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Teach a Man To Fish: Pictures of My Father

The thing I’ll remember most fondly about him is fishing. More specifically, teaching me to fish, on the edge of Lake Musconetcong, behind the Old Morris Canal Inn.

It was just down the street from our house, where we were lucky enough to live on a hill overlooking the lake. There was always a serene view just outside our dining room window, a postcard picture of nature, tranquil and placid. Down at the lake, with our poles rested on our tackle boxes, we would sit, quietly. There would rarely be spoken words, except for the occasional bite on my line, during which he would try to help me learn how to set the hook and reel in the fish.

This is the essential picture of my father. He enjoyed the quiet. My mother, by contrast, loved the bar and loud voices and chaos. There was a primal difference in the way my parents approached life, resulting in a divorce when I was six. My father won custody, unsurprisingly.

Even though he promised my brother we would never move from our house in Stanhope, when my father remarried, the very next year, we spirited our things from that lake view house to one on a lake, in Jefferson. My dad loved water. Fishing, or just sitting on the boat in the middle of the water, was the one proven balm for his troubles.

My stepmother and he eventually divorced (thank goodness, for she was—quite literally—insane), but my brother continued lashing out against Dad, until he was finally given what he wanted: freedom. He moved back to Stanhope to live with a friend’s family and continue playing football with his home team.

Then it was just me and Dad.

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The Thorniness of Trust

TRUST. One dictionary defines it thusly:

n. firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

It’s a quintessential component of humanity that’s often shared, instinctively, among the animal kingdom. We make it more complex than that, of course; a baby elephant probably has no distinction between its own instinctive trust of its parents and the fallibility of nature to protect it against outside threats. We make that leap of faith, and it’s a choice, not instinct.

Instinct and experience lead us astray from trust. Maybe that’s as it should be. The world is full of people who scam, manipulate, cheat and even murder; there’s no shortage of pitfalls and dangers, sometimes even among our closest allies.

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Splitting Hairs

Since my emphatically dramatic teenage years, I’ve tried many times to reinvent myself. I went from clean-cut kid to nerd, from nerd to metalhead, metalhead to grunge kid, and back to nerd — and that was just at 15.

From the time I was 25, however, I became more or less settled into an identity that was kind of a non-identity. I was overweight, always had facial hair, and was identifiable by my long, tied-back hair. I wore the same glasses for nearly a decade, my gait was always familiar, and I was just me.

I always said that I wanted to change, but my efforts at doing so were always half-hearted. I wanted to go back to school (or so I told my girlfriend, who wanted me to go back to school), but I never sent any applications. I wanted to lose weight, but couldn’t even make myself walk into a gym. I wanted to start writing, but couldn’t get past a blog post.

I’m a purist at heart; I don’t watch Doctor Who because I can’t watch every single episode (some early episodes are no longer extant), and I don’t change myself much because I’ve always felt like there was just too much to change. I let the idea flounder around in my brain like a fish that needs water until it just dies for awhile.

So, for the last ten years, I stayed roughly the same.

And then, I got a haircut.

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