The restaurants aren’t jam packed with patrons, there is no breakfast in bed and the cards are more funny than sentimental. But the grill is on, it’s Open weekend, and it’s the start of summer, so yes it is Father’s Day. Despite there being more women than ever in the hobby, percentage wise it is still unfortunately a male dominated hobby and from past experience, I know that our Dads have often played a big role in our hobby.
In my own case, my dad was crucial to my becoming a reefer for many reasons. I know for a lot of us the reason we got into the hobby was that our dad had a tank, usually freshwater, but in my case that was not true. My dad never really had much interest in the hobby truth be told but fortunately, he always encouraged me in one way or another, as he knew that even at a young age it was my passion.
When I started keeping fish I was given a five-gallon tank by my cousin, who had “outgrown” keeping fish as she had discovered boys, which was my good fortune because I was in the first grade, and didn’t really understand. The tank was full of guppies and snails and surprisingly to all of us, it soon was so full of both that it was clear that they needed a new home.
Fortunately, Santa Claus that year brought me a beautiful new ten-gallon Metaframe tank with matching stand and hood. This should have been an indicator even then that I was always going to want a bigger tank, but the warning signs were ignored. I remember setting it up literally early the next morning the day after Christmas and soon filling it up with the guppies and snails that had overpopulated the smaller tank.
My dad was also smart enough to know that he knew nothing about keeping fish, so he also got me Innes’ book on keeping fish for Christmas too. So while most dads read their children fairy tales or other stories before they went to bed, my dad read to me about swordtails, tetras, and barbs. Little did he realize that revealing to me that there was more out there than the guppies and snails I already had would start a fire that continues to grow.
my dad read to me about swordtails, tetras, and barbs
For the most part, my dad did not do much with me and my tank other than help clean up when I spilled water, or needed his strength to take tubing from a pipe or open the the filter that had sealed itself. Instead he offered encouragement and if he didn’t know what I needed he would call someone he knew that had tanks to help me out.
But he did do something for which I will always be appreciative. He took me to Frank’s Aquarium. As I have mentioned in the past, this was the store that got me hooked, no pun intended, and that at the time was the local mecca for hobbyists. It was 20 minutes from my house, so it was close enough to be handy, but far enough that it did take some cajoling and planning to get him to take me there.
Before our many trips I would save up all my money, plan my list of fish and plants I wanted as well as things that I thought were crazy expensive like food, filter floss, and charcoal, and once every month or two we would take a planned trip there. These trips were fun as I would talk about the fish I wanted and why and he would sit and listen and offer his encouragement.
Over the years I bought lots of fish, as freshwater fish did not seem to live that long for some reason and my dad always took me and never questioned why I seemingly always needed new fish. Besides the trips themselves, I also remember that I would always spend more than the money I had saved and my dad would always cover the difference and never really said anything about it. We did not have a lot of money, but my dad never complained which I still appreciate.
Looking back I guess my dad knew that this was my passion, so he tried to encourage it. Then one day he made the big mistake of flaming what was a small burning fire into a conflagration when he bought me a book that changed everything. At the time, Jacques Cousteau had a tv show where he and his crew showed what was going on under the water for the first time and we would watch these shows together, which I anxiously waited for each week.
This series was so popular that several books came out documenting the life on the reef and my father got me one of the first ones: Jacques Cousteau’s Life and Death in the Coral Sea. It was the first book that showed what a live coral reef actually looked like. When I saw what the life on a reef was like and what corals were I knew that my 10-gallon freshwater community tank would no longer cut it. Unfortunately it was the 1970’s and no one that we knew of was keeping live coral alive and very few people were even keeping saltwater tanks then.
From all that we read it was deemed impossible to keep corals. But my dad did not discourage me, actually he did the opposite and said that I needed to be patient and learn about the sea and reefs and eventually someone would figure it out. I’m not sure if he actually believed what he was telling me, but whenever he traveled near anywhere near the ocean he would bring me back a book or a piece of dead coral or something from the sea to keep me going.
In the early 1980’s, he again made a big discovery as while he was in Germany he saw a pet shop that had live coral in the window of its shop and they claimed to be keeping them alive. He talked with the shop owner who said that there were some hobbyists in Germany who had mastered this and there was even a book on it. My dad bought the book, The Modern Marine Aquarium by Jurgen Lemkenmeyer, and when he gave it to me on his return I was even happier than when he gave me the Cousteau book, as now I could achieve my dream.
But unfortunately the book was in German and I did not speak German. Luckily my dad had a friend who spoke some German and he got him to agree to help me translate it. So over two months or so, I would go over and he would translate it and I would then write down what he said. This guy must have owed my dad big time as this was a tedious process. The guy was not what you would call fluent and a lot of the phrases used were more aquarium based rather than conversational, so when he would translate I would try to have them make “aquarium sense”.
Once they were written down I soon realized that my penmanship was so bad that I was probably the only person who could understand them. So I then got my dad to get his sister, my aunt, who was was a typist, to sit with me and type out the book. Because of my dad lots of people got involved in my love of the hobby, which I tried to share as I sent copies of this book to Julian and Charles and John Burleson, who were the main people I knew who were also passionate about the hobby.
Soon after this, I got married and started setting up tank after tank after tank. After moving to bigger and bigger tanks over ten years we decided to move to a bigger house. This was not a decision that I made easily as if we did, it would mean moving my then thriving 560-gallon tank to the new house. The more I thought and worried about this, the closer I came to calling off the move. Luckily once again my dad stepped in and said he would help me to make the move.
So after much planning and figuring what we needed, and a week before we needed to be out of the old house completely, my dad showed up with a big truck, a trailer and six of my cousins to move everything in one big move. This sounds crazy now, but we took out half the water and put it in tubs and garbage cans. Took out the fish, coral and live rock and packed them in plastic bins or in the cans, took out the rest of the water and then we all lifted the tank, put it on rollers and rolled it on the truck.
Then we lifted the stand and put it on the trailer. My dad even brought all the cables and lines we needed to secure everything for the one-hour drive to the new house. There we took it apart and rebuilt just like it was in the old house. Amazingly we did all of this in less than eight hours. Looking back we must have been on drugs as it is all a blur, but we pulled it off more smoothly than I ever would have expected thanks to my dad.
As I write this, it reminded me of all the help my dad has given me over the years, but it also made me realize I probably did not do enough to bring my kids into the hobby. It also made me realize that I rarely see dads bringing their kids into shops like mine did so a lot of kids are missing out on how much enjoyment this hobby can bring. So I think we need to do a better job of that.
Being a dad is not an easy job and I know that one of the things that is often difficult is to encourage our kids when something they want to do is seemingly impossible. I am fortunate in that my dad always offered encouragement even when something I wanted in this hobby, seemed or was totally crazy. Looking back now, much of what I wanted to do was impossible at the time, and while he probably knew that, he always offered encouragement and always had my back when I failed.
Hopefully, we the fathers of future reefers will also offer the encouragement my dad did and be there to help when our kids want to move their “560-gallon tanks”. Or be there just take our kids along with us when we go to the local store to get a coral, or to the frag swap so they get a feel for why their fathers or mothers love this hobby. One last thing, over all the years of my keeping fish my father never commented on a single fish I had ever kept.
I could have had a mermaid and he would not have noticed. Then three years ago I got a true Peppermint hogfish, Bodianus opercularis, and while eating dinner, one of my tanks sits behind our table, he said “wow that is a beautiful fish”. So just my luck I now have to always have this very expensive fish, as otherwise he would notice if I had killed it off and at this point I would hate to disappoint him and have him think I still lose fish.
I will not have an article next week as I will be speaking at Reefaplooza in New York. I will be speaking on Sunday, but will be there all weekend. So if you see me please say hello and let me know what you think of these and let me know if there are topics you would like me to write about. And to all the fathers out there I hope you all have a Wonderful and Happy Father’s Day