anglers walking around, I found out he was 16 years old, and when I was told that we were short a couple of Marshals to be in the boat during the tournament with the Elite anglers, I got it so he could be a Marshal and actually go out and spend a day with a person he wanted to be.
That night in my hotel room, when I looked into the eyes in the mirror, I thought of the kid Connor Bedsole, thought for sure that if I ever met him again it would be in court.
And it seems, I was right.
" … may you always know the truth … "
Center Court of Guntersville's Middle School Gym.
Registration day for the college kids coming to compete in the Southern Super Regional of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series.
I'm standing there looking around in amazement at how well equipped this Middle School gym is, even has a weight room that would make most fitness centers drool.
Then, "Mr. Barone, sir, remember me …."
And before me stood a college kid that I came shoulder high to.
" … remember me … I'm Connor Bedsole … we met … "
"Connor I do … what are you doing here?"
"Mr. Barone, sir … I went on to college, got an academic scholarship to Troy University … and now, now I'm President of the Troy University Bass Fishing Association … my teammate and I, Luke Wise, have come here to compete."
I can say nothing. I haven't been asked to say anything, couldn't have said anything if I had to, then this Connor Bedsole kid became the eyes in the mirror.
" … don't know if you remember, but that was absolutely good advice you gave me."
And with that I had to go sit down on the wooden bleachers of the Guntersville Middle School Gymnasium.
" … and see the lights surrounding you … "
On Day One of the Southern Super Regional, in boat No. 2, sat Connor Bedsole.
Smiling at me.
Standing next to me, also smiling was Nick.
Nick Bedsole, Connor's dad.
I probably was smiling as well.
In the past 24 hours I learned from Connor that, "the day of marshaling with the Elites, that changed my fishing life, it altered the way I fished, changed my fishing life, thank you for getting me on that boat."
From Nick, "You know Mr. Barone … about 8, maybe 10 years ago, right here on this dock, Connor worked an B.A.S.S. event as one of the kids who carried the fish back to the release boat after the fish were weighed in … he was maybe 10 or 12 … did it right here."
Later that day I took a photo of Connor carrying in his own fish to be weighed, in the same type of bag he once carried as a child.
His footsteps in the sand, now bigger, now as a young man and not that of a child.
More from dad Bedsole, "This fishing thing in school is great, it gives Connor, and all these other children, incentive to stay in school."
Nick stood there.
I stood there.
And we both watched as Connor launched and piloted off into the sunrise over Lake Guntersville.
"I'm always excited to watch my son launch," Nick was saying as the wake of the launch bobbed the dock up and down, "but I get nervous, I know he knows what he is doing, and is a very good angler, but I'm still his dad, and I love him so much."
The eyes in the mirror.
Questions with answers based on hope.
Questions with answers based on love.
Driving away from the South Super Regional, in the flash of the moment before I put my Costas on, in that split second I got a glimpse of my eyes in the 4Runner's rearview mirror.
The eyes in the mirror, my child eyes.
No lines, no wrinkles, no fatty cheeks.
Just, the eyes of my childhood.
And in that moment, I knew why for all these years I had answered the questions of children as I have.
As you probably have.
Because with all the stuff I don't know, all the mystery that surrounds life, all the answers I don't have, there is one that I do have.
I know there is love. And with love, comes hope.
And that is the basis of every answer I ever gave back.
That the answer I have for my children, for Connor Bedsole, and for all the academic anglers who took to the boats over two days, and every day … is hope.
Hope, that years from now, when they are all wrinkly, all fatty cheeked, that when they look into the mirror, that the eyes in the mirror looking back …
… are young.
" … may you stay forever young."
Originally published March 2012