On Boating & Fatherhood

It began with a family meeting. At least for my siblings and I, that’s how it began. Surely my parents had been discussing it for months or even years before that late winter evening. I think it was February. It could have been March. It was dark outside and the kitchen was illuminated by the soft glow of yellow-orange lights from above. We gathered around the breakfast bar– my mom, dad, brother, sister and I–each of us drinks in hand.

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We didn’t have family meetings often, but when we did, we knew it was something special–mainly because my siblings and I had delicious red Kiddie Cocktails in our hands (two cherries for me, please), to match my parents more adult beverages.

One of my favorite family meetings was the time we learned we would take a trip to Disney World. During that particular meeting, we also agreed that for several months before our adventure, our entire family would contribute to the trip by placing any and all dimes into our homemade ‘Disney Dime Bank’.

If the cashier handed me $.11 cents after my $.89 cent purchase of a Hershey bar and M&M’s (the good ole’ days), the dime went directly into the tall crayola bank wrapped in paper with the words: DISNEY DIMES carefully drawn on the side. During those months, when my dad returned home from work in the evening, he fished the change out of his pocket, making sure all dimes were placed in their rightful spot–the DD Bank. Found a dime in the couch cushions? Into the Disney Dime bank it went. Those dimes were later split equally between my brother, sister and I and used as our “spending money” at Disney.

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On this particular late winter evening, my dad has big news to share: we are getting a boat. (Or, more likely, they already have the boat.) As we sit around the breakfast bar, sipping drinks, we talk about the boat and what it might add to our family. I was 11 years old at the time, so many of the details of the evening have faded through the years. For example, I can’t remember if my parents tell my siblings and I the name of the boat or if we, together as a family, name the boat. Either way, I still remember the name of that first boat: Family First.

From that day on, we are a boating family. That first boat, a 22 ft. Sea Ray with hunter green accents and Family First written in script on the back is the boat on which my Dad learns to dock a boat properly. Our family forms friendships with other boaters. My dad, being the new kid on the block, learns from the more seasoned boaters. He makes his fair share of mistakes and learns from them all. Summer weekends are spent at the swimming hole where we drop anchor, tan our skin, and listen to music (to this day I can’t hear Celine Dion without also hearing the way the waves lapped against the side of the boat) while snacking on cheese and crackers and bags of Bugles.

More than anything, we relax our souls.

Even more, we make memories.

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Like most groupings of people, boating is a culture all it’s own. You know what I mean, runners, or crossfitters, or quilters, or landscapers–there is language, expression, a way of life unique to that group. I love my husband, but when he pulls out latin words for plants, he might as well be talking like Charlie Brown’s teacher. English, please? And as a runner, I shy away from saying the word ‘fartleik‘ around non-runners.

A term used in boating circles is “dinghy”. A dinghy is a small boat that is often carried or towed for use as a lifeboat by a larger vessel. Think, rowboat, maybe (maybe not) with a small motor.

Is a dinghy a boat? Well, technically yes, but you might get some pushback from boaters–is it a real boat?

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In those days my parents find their people and a new place to belong. It isn’t long before my Dad exchanges the “New Kid on the Block” title for “Leader of the Pack”. Over time, his boats grow with his skill and confidence as a boater.

The 22 ft. Family First becomes a 28 ft. First First II.
The 28 ft. Family First II becomes a 32 ft. Family First III.
The 32 ft. Family First III becomes a 38 ft. Hide Aweigh. (My siblings and I joke that they should name it Family Second.)
The 38 ft. Hide Aweigh becomes a 42 ft. Hide Aweigh II.
And finally the 42 ft. Hide Aweigh II becomes his current boat, a 48 ft. Sea Ray called Carried Aweigh. (Named after my Mom, Carrie.) **

(**Dad, I did my best with the names and sizes. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the details, but I did my best.)

It goes without saying that my parents loved the life they discovered in boating. As they steered into deeper, more treacherous waters, they grew as boaters and as people. The years spent on boats brought new friendships into their lives and new, challenging experiences .

Anyone looking in from the outside might be quick to be impressed. One might think about all the successes that landed my Dad where he is. It might be easy to think, wow, that guy has arrived.

Through the years I’ve heard people in passing compliment my Dad on his boat. I’ve watched strangers stop at the dock where my Dad keeps his boat and comment on it’s beauty.

Each time my dad smiles politely and offers a thank you.

But later, when things quiet down and when it is just he and I. Or, when he is sitting with a friend. Or talking with my siblings. Or a fellow boater–the same thing will come up. His boat. His success. How far he has come from where he began. Every time he shakes his head and with a slight smile he says, we’re all a dinghy in somebody’s eyes.

We are all a dinghy in somebody’s eyes.  

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I’ve heard this comment often over the years and, in truth, it wasn’t until the last several years that I understood what my Dad was telling me. Without saying it, my Dad kept a posture of humility knowing that however far he has come or however far he goes–there will always be someone ahead of him.

Over the years, I have come to understand that, for my Dad, it was never about attaining a certain status or accolades or recognition. For my Dad, it was only ever about running his own race. Paving his own way. And walking the path directly in front of him–walking the path he chose.

Everybody is a dinghy is somebody’s eyes was my Dad’s way of not taking his things or his life too seriously. For my Dad it has always been very simple. . . it has always been Family First.

Dad, thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me–spoken, but mostly unspoken. Thank you for being an example and pointing the way. Thank you for teaching me to hold my successes and my failures loosely. For teaching me not to take myself or life too seriously.

Dad, I am so thankful that I get to be one of the few who call you “Dad”. And as far as Dad’s go, you’ll never be a dinghy in my eyes.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

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