“I Never Take for Granted that I Stand on the Shoulders of Great Men”

PawPaw and Uncle Jim

Father’s Day is special to me as a dad. I reflect back on all those dads that got me to this point. They taught me the value of being a good man, one who appreciates simple things, like family and fishing.   During the school year, my dad kept me plenty busy with Boy Scouts and that provided lots of opportunities to hone other outdoor skills and prepared me well for a life in the field or on the water. My grandfather taught me to fish among many other things. During the summer we would visit him in Central Texas and fish the lakes near his home. By the time I came along he pretty well settled into being a Crappie fisherman, often using his homemade buck tail jigs. One of my jobs as a kid was to skim the slag off the pot of lead so we could pour the jig heads. I have to laugh looking back at the lack of concern for letting the kids play with molten lead, but what the hay, it was the ‘70s. When we finished with the jig heads it was on to the dying of buck tails. I fell madly in love with all things fishing, hunting, outdoors. Unfortunately, I lost my Grandfather to a heart attack (his fourth) about the time I really started to understand that we humans need mother nature to be whole. He was always helping others to the point it was a running joke in the family which widow called and needed him to assist in some handy man project.

My grandfather never worked alone or fished alone. I was taught from an early age that my Uncle Jim was diabetic, and he had peppermints in his pocket and special orange juice in the cooler. If he should stop making sense or start to wobble in in any way, I was to tell him to give me a mint and he’d have one too. Likewise, my Paw Paw’s his heart pills were in his front pocket.  I had to know all this in case we got out on the water with a diabetic and a heart patient and the crap hit the fan leaving a 10-year old was in charge. The very first thing I learned to drive was a boat. I was “steering” before I had my first bike.

All of this was just slightly tolerated by my mother and grandmother, they knew they had no chance of holding back the DNA we shared.

Fishing is My Sanctuary

Early Joe

Fishing is an important part of my life for many reasons. It’s a place where I feel connected to all those that have been before me. It’s the most spiritual place I know, and it’s always been that way for me.

I enjoy the time on the water and outdoors. There are never two days alike. There is always something changing whether it’s the tides or the wind direction day to day – it seems to be a new challenge. It’s a place where I feel connected to all those that have been before me. The water has called to me since I was a kid and my brother and I bought our first inflatable raft.

Fatherhood is my Joy

Being a father is beyond compare. I’m blessed to have three children – a daughter who is now an adult and two sons still young and sometimes underfoot. They teach me something every day about the world, myself and how to be a better person.

I love fishing with my boys. We don’t ever get enough time on the water together, but we try and get out as often as possible. It sure can be a daunting task to get the boys out on the water. We do not have as good of a catching record as we’d like but I think they “get it” As they get older, I hope it’s not all about the catching. I am sure it is something we will continue to share. Being out with my kids is a wonderful time. They ask lots of questions and get to join in my passion for all things fishy. It’s special for sure, and I know they will not always have time to go cast lures at the pond or chase flounder along the seawall.

When we are not fishing, it’s just like with other parents. Homework, activities, keeping them active and not always on some electronic device, and choosing teachable moments to show them how to be better people. What they probably don’t realize is I learn as much from them as they do from me.

Family is HOW You Make It

The saying goes “family is what you make it.” If you had asked me when I started volunteering for Heroes on the Water in 2007 if I would be Director of Operations one day, I would have laughed. Now I know family is HOW I make it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I started volunteering with HOW, I really just thought it sounded fun and a bunch of friends were going to take some guys out that were in the hospital at Ft. Sam in San Antonio. I love kayaking and thought it was a no brainer for me to volunteer to help these soldiers in recovery. I didn’t serve in the military but immediately recognized this was a way for me to serve those that were coming home from combat with injuries and whose lives were going to be dramatically different.

I don’t think anyone of the first group of volunteers thought it would grow into what it has today. Our founder, Jim Dolan, and I spoke many times over the years as the programs grew all across the country and we just were always kind of shocked that people wanted to volunteer to expand the mission. The volunteers through the years that have served and continue to serve our nation’s heroes will always have my deepest admiration. I love that kayak fishing with our veterans and first responders as therapy spread to so many communities and continues to grow across the nation. I’m very proud of our team of volunteers and our national support staff. We are small so we do not often have the resources you might have at larger for profit organization, but we are all 100% dedicated to helping our nation’s heroes and their families.

Over the years we faced challenges of a growing organization; as Jim would say, “a bunch of dumb kayakers” tried to figure out how to run a nonprofit and keep the organization true to its roots of getting folks off the couch and into the outdoors, fishing and kayaking. “Butts in seats” he like to say. HOW Nation didn’t invent the kayak – we just reinvented the way it’s used to heal and that’s a skill we will always be honing

If you are suffering in silence, know that you have a family here – we just need to know where you are. We want to help you and your family heal; it is the least we can do to help those who have sacrificed so that we may enjoy the freedoms we all hold dear. I’m proud to work with a such a great community of dedicated volunteers and colleagues.  I never intended to be on the staff until I was; it was a great fit to take what I had learned through 10 years of volunteering with the organization and join the team to help HOW Nation.

I never take for granted that I stand on the shoulders of great men like my father and his father before him and their fathers before that. They overcame adversity, untold hardships and worked hard for the life we live now, for the country we share. We owe it to ourselves to keep fighting for our great nation. In the smallest way you can effect change when you volunteer your time and talents, to keep this grand experiment in democracy moving forward. We are the people now, it’s not an abstract concept from 1776. “We the people” means you and me. We’ve all got to do our part to serve in our communities if we are going to be worthy of their sacrifices and leave this country better than we found it.

  1. amy hahn June 18, 2020 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Beautiful story. I felt the whole story and thank you for writing and sharing it.

  2. Darryl Benton June 18, 2020 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Happy Father’s Day brother.

    • Robert Dudley June 18, 2020 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Well said and I guess I’m gonna have to go fishing with y’all now!

  3. Michelle Farar June 21, 2020 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Great Story Joe! Hope to get on the water with you again soon.

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