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.