The importance of a father's role in the development of a daughter's healthy self-esteem has been widely documented in psychology and self-help books. By now, we all know that fathers of girls ought to be involved and emotionally supportive.
Some men start early, taking their daughters to formal father-daughter dances. Then, there are the typical movie outings, breakfasts on weekend mornings and coaching or attendance at their daughters' artistic and athletic events.
How about hunting together?
Judging by the easygoing and mutually respectful ambience surrounding the father-daughter relationship of Rick and Megan Morani, hunting must be the way to go.
Megan Morani, 18, an honor student at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, has been hunting with her father, Rick, 46, on the Eastern Shore since she was 13. She started accompanying him when she was 10, working to maintain her father's six duck blinds, three goose pits and 50 deer stands across 750 acres of farmland they lease in Queen Anne's County.
"I helped mainly with putting the camouflage up, and carrying tools to the work site," Megan said.
She added: "I wanted to have something I could do with my dad so I could relate with him."
When asked what she gained from this early exposure, Rick said, "She learned how to put in a good day's work." Both enjoyed the amity of Rick's hunting club, made up of his brothers, friends from high school, fraternity brothers and assorted offspring. Laughter and conversation around bonfires in the evenings were reminiscent of the good times spent with his siblings growing up.
Rick Morani developed a love of the outdoors early, hunting with his family on their farm about two miles outside Chestertown. He got his first BB gun when he was 9, and he enjoyed target shooting, setting up tin cans in his backyard. During hunting season, his father would pick up Rick and his brothers from the school bus and take them into the fields. At this time, hunter-safety courses were part of the public school curriculum, so Rick had formal instruction as well as field training from his father. "Back then, girls took home economics, boys took hunter safety," Rick said.
He enrolled Megan in a hunter-safety course when she was 13. Megan remembers being the only girl in a class of fathers and sons. At the end of the course, they were field-tested on safety issues, such as not shooting at an animal on top of a hill because you would not be able to tell where the bullet might go. "They taught me to look at the whole picture, not just the animal," said Megan.
Her first successful shot was from a goose pit -- a 16-foot-long, 4-foot-deep trench, with scant openings for visibility through a camouflage roof of cornstalks. She thinks she was 14 at the time.
"I was really excited," Megan said of taking her first goose. "Dad's friends were parked behind us, and when I got out of the pit, they all cheered."
The action of hunting from a goose pit is rapid. You might be crouched or seated inside, but once you hear or see the geese in the sky, you have to move swiftly in one smooth motion: gun to your shoulder, leading the target, aiming and shooting. It's all over in a matter of seconds.
"This sport is very difficult to do if you don't have someone to show you the way," said Rick. When he hunts with Megan, he rarely takes a shot, acting more as her guide. In this way, as it has been for centuries, hunting techniques and strategies are passed down through families.
Of Megan's skill, he said simply, "She's a natural."
Father and daughter agree that it is the relaxation and camaraderie they experience in the outdoors that make the sport enjoyable. "A successful day," said Rick, "has nothing to do with what you get."
Megan agrees. "It's so different from schoolwork and everyday life," she said. "You're doing it for yourself -- not anyone else. When you hit the target, you're impressed."
The culture of hunting was accepted during Rick's childhood -- everyone learned how to do it. The experience is quite different for Megan.
"Some people think I'm joking," she said, when she reveals that she hunts. What does she do when faced with occasional disbelief or a "How-can-you-kill-an-animal?" reaction.
"I don't do it like I'm going out to kill something. It's a sport. And we eat what we kill," she said.
Megan knows that her father so enjoyed the sport that he worked full time as a guide for a year after graduating from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College. She is nearing college decision time, and she would like to be able to come home over winter weekends to continue hunting with her father. She is visiting some of the nearby colleges to which she has been accepted, hoping to narrow her choices.
In the requisite college essay, she chose to write about hunting with her father:
"Being in a deer stand, or duck blind, a half hour before sunrise is such a thrilling experience. ...The forest is still asleep when you arrive, and you get to experience its waking from the beginning. ...To be amidst it all gives you such an amazing sense of reverence that it almost seems surreal. These moments of contentment make weekends with my dad so cherished and memorable."
For her 18th birthday, Rick presented Megan with a shotgun. She was surprised and thrilled; but long before this milestone birthday, a greater gift was given.