A Son’s Memories and A Father’s Reflections…

I have become a fan of  “Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV look at one of the toughest professions in the world, crab fishing off the coast of Alaska, near the Aleutian Islands. The show has become quite popular, as have the captains and crews of the four or five ships whose wintry adventures are chronicled every week. One such boat is the Cornelia Marie, piloted by Captain Phil Harris, with two of his sons, Josh-the elder and Jake-the younger, as part of his crew. Captain Phil appears to be the quintessential captain: tough, a talented skipper, hard-charging, hard-smoking, formerly hard-drinking, divorced. He certainly looks the part, too, complete with tattoos, mullet, and fierce eyes. But inside the man lives a tender heart expressed only intermittently. Captain Phil’s body shows the effects of the stress of battling Nature’s extremes on the Bering Sea, as well as the ongoing need to make their share of the fleet’s quota of a variety of species of crab taken from the Sea. Running a business from the seat of his pants while riding a watery rollercoaster that can take your life, your crew’s lives, and/or your livelihood will make a man old very quickly. Captain Harris battles the elements, business pressures, family issues, crew politics, and a myriad of other concerns with a body that is showing the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle…. and he knows the eventual end scenario if not the practical events which will lead to the end of his life. He feels it coming, nonetheless.

The final episode of Season 6 brings about a perfect storm of events which tips Phil over the edge and into the downward spiral headed to tragedy. Phil’s youngest son, Jake, has been a crewmember on the Cornelia Marie longer than his older brother, Josh. The show has told the story of Josh’s arrival onboard as new crewmember, and Jake’s badgering of his older brother who has now entered into Jake’s domain. Their relationship titters back and forth in sniping comments, several times nearly coming to blows. Although Josh is larger, similar to his father, Jake is made of the thinnest steel, seemingly unbreakable. Jake is ruthless, at times, in his critical assessment of his brother’s ability as a fisherman. And honestly, fishing doesn’t come as naturally to Josh as it seems to for Jake. However, Josh has grown through each season. He’s gotten better at his job and shown leadership. Jake, however, has been slipping of late. He seems preoccupied. The end of Season 6 shows the reason for his preoccupation: Jake is an addict. Phil finds out when several pain pills disappear from a prescription he needs for his deteriating physical condition. He confronts Jake in a fiery wrath worthy of  an old school skipper of ships powered by wind,  mast and sail. Phil told him that upon return to port, Jake would be put off the ship and he never wanted to see him again. Rather than return his father’s fire, Jake breaks. He confesses, maybe for the first time, that he is sick. “Whaddya mean SICK?” his father screams. Jake turns away from the camera, leans into his father’s ear, and softly confesses…”I am an addict…”

Phil’s demeanor changes. He understands this. Phil is a recovering alcoholic. He shares his son’s sickness. So Phil decides to cut the season short, and return to port early. Once they return to port, Phil tells Jake, “You need to go to rehab.” He says it not only as a dad to a son, but also as one addict to another. Through the rest of the cruise, father and son keep to themselves. Captain Phil quickly begins to physically unravel. His leg bounces uncontrollably as he sits at the helm, guiding the ship, chain-smoking cigarettes. His hands shake too. We, the watchers, can see what will come next.

When the Cornelia Marie reaches port, they unload their load of crab, and a crewmember searches the ship for Captain Phil, so he can sign off on the final count. Unable to find him, he heads for the captain’s quarters, where he finds the door closed and no response. The crewman opens the door and finds Phil lying on the floor, unable to move. Captain Phil has had a massive stroke.

If you are interested in more of the story, I am including a link:


Father and son relationships are so subjective. I have no other perspective than my own as both son and father. My relationship with my father was a positive. Although it was tragically cut short when Dad was killed in a truck accident while I was a college student, the power of his influence runs deep in my recollection. So deep, in fact, that I’m only aware of it when I recognise him in some of my own mannerisms. Dad had a sweet, quiet soul. Although many people would not have seen his quietness, he was by nature, a shy person who overcame his shyness to preach to thousands of people across North America as an evangelist or pastor. People generally liked my dad. In fact, he was a very likable person not prone to promote nor maintain controversy, generally. He definitely had his own opinions, but saw no reason to debate without reason. Dad allowed people to be who they were, and left them in the hands of God to shape their belief system. I respect that and have tried to emulate it.

As a child, I certainly saw Dad as the voice of God. What he preached, I took as gospel. He lived his life in accordance with the scriptures, too. He loved God and loved others. Dad knew how to work hard. Growing up in the Dirty Thirties of Depression-era Southeastern Colorado and Southwestern Kansas, Dad’s family knew poverty and deprivation. However, they never allowed difficulties to bring a spirit of complaint to their relationship with God. Dad accepted life and adapted to it. That’s not to say he didn’t have times of questioning. He did. But I never felt that his questions pulled him away from faith in the goodness of God nor the value of people.

When I was in junior high, I began to rebel against some of the lifestyle issues our tradition of faith taught. I experimented with alcohol and tobacco. My language changed, too. However, I tried to hide my experimentation from my parents, not in fear of my father, but out of respect. Looking back, I suspect the most respectful thing for me to have done was to be honest about it. By so doing, I would have been showing respect to him as well as to myself. Maybe we could have discussed what I was doing, and more importantly, why I was doing it. While the alcohol experimentation hasn’t really affected my life, and I have no qualms with having a beer now and then, tobacco has been a major problem in recent years. Tobacco addiction is hard. Easy to start, hard to quit. We could have discussed that.

While I wouldn’t say my relationship with Dad was never close, it certainly was very good. I never expected Dad to be anything than who he was. He quietly went about living his life. It seemed the closer you would get to something he felt intimately about, the quieter he would get. He didn’t say “I love you,” often, but I knew he did. He didn’t say, “I’m proud of you,” although I knew he was. That was Ok… it was Dad! I suppose I could spend my life bitching and moaning because my father wasn’t more vocal about his feelings for me, but why expect him to step out of character? That was his personality. It’s good enough for me.

I remember when I felt like my father first treated me like a man. We were discussing a book we had both read, and he brought up a point which was somewhat controversial in our faith tradition. He then turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I gave my opinion, which was different than how our faith tradition had tought, and Dad agreed with me. Somewhere deep within my consciousness, I felt validated as a thinking adult. A pretty cool day. Our family has always discussed ideas. In fact, I admire both my parents because they never quit growing and learning. I want to emulate that as well.

I lost my dad at a very fundamental time in life. I was beginning to make decisions that would affect the rest of my life. It was just the time where the parent/child relationship changes to adult to adult. As a man grows older, having your father around so you can ask questions is important. Experiencing life helps you gain perspective as to how your parents lived as adults. The old adage, “The older I get, the smarter my father gets,” is appropriate. I missed the opportunity to get to know Dad, man-to-man. I still miss that. Don’t even ask how much I hate it that my children don’t know my father, now they are becoming adults. I guess I am the mirror through which they see him. I’m sorry, but it seems a poor reflection.

I miss my dad.

I miss his quiet strength.

I miss the unconditional affirmation he added to my life without saying a word.


Rescuing the Deadliest Catch…

The Deadliest Catch is a reality TV show that follows several ships and  crews fishing for Alaskan King Crab in the Bering Sea. During the fishing season, the crews battle ice that builds up from extreme, near-Arctic temperatures, fatigue due to round-the-clock fishing sessions they must endure in order to fill the hold and get the catch back to harbor, and the Bering itself.  They also fight with each other from time to time. But on these ships, the Captain’s word is final. Ultimately, the Captain is responsible for the lives of his crew, the condition of his ship, and the numbers of his catch. Although the crabbing season doesn’t last all year, it is still very lucrative. Each crew member makes a full year’s wages in a few months. However, working in the 40 degree Bering Sea is the most hazardous work place imagined. The call every Captain and crew dread hearing is, “Man overboard.” If the man can’t be retrieved within a VERY short period, the frigid water will take his life.

This morning, while eating breakfast, I watched an episode of Deadliest Catch. The Time Bandit, with Captain Jonathan Hillstrand at the helm, was sailing within close proximity to another crab boat. As the ships are going out to fish or returning from sea, they carry their 800 pound crab pots stacked on the deck of the ship. One of the crew members of this other ship, was hanging on the side of the stacked pots, trying to secure them. The Bering was choppy and the ship rolled from side to side such that the man could reach his arm down into the ocean at times. Captain Hillstrand watched the man in the precarious spot until the crewman suddenly disappeared. Immediately, Hillstrand sounded the alarm and the entire crew began rehearsed rescue operations while shouting, “MAN OVERBOARD!”

At first, they had to spot the crewman in the rolling chop of the Bering Sea. One of the Bandit’s crewmembers, Russell, put on the bright orange survival suit in case he had to dive into the waves in order to save the freezing man. Thankfully, the man in the frigid drink was wearing a flotation vest and they were able to throw him a line after the Captain swung the Time Bandit to within range. The man was able to grab hold of the line, and the crew pulled him aboard. The rescue wasn’t over, however. He was so cold that they  lead/supported/carried him to the crew quarters of the ship where his clothes were immediately stripped from him and he was wrapped in warm blankets and taken to the galley to warm up. Although he never lost consciousness, the guy staggered about and kept saying, “You saved my life…. I was so scared…. I’m so cold… You saved my life…” Eventually Captain Hillstrand, very shaken himself, came down to the galley. Immediately, Hillstrand embraced the crewman  and accepted his emotional thanks for giving his life back to him.

Later, when the crewman was up in the wheelroom with the captain, Hillstrand radioed the captain of the other ship to let him know his crewman was safe. Suddenly, from off camera, the crewman could be heard to say… “Hey! Its my 31st birthday today!” They all laughed and Jonathan relayed the message to the other captain, and he responded… “Tell him he can have the rest of the day off to celebrate…” And the laughing continued.

Later, Hillstrand told  of how they had attempted a similar rescue 9 years earlier, but were unsuccessful.  When the drowning man was unable to grasp the line thrown him, Jonathan’s brother dove in the water after him, but the guy took in a huge breath of water just before the rescuer could get to him. Although they were able to haul the man onto the ship, he never regained consciousness despite 2 hours of CPR by the crew as they awaited the Coast Guard. Remembering the prior rescue attempt, Jonathan stated…”We’re even now,” speaking to the sea rather than to the interviewer.

If Captain Jonathan Hillstrand wouldn’t have been watching the small figure of a crewmember of a different ship working in a precarious position, then a man would have been lost at sea in the frigid Bering. Another name added to a memorial. Lost through the cracks…


The Captain had his eye on the nameless man.  The Captain wasn’t too busy with the affairs of his ship to allow his gaze to be a net into which the crewman fell. It didn’t matter that they weren’t close friends. They shared a calling: they are Fishermen. Fishermen in the Bering Sea are a rough and tumble brotherhood. They compete with each other, fuss and fight with each other, party with each other, and save each other’s lives. They are brothers and when one boat is beached on the rocks, they all come for survivors.

My Captain has had his eye on me in the last day or two. He has rescued me from myself. He has spoken words of warmth and comfort:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

   In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

   What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:18-39

Honestly, my battle has been with how I speak to myself. The precarious reality of my own definition. The waves of self-recrimination wash over me. These waves are ones I have been crushed with before, but I thought they were calmer, more controllable. And then another storm. What’s so frustrating is my battle is within! So this morning, I turned to the place I knew I can always go to restore perspective in a time of battle with myself: Romans 8. The last part of Romans 7 speaks directly to the inner turbulence, but then the waves of the storm crash upon the calm sea of  Romans 8, verse 1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

Reading further down, I was once again reminded that our circumstances are only waves seeking our attention…to distract us. Like Peter walking to Jesus on the water, I was beginning to look at the waves. Nothing in this life can change the way God loves me….


Oh look!  A life line…