by Joe Mindak
I grew up in North Jersey—first in Palisades Park and then Washington Township. As I meet more and more people in Hoboken, I continue to realize what a special place this town is and always admire how near and dear people hold it to their hearts. You hear about growing up in town—all the kids playing stickball in the streets, the old dances on Friday nights or the old bars people used to frequent.
As I hear more and more of these stories it only seems fitting that I became a father in here Hoboken, as one of my earliest memories of my own father is from “old” Hoboken.
My father had always loved fishing, but for the longest time I was too young to go on the trips with him. I remember him coming home and telling me how the day was, how many fish they caught and how big they were—of course we all know fisherman lie. I couldn’t wait for the day
that I was old enough to go on one of these trips and see for myself.
The day finally came and it was like preparing for the Olympics. We had to pack the car with the equipment, make sandwiches the night before and pack the cooler (a task I would learn to appreciate more as I got older). Most importantly I had to go to sleep while it was still light out, because this ritual he called fishing had me getting up at five o’clock in the morning. Of course five o’clock came very quickly, but I was fine with that—actually I remember jumping out of bed with excitement. It was Dad and me getting up while everyone was asleep to go fishing. It was like a covert operation. We had to be very stealth and not wake anybody up. Pack the sandwiches, fill the cooler and slip out the front door without being seen by the rest of the family.
This was it. I was in. I’m becoming one of the boys.
We were on our way. Just Dad and me up at the crack of dawn in the car heading out to go fishing. We had to first stop and get the rest of the “boys,” which was my Uncle Frank and Cousin Franny. This would become part of our ritual. They were our “go to” fishing buddies, and for the next few years that would be the crew. Franny and I would hop in the hatchback of my Dad’s Volkswagon. No seatbelts to be found anywhere. We would lay in the back and look up into the dark sky and watch the street lights fly by. We had no idea where we were heading but we were excited to get there. It always seemed like the trip took hours but in retrospect I realize at 5 am we could make it in about 20 minutes.
We would finally pull in to this strange new universe called Hoboken. All I can remember was that it was dark and we pulled up to a set of docks covered with fog. As we got closer, you could hear the rumblings of some old men talking. Then the fog would clear, and there it was—The Palace. This boat may as well have been the Intrepid, because for an 8 year-old boy it just looked massive. An old, salty man stood at the entrance to welcome us aboard.
Franny and I couldn’t contain our excitement. As soon as we got on we immediately went exploring. The back was already filled as apparently that’s the best spot for fishing. We went up to the front and checked out the huge anchor. Inside was an entire restaurant with booths and a kitchen. Then we saw the Holy Grail—a Pac-Man machine right on the ship. We would play the game the entire ride out while my Dad and Uncle Frank went downstairs—we would find out why later.
After a good hour or so we made it to our spot. We would spend the next four hours learning how to tie a knot for our hook, bait the hook and catch fish. I had never experienced something so exciting as reeling in my first big fish. And we caught fish after fish that day with our Dads.
On the way back, we found out that the downstairs was a secret lair for something called Poker. Meanwhile I was experiencing my first sea sickness, spending the last few hours sicker than I had every felt in my life. I wound up throwing up right there on the floor next to the Poker table. As sick as I felt, nothing really mattered as I watched my Dad in all his glory owning that Poker table. I don’t know if he was winning or not, but all that day he had the people laughing. For the four hours fishing and the whole poker game back, the crowd was his. I watched in amazement how the big group of burly old fishermen hung on my Dad’s every word. I hoped one day I would be able to be just like him.
For the next few years we would spend a lot of time on the Palace—Franny, Uncle Frank, my Dad and me.
Last summer I took my son Finn on his first charter boat trip, sailing out of Belmar on Father’s Day. And of course I brought my Dad. Finn was excited for weeks, and when the day finally came it was perfect—a beautiful day and my son caught the first fish. I spent those hours trying to teach my son how to tie a knot, bait a hook and become a fisherman. I could see the way he looked at me all day with a little gleam in his eye. I could only hope that gleam was the same gleam I had back in the day and that Finn was only thinking one thing; how amazing his Dad was.
My son, my Dad and me out there fishing—can’t ask for a better Father’s Day than that.