Changing your mind isn't quitting: a story about fishing

As I have previously shared in my essay After The Flood, I grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas; and my parents owned a restaurant called China Garden. Although I think my parents liked the autonomy of owning their own business, the stress of it was hard on my family, particularly my father. He was angry a lot, and whenever I acted up (I was technically the "bad" kid because I was too opinionated), he would retort, "You think I want to work this hard? You think I like this? All I want is to go fishing!" Every time he would say his great want in life was to go fishing, I thought he was full of shit. After all, not only did it seem absurd to me that to fish was the life dream of someone who had a master's degree, a successful business, and assimilated to another country's culture; it seemed like a cop out.

In the past, my mother reaffirmed my disbelief with my father's words. She often said she wished that he didn't have to sacrifice his dream of being a scientist, and that he had to give up science to take care of his family.  However, never once did I hear my father say this. He talked proudly about his career as a physics teacher and of his time in school, but when those words escaped his mouth they were always past tense. They weren't passionate declarations of what he wanted, even though at the time, I thought they were. It wasn't until later in my life that I really grasped the concept of moving on.

Coffeyville under water 2007 (Courtesy of USA Today)
In 2007, my family lost China Garden in a freak flood that wiped out half of the town. After years of adjustment to the change in lifestyle, my parents have now retired and live close to my older sister, who resides in Kansas City. While owning a restaurant was stressful and manually tiring, they now enjoy every day seeing their grandchildren. My mother cooks for everyone, and my father spends hours fishing. Never once since he lost the restaurant did he make any serious steps to own a new business or go back into science. When he was finally able to have the freedom to live out his dreams, he actually lived out his dream, which was to fish; and every time I see him post a picture of him smiling with his catch of the day, I laugh a little and I almost tear up. Who was I to disbelieve his expressed want? Who was I to think he was "copping out" when really he was just being honest in a world that forces people to veer away from true happiness and chase superficial things?

My dad, my niece and my nephew show off their catches (Courtesy of Facebook)
People often ask me, "What do you want?" I tell them that I want to write, and this vague answer annoys them because it appears as if I have no career goals. Sometimes people try to push me to continue trying to "make it" as a big shot screenwriter because that's what I wanted seven years ago, and it is they, not me, that can't seem to let that concept go. But unlike my father, I am too much of a coward to say, "You think I want to politic with assholes? You think I want to work 60 hours a week with no life stability? I just want to laugh, wear sweatpants, and drink lattes." And maybe writing that sentence and sharing it with the world is my declaration of fishing.

My dad brings home dinner (Courtesy of Facebook)
The goal of fishing is different for everyone, but the general concept is to express what it is you truly want to do with your life and not what you started off doing, or what you think you should be doing, or what others think you should be doing. It took my father decades before he could retire and spend his days fishing, but I use his life as a model for my own decisions. For instance, would it really make sense for me to take a low paying job to obtain "connections" (I'm referring to entertainment jobs) when I could just take a  non-glamorous position that would give me the ability to save? Would it make sense for me to date a superficial man who wants me to doll myself up all the time? Would it make sense for me to allow people who hurt me to continue being in my life? Absolutely not to all three of these questions because they would stop me from my dream of laughing in sweatpants while drinking lattes.

My nephew wants some sushi (Courtsy of Facebook)
It hurts me when people think a woman has given up because she chose a family over a career. Maybe she "leaned in" and realized seeing her children grow was her fishing. Or maybe an athlete realized that he didn't want to go pro even though he had the talent. Maybe he wanted to be a musician instead. That was his idea of fishing. Maybe a couple doesn't want children and just wants to own a dog. That's fishing too. To those who think I'm advocating being less ambitious, I don't think you have yet grasped the concept of fishing. Fishing is about figuring out your heaven on earth, and your true paradise is often something simple.

In conclusion, whatever it is you want in life, it's okay to be honest about it. Most people will try to help you find a way to get your dream, and those who doubt you will one day be in awe of you the way that I am in awe of my father.