Last night, Discovery Channel aired its tribute to Phil Harris, captain of the crabbing vessel Cornelia Marie. Cpt. Phil died of a massive stroke at the untimely age of 53 on February 9th, 2010, while tapping the latest season of the hit series Deadliest Catch. While I enjoyed the series, I wouldn’t consider myself a die-hard fan; I just learned of Cpt. Phil’s death earlier this week. However, I am an admirer of the man. When I did watch the show, I noticed something familiar about the grizzly captain. There was something about his spirit, his attitude, that seemed to shout “I’m going to do whatever the hell I want.” I liked that. But during last night’s show, learning about the man through the stories told by his closest friends, it was like reliving my own father’s death and listening to his friends tell similar stories.
Both men—my father, Joe, and Phil—where thickheaded men who lived the way they wanted. They both had two sons, but saw them far less than they would have wanted to. They both worked their ass off all of their lives. They lived hard and they played hard. They smoked, drank, and ate some of the best tasting, cholesterol-filled, artery-clogging foods that a person could consume. While their personal habits may be seen to some as crude or even selfish—in the sense that their habits lead to their untimely deaths—those who were closest to them seemed to admire their rebel spirits. That spirit that lead my Dad and Phil to continue working like dogs, drinking like fish and smoking like chimneys until their early 50s, when it finally caught up to them.
While I admire these men, I also remember that they were fathers who left their loved ones behind far to early. So I must ask myself, should we (me, my brother, Joe Jr., and Phil’s sons, josh and Jake) live like our fathers who we loved and admire dearly, or change? Should we realize the unbalanced natures of the rebel lifestyle, filled with packs of smokes, gallons of coffee and cases of beer every day, or embrace the rebel and say ”to hell with the consequences, I’ll live my life the way I God-damn please!” The same way I have for the past fifteen years? Can we? Though I can’t speak for the other sons in this story, I can speak for myself. I am changing.
I have recently learned of my own paternity. In the next six months my first son or daughter will be born. And for him/her I have quit smoking, cut-down on the coffee and alcohol, but my diet still needs some work; I love butter…. Every day I must ask myself if I want to be like my Dad and leave this earth never seeing my child venture off to college or pursue their talents, whatever they may be. I don’t. I don’t want them ask themselves the same questions about their father that I have. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes and to endure the pains of changing their entire lifestyle. It is very difficult, but I must. I want to see them grow up. I want to be a different type of role model.
Usually, I would include some applicable research to this story. Some article addressing how a son’s understanding of his father relates to his own identity and behavior would do well. Frankly, I couldn’t find any. It seems that fatherhood has been neglected in the literature (Samuels, 2007). I did find that even at an early age, our Father’s seem to be a source of a good time and congruent positive arousal (Feldman, 2003). And perhaps that is the difficulty in separating ourselves from our fathers: they know how to have fun. We must remember them for who they were, the great times they brought us, but try desperately not to make the same mistakes. I think they would want that. Perhaps there is a way to embrace the rebel while not ingesting the copious amounts of poison that seems to come with it. In the words of another fallen rebel father, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I will ponder this rotten assignment and learn how to cope with it. Until then, I will close with an appeal to The Great Magnet: May these men rest and be remembered fondly. They’ve earned it.