Some men spend their life trying to distance themselves from their fathers. And some effortlessly walk in their father’s footsteps. The older John Dunaway gets, the more he appreciates the lessons his father imparted to him, lessons he is now sharing with his children.
A merchant mariner by trade, John Dunaway guides cargo ships through the Houston Ship Channel day in and day out, just like his father did before him. As a child he used to go to work with his dad, not realizing it was a profession. When his mom broached the subject of a future career when he was in high school, the light bulb went off.
“I was like ‘I could get paid for that?’ In that moment I knew what my path would be.”
He attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy after graduating from Clear Lake High School in 2003, spending a year of that at sea on commercial ships as a cadet. During the course of his early career, he sailed to dozens of different countries for weeks at a time aboard heavy lift/general cargo ships, working his way up to captain. In 2017 he was selected to join the prestigious Houston Pilots, and now his workday is spent in the Houston Ship Channel, navigating huge ships through the tricky waters of the largest landlocked port in America.
Photo: John Dunaway
His latest career move allows him more time at his Seabrook home with his wife, Kim, and their two children, Harper and Haden. More time at home also allows him to pursue his passion for the outdoors, another gift from his father. He also loves cooking the wild game he brings to the table and entertaining friends, skills he learned from his mother who excelled at both.
“As a child we lived for time outdoors, and when dad was off, he would scoop us up for fishing trips to Rockport or South Padre. We would fish all day and eat our catch for dinner.”
At 12, he started duck hunting.
“It took over my life, and it’s still a huge part of my life. Like my dad, when I’m not working, you can usually find me in the field or on the water.”
Whether ashore or afield, he documents the often neglected or poorly depicted lifestyles of hunting and shipping through his Abstract Conformity website and Instragram feed. Abstract Conformity is his approach to sharing stories with details that are often overlooked by the mainstream viewer, continuously adapting this voice as he learns and grows.
“While at sea, I tried to share a narrative about what was going on that most people don’t have a chance to experience. There are so many stories to tell. The same goes for time in the field, holding a gun or shooting an animal. The passion people have for it that ends in a heartbeat. The story is so much more than the moment.”
Having children has crystallized his conservation ethic.
“It hasn’t changed my outlook. It has intensified the way I feel about it. The natural world around us needs to be here for all of us, and there’s a greater story to tell.”
In the more than two decades he has been hunting ducks near Houston he has noticed the changes that have come with urban areas pushing ever closer to hunting fields. Less habitat. Fewer ducks.
“It’s painful for me to see what is happening. What will our kids have in the future? Where are we going to take them to see nature and wildlife amidst our concrete jungle? It has intensified my passion for pushing that message out there and conserving what we have. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Being a We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation gives him a new platform to spread the word. We Will Not Be Tamed calls us to appreciate the wildness of Texas, the vastness of our Texas spirit and why we should be inspired to conserve it.
“My message to others is simple. This is what I do with my life, and how I choose to pursue my passion for the outdoors. And hopefully you can find some enjoyment of it. You don’t need to enjoy all of it by any means, there are so many different ways to embrace our natural world. This is my choice. But if you find something that resonates, you can carry that forward by getting involved and pass it on.”
Like his father before him, he hopes to share a simple message with his children as they grow up.
“I want them to see the value in the simplicity of it all and understand that if you don’t take care of it and it goes away, you are not going to it get back.”