Gilland: An unforgettable Father’s Day story 

James G. Gilland pictured shortly before a boating accident.
James G. Gilland pictured shortly before a boating accident.
Courtesy of Mike Gilland

Last Father’s Day I wrote about the legacy I received from my Dad, who was married to my Mom for almost 65 years. This year, I want to reflect on the time we almost died together.  

Just before his 80th birthday, I planned a trip to Indiana to be with him on that milestone day. We had several new adventures planned around his house, but one event was a must, and that was a fishing trip to Dad’s favorite lake in his old neighborhood.  

This lake was beautiful, and the bright October morning brought some mild temps for Indiana—perfect for some fall fishing. 

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Dad’s boat was one of those small, two-person bass boat crafts, small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck, and light enough to carry the short distance from our parking spot to lake’s edge. It had two seats that were not permanently attached but set securely in a groove on the sides of the boat.  

The little trolling motor was perfect for this size lake, which was around 250 feet across in that area. 

What I didn’t know proved to be the surprise of the day. Dad had altered those seats, adding about 6” of piping from the base support to the bottom of the seats, all to make it easier on his knees.  

The downside of this modification was a dangerous change in the center of gravity for the seating.  

James Gilland shows off a catch.

Well, the fish were biting, and we were having a great time until…I reached slightly behind me for the wire cutters that were in my tackle box.  

As I leaned behind me, my entire seat flipped backward, landing me in my Dad’s lap. This misbalance caused the front of the boat to rise 90 degrees, a virtual “wheelie,” causing everything—Dad, me, our seats, all the tackle—to slide abruptly into that cool October water.  

My brand-new eyeglasses were knocked off my head as I went completely underwater with the seats on top of us. 

Fortunately, I quickly popped up, and even without my glasses, I could see that the boat was about 20 feet away from me…but Dad was nowhere in sight. I began to call out to Dad, and to pray for all I was worth. 

Suddenly, as I swam through the area, I could see the outline of the back of his head and arms stretched out under the water, not moving a single muscle. 

My heart jumped and I tore off swimming toward him, calling his name. What happened next was nothing less than one of those miracles that happen in crucial moments filled with adrenaline.  

I reached my left arm under his chest and grabbed his left arm. Somehow, I pulled my 6’2,” 220-pound Dad straight up out of the water, and rolled back to rest him on me while I managed to tread water with one hand.  

Friends, I have no explanation for how I was able to do that, but by the grace of God. 

When Dad’s face cleared the water, he exhaled, and weakly said to me, “Mike, I was about gone. But I’m too weak to make it…” I assured him, saying, “No way, Dad. We’re going to make it to the boat, and I will get us to shore.”  

With my right arm, I managed to swim us to the boat, and told him to just hang onto it as I would pull the boat with him hanging on to shore.  

At that moment, a neighbor spotted us and yelled out to us—something that made a real difference for Dad. Hearing another’s voice buoyed his spirits, and newfound strength seemed to fill his heart.  

I moved to the front of the boat and grabbed the mooring rope. But the boat was not moving as I had imagined it would. Then it hit me: We had anchored the boat, a fact that surely kept our craft nearby after the accident. 

Miracle number two then happened. While treading water, I was able to pull anchor, and hoist it into the boat. Once that happened, pulling the boat with Dad hanging on was a breeze, and we made it to shore in what seemed like a minute.  

By then, Dad’s strength and resolve was back, and he began talking to that neighbor, recounting our experience.  

Then, miracle number three happened. I swam back to the scene of the accident, dove down to the bottom, and my very first scrape of my hand into that silt-bottom lake produced my eyeglasses! I couldn’t believe it. From there, I recovered our tackle and rods and reels, and made several trips back and forth to the shore. We left with everything but the seats. 

Remembering this incident causes me to realize that our lives are full of adventures. Some are pure fun, while others like this one have elements of danger and fright. I was blessed with a Dad that was open to living his life with me in such a way that we made memories of all kinds together. 

I am truly grateful that my trip turned out OK, and all that we were left with was a great story. It could have ended so differently, but just like in Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples thought their lives were in peril as the waves were crashing around them, Dad and I found that the Lord was with us, too, and He caused peace to come into our hearts. 

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