For some people, contemplating how we will live tomorrow invokes a global, even cosmic response, whether Nirvana or Armageddon. Others focus closer to home: accommodating aging parents, appreciating spouses, or shepherding children. Still others look inward for the strength, faith, and fortitude to navigate what might come. Among the individuals I’ve met, Patrick Fries most fully integrates these personal, familial, and worldly perspectives.
Patrick is a documentary filmmaker. Arrowhead Films, named for an artifact he found hiking near Barton Springs, produces environmental documentaries, most recently in Bangladesh and India. ”In America, people have lost their compass on what constitutes a bad day. It used to be considered good to get out and see the world, but that did not mean to take a cruise.”
Patrick is the youngest of six children. His older sister has cerebral palsy. ”We grew up when there were no accommodations for people with disabilities.” His daughter Claire also suffers CP. “My wife and I adopted a 10-day-old infant who appeared healthy. At nine months, we realized she was not progressing.”
Patrick’s sister Karen has led a protected life, marked by institutions and dependence, while Claire will graduate from high school. She has a passion for medicine, works as a pharmacy tech, and anticipates an independent life. ”There are things Claire can’t do: drive, put on shoes, but there is so much she can do.
“I’ve always experienced this parallel universe. Karen looks at Claire and sees the life she never had. Claire does not want to live like Aunt Karen, in old folks homes, with no boyfriend or social life. Karen is happy for the opportunities that Claire has; Claire questions why Karen didn’t get what she’s received.”
Patrick foresees things only getting better for Claire. Rideshare services are going to make it easier for her to get around; social acceptance of people with disabilities is growing larger every day. There is even a chance that cerebral palsy research in stem cell augmentation could lead to treatment or a cure.
But he understands that progress for people like Claire requires advocacy and vigilance. Patrick and his wife filed a class action lawsuit against the Eanes Independent School District. “The leaders promised to make Claire’s school compliant with ADA and passed $100 million to do so, but instead built a new football field. My daughter still couldn’t use the playground or have an accessible bathroom. Our lawsuit took a lot of courage; my wife and I never once worried about what people would think of us. It was just the right thing to do. I wish my parents had done something years ago to help my sister, but it wasn’t really possible.”
In his films, Patrick’s advocacy achieves global scale. “We were fortunate twenty years ago to make our corporate ad clients pay for our documentaries. We restored a Vietnam era helicopter and flew across United States, made a documentary talking with Vietnam War participants, and sold it to Discovery. Eventually this led to a series of ‘problem’ films for Discovery: glacier melting, people without energy, overfishing.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“How I live tomorrow is with gratitude. I am grateful for having had a sister with CP who taught me the lessons I would need to fight for my daughter; grateful to live in a country with laws that protect minority populations; grateful to have a life partner who looks for the righteous path and not the easiest. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to work. My travels allow me to understand my good fortune, despite the challenges with our daughter. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the life I have today. I will live with a grateful tomorrow.”