Fighting Fear With Fear
The advent of my forty-fifth birthday was marred by the unexpected delivery of a large brown envelope containing photographs of family I have never known. Each photographic image of my biological father, half-brother and my half-sister was carefully annotated with the names and circumstances portrayed by each picture.
If fear could be measured on a scale like earthquakes, the prospect of meeting my father for the first time would have registered in my heart as a catastrophe. As the meeting date drew nearer I desperately sought to neutralise my rising anxiety by misapplying a tenet borrowed from homoeopathy, to “cure like with like” by fighting fear with fear.
Shelley Beach, a stones throw from Ramsgate, in KwaZulu-Natal is the launch site for scuba diving expeditions to Protea Banks, a deep-water reef, world famous for its annual congregations of mating ragged tooth sharks. By way of opposing emotional and physical fear, fighting fire with flames, I booked a shark dive for my son Bill and I, deliberately coinciding it with the day that I was to meet my father for the first time.
The azure sea hissed the arrival of each hissing wave wafting the sharp smell of ozone and clean wet sand over us as the dive-master delivered his pre-dive briefing like a General inspiring his troops. He outlined the objectives making certain everyone understood their roles in an emergency before leading the ritual of forming divers hand-signs to which we chorused the meaning out loud as we returned the underwater hand sign indicating the appropriate response. He concluded the rite with a shout.
“May the sharks be with you!”
Bill and I bantered with the false bravado of anxious combatants about to engage their foe. Looking to my son for support, I gave voice to the war cry of the Hillbrow Diving School where we had we had earned our divers qualifications.
“What must you do if you spot a shark? Which he instinctively responded,
“Stab someone else’s buddy!
The other divers laughed uneasily at the cynical parody of the scuba divers cardinal rule although they may not have understood the black humour anchored in the bizarre scuba training we had endured in a dry concrete jungle hundreds of miles from any ocean, dodging traffic, weighed down by our heavy equipment trudging between the Hillbrow Dive School’s seedy high-rise classrooms and the fluorescent-lit, sickly-green underground pool deep in the bowels of the Summit Club.
The Club was infested with human sharks ready to exploit any opportunity to prey on the weak and helpless, as they perpetually trolled the premises, one of the most notorious brothels in the cesspool heart of the famous gold mining town, Johannesburg.
Shining silver shattered mercury bubbles marked our descent through iridescent green water. We exchanged the OK! sign with each other and with the dive master when we reached the half-way point at a depth equivalent to the height of a three story building. Submerging further, the cheerful sunlight receding far above our heads grew dimmer, muting our brightly coloured wetsuits to muddy browns and greens as our ears ached and squeaked their warning of increasing pressure. Fighting the urge to thrash for the surface, silently screaming boiling bubbles, clawing my way upward out of my self-made predicament, I revolved instead, long scuba fins fanning slowly, scanning the murky depths for any sign of movement. My scalp prickled, anticipating the swirl of dark sleek shapes of the creatures we had chosen to confront. Bill’s eyes widened with shock as a torpedo-like shape cruised lazily between his legs and the dim sunlight around us flickered as dozens of grinning sharks appeared, suspended above and below us, their half-open jaws exposing curved, sharp white teeth, their cruel pointed snouts frozen in a silent snarl and their unblinking eyes showing no sign of acknowledging our presence as they engaged in a mating ritual as old as time. Bill and I exchanged glances, acknowledging a bond forged by the sharing of a powerful experience, facing and overcoming one of our deepest fears, together. My heart contracted painfully out of my love for him and in response to a new wave of fear, as my thoughts turned to an encounter far more terrifying than this, that awaited me.
“Hey dad did you see that the cocky big guy didn’t even make it halfway down?” A jubilant Bill chortled as we climbed into the car setting off for my fathers house and the first meeting that made me numb with terror.
“What about the redhead who refused to remove his wetsuit pants when we got back to the beach?” I replied with a nervous laugh.
“Hello Desmond”, I said, with a catch in my throat as I extended my trembling hand toward him. “I would like you to meet your grandson Bill”.
“This situation is like something out of a movie” he replied gruffly, attempting unsuccessfully to lighten the moment.
An excerpt from a soon to be released book, 2nd Time Lucky, the sequel to 6692 Pisces the Sailfish.
Blog: 2nd Time Lucky
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Don Darkes Bio:
I was born as Lawrence Huntingdon-Rusch, adopted and renamed Lawrence de Robillard. I was reborn on June 6th 2012 as the Writer Don Darkes. My choice of pseudonym is due partly to the fact that I am penning a Biographical Memoir entitled My Life of Crime, the memoir of an intriguing man, the “real” Don Darkes who was marked with this identity at birth to protect a secret and the fact that like him, my given name also conceals my true heritage. The irony in this tickles my love of the bizarre and my sense of the ridiculous. Of course it makes marketing sense too since any of my “real” names would fill a book cover and leave no space for the Title!
Following a number of exciting and successful careers in Construction, Manufacturing, Information Technology, Franchising and Entrepreneurship I find myself combining them all into my new role as an Author.
I repudiated my Psychology degree in the mid-seventies prior to serving my mandatory National Military Service in a top-secret Electronic Warfare unit, clandestinely deployed in Rhodesia, (Now Zimbabwe) a horrendous episode, for which I later received a medal. (novel in progress)
During the eighties, at the height of apartheid, together with (then) illegal “black” partners I built a successful manufacturing company. Following a series of traumatic events I sold it and opted-out to buy the yacht upon which I was shipwrecked together with my wife, our five year old son and four year old daughter. (Non fiction novel, 6692 Pisces the Sailfish). After returning destitute to South Africa I rode a ripple in the dot.com wave and sold my Internet start-up in order to distribute organic chocolate and to research a challenging historical novel exploring an intriguing link between the Jewish Holocaust and Madagascar. (Novel in progress– Bread from Air)
Currently, together with my wife, son and two daughters we are building another yacht and living aboard it whilst I work on several books with a common denominator; my love of history and my belief that fact is stranger and far more interesting than fiction.
Sonia Marsh Says: You certainly have a “Gutsy” life with many adventures and I am so happy you contacted me to share your “My Gutsy Story (ies)” with all of us. Please leave your comments for Don below.
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Sonia Marsh says
I love your way of fighting fear with another fear. What I’d really like to know is how your relationship is today with your biological father?
Don Darkes says
Fighting fire with fire is what little boys are taught to do – unfortunately – its not as dangerous as crying. Unfortunately my biological father asked me to keep his secret and so I was not able to meet my brother and sister- who are unaware of my existence. we have not spoken since.
Paige Strickland says
Interesting story. So meeting up with the Birthfather felt like getting fed to the sharks, but something you had to try? Agreed w Sonia, I now want to hear what happened next!
Don Darkes says
It only got tougher. his wife did not know he was not keen to upset a 45 year old secret. He has lost out on knowing his grandchildren. Thankfully my incredible wife and my fantastic kids more than make up for it. But that was not the end of this story. My oldest daughter, not to be outdone, insisted that we do a skydiving course together ( she has a damaged eardrum and cant scuba dive). We did and I have 22 stainless steel screws to show for it- but she is happy as she got to show her brother up.
Kenyon Fabian says
Really the ragged tooth of sharks are looking very dangerous. And of course i of fear it. Because it’s very ferocious.
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Don Darkes says
Luckily, during mating season they are only interested in each other. it was an incredible experience.
Anne de Robillard says
Wow! And you still go on. Your “Father” has lost out. Great read.
Thank you for sharing your truth. Frankly, I always wonder what happens after those, “meet your real parent on the Oprah show” kinds of experience. Sad as it is, I’ve a feeling your story is more real than most of us want to believe. Thanks for sharing your gutsy story! ~Karen
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