by Prudence Juris
Walking through the card aisle in the drug store I wondered—why do so many Father’s Day cards have images of fishing? Then I thought about the familiar Chinese proverb “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” I went fishing once with my dad, we didn’t catch anything, but he was still very good at teaching me to fish. Unfortunately, it seems no matter what I tell him he doesn’t believe it.
My dad grew up without loving parental guidance; he was orphaned around 9 years old. Back then most bookmakers would not bet winning odds on him making it past 18. The time was 1930s, struggling in rural Illinois, a Negro male, and poor—not a “winning” combo. Well he made it past 18, and he made much of himself; moving to get a better education, pushing himself to achieve a profession, then to standout in that profession. During the turbulence and life-or-death times of the U.S. civil rights “war” he volunteered as a “solider” leaving a wife and two small children for the battleground that was 1965 Mississippi. If they had been alive his parents would have worried with each of these bold choices, but would certainly have quelled that fear with the pride of a child so selfless and brave. Who would believe this boy would grow to such a man?
My dad was not one to just hand out fish, at least it did not seem that way to me. In the moment I asked for immediate gratification (money for this item or that event, support for a wild scheme) and was denied I did not appreciate the lesson. Now that I am making my own way I love that I have so many skills– I can fish for myself. As his child I grew up in a world so different from his, but that world still built my character and strengthened my resolve. So many things were taught in the fishing lessons—integrity, intellect, and trust of intuition. Many times listening to stories from his childhood I tried to imagine the boy inside this man. I could imagine no boy stronger, tougher, or cleverer. Often in my desire to show what I learned I would head out with a plan, then something happens and the plan must change. I kept moving, and I still keep moving even though I may not know exactly what I will find. It is a danger, a flash of boldness and that is risk I am happy, and very willing to take.
I’ve been writing and speaking the thoughts and feelings of my life’s truest moments since I was seven years old. And why not, he showed me there is nothing to fear if what comes out is my truth. Fishing is part science, part grit and part faith. Like him, I don’t look for slick tricks, or simple solutions. I love the challenge of figuring out the puzzle—crosswords and chess teach many things. The hard work can make the goal sweeter.
Each day I strive to put my shoulder to the wheel of this revolution life. There are breaks, and pauses, but there is no retirement from the revolution. Successes are nice, but I’ve learned much from my failures. Failures propel me to try, to do something different, to further discover who I am—I define me with each reinvention.
These things I do and the chances I take scare him, as they would any caring parent. But when the odds are against me and I stay true to the clarity of who I am, the girl listening during fishing lessons, then I will be the best me possible, and that is something. The greatest lesson I learned is to be more curious about the uncertainties of life than afraid of the certainty of death. I cannot, and will not, stop being who I am because someone is afraid, even if that someone is the someone who gave me life.
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Prudence Juris is a coloured queer female-bodied femme social justice activist advocate telling stories in prose, poetry, plays and one crafty-bitch entrepreneur.
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