“No one knows when the first boat was built, or where, or by whom, or why. Boats began before history; boats are part of our cultural memories. Why else do people gather at the waters edge when tall ships appear?”
Dick Wagner, founding director, The Center For Wooden Boats, Seattle
It never surprised me that I ended up working on a boat. All of my life I’ve been drawn to boats and water. It’s something I’ve never been able to get away from. I always long to be on or in the water. Vacations are planned around this. Can we scuba dive? Is there surfing? On a trip with my whole family a few years back just a quick sailboat trip with my father was one of my fondest memories. Maybe the second fondest to fighting a coconut with my brother in law Ken.
And this memory with my father stands out for the simple fact that my love of all things aquatic comes from him. When I was born he owned a 24′ Sea Ray. Not long after it was replaced to the boat I grew up sailing on until I was well into my teenage years. A 22′ Catalina so perfectly named “Idiots Delight” (my mother made the deal that if he buys it she names it). Almost every weekend of my childhood was spent on that boat.
I wish I had something like that for my children to enjoy. Something that they may not realize at the time, but later on with age they will understand that something so small as a little sailboat was larger than life. It’s hard to do that working like we do. We don’t have every weekend or a whole summer at our disposal. Our time at home is rushed and often filled with so many things to do it seems impossible to fit a whole weekend of relaxing aimlessly on the water somewhere impossible.
But it’s not impossible. We can make time and we often think of other things as being important when really the most important thing you have to do is a bunch of nothing with the people we love. I’ll just learn from the lessons of my father and name my own boat.
“I sustain myself with the love of family” ― Maya Angelou
Throughout my life I have done a lot of things that I know now were fairly stupid on my part. Nobody would agree with that more than my family. They’ve been there for all of it. I’m not talking about my wife and kids, although I’m sure they would agree also.
I’m talking about my mother, father and sister. They were there for the really stupid stuff. They’ve seen me at my absolute worst. I know a lot of its hurt them along the way but they always stuck by me. Even when my mother had to drop me off at a prison on her birthday she was there with opened arms when I returned. Yes my mom had to take me to turn myself in on her birthday 15 years ago. I wasn’t getting an award for son of the year then for sure. Regardless of the past none of them turned their back on me. They may have disagreed with my actions. They may have used tough love on me but they were always there. The love they gave me got me through it all.
This is on my mind this morning for good reason. I have a good friend that I have known for 20 years. Ever since I’ve known her she’s had a best friend in her sister. They have recently had a disagreement and it has driven a major wedge in there friendship. I see how this tearing her apart. She’s going through a very tough time and I know how much she needs her sister.
It makes me think of the relationship I have with my own sister. I’ll be the first to admit she is a pain in the ass (she’d say the same of me). We may not talk as often as we’d like. She lives in Pennsylvania and I live in Louisiana. We’ve lived entirely different lives. We can’t talk at all about politics. None of that matters though. We are always there for each other if need be. She can call me for anything and she knows it, as long as it’s not to talk politics.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that my heart breaks for one of my closest friends. She has to go through the toughest thing she’s ever endured without the person she needs there most. Where would I be without my family that has backed me? Not where I am today. I wouldn’t be the father, or man I am without them. I wouldn’t have my family since my sister introduced me to my wife. If I did something stupid right now my family would be there for me. They would call me an idiot and maybe slap me in the head (or downright beat the hell out of me), but they would see me through it.
So let’s all try to understand what the people close to us are going through. We may not like what they do or how they do things, but that doesn’t change the fact that they need us. Plus if you stop talking to the ones you love most who’s going to tell them, “I told you so”?
I was talking to my daughter Marie’s mom the other day when she told me they were at Marie’s school. She said they were breaking the rules by walking on the grass. When I heard this I had to laugh. It just made me think of how things have changed since I was a kid.
I remember growing up in a small town in Louisiana. There were no houses within a half mile of me. I had Bayou Grosse Tete in front of my house with soybean fields and woods in back. I stayed outside. I had video games. Nintendo was just replacing Atari and I played them quite a bit. Nothing was better than playing outside. Even when I moved from there to a town that was slightly more populated I still stayed outside. On my bike or playing basketball. I was out till the street lights came on every day.
Another difference is I did all of this unsupervised. No cell phone. I left and told my mom I was going play as I let a door slam and never thought twice about it. If people lost contact with their kids for that long now days they would have an aneurysm. Police would be called and manhunts would be organized. By the time they got home that evening the parents would be filming an episode of “First 48” only 5 hours later.
I’m guilty of this too. My kids are young. Julia just turned seven and Bubby is about to be six. At that age I was in the woods unsupervised with my friends getting into all sorts of adventures. Not my kids. I won’t let them in the front yard alone. Is it really that times are that different or are we just paranoid as parents to a new level? Don’t walk on the grass. I think that sounds absurd to give that rule to a bunch of teenage kids, but I find myself saying don’t to a lot of things. Am I any better than these ruiners of outdoor fun? Am I destroying my kids chances for adventure? I remember saying that I would never tell my kids no like my parents did. What a fool I was. I’m probably worse.
I think when I get off the boat this time I’m going to have a week of breaking the rules. Not all of them of course. I can’t let my kids run wild with no rules because, well, they’re crazy. I just think we need to slack off on certain things and let our kids relax. I think a couple nights of backyard camping with marshmallows and scary stories may be in order. That is until too much fun is being had. Then it’s inside with everyone!
“The soul is healed by being with children.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
There is a lot of time while sitting in this wheelhouse to think about life. Both the things you’ve done right and wrong. What makes you happy or sad. It’s good to be able to have quiet time to yourself. A lot of people don’t have this option as their life is hectic. No time to sit and just observe or think about the world around you.
The flip side is that most of this time is spent missing my children or other loved ones. It gives me a lot of time to reflect on decisions I’ve made and things I’ve lost. When it comes to that I usually think about my daughter Marie. I often wonder what she’s up to, or maybe what our first meeting will be like. I wonder if that meeting will ever happen.
The one thing I do know is I feel a strong connection to this girl I’ve never met. I always feel that there is some unspoken force that is drawing us together. I often wonder if it’s just my wishful thinking that makes me feel this way. Who knows? I do know the more I see her in pictures the more I see me in her. The faces she makes and her downright silliness. Unless she’s making a really goofy face then she looks like my sister who is also rather goofy.
The quote at the beginning of this post says the soul is healed by being with children and that’s very true. Spending time with my children is the most rewarding part of my life. It doesn’t compare with any other feeling or accomplishment I’ve ever experienced. My thoughts of Marie are what heals my soul just like the time spent with my other children. I know her somewhat from talking with her mother and for that I am extremely grateful. Who knows? Maybe someday soon I’ll actually meet her face to face. Let’s just hope she isn’t making one of those goofy faces I get from my sister when we do. (Just kidding Melinda)
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Some days I just have to marvel at the masterminds my children have become. Yesterday my son told me that he went to Toys”R”Us and got the lizard man from the “Amazing Spider-man” movie. He proceeded to tell me how I could get the Spider-man toy for myself. That way we could play together. It always makes me happy when my son wants to spend time with me, and that he still thinks of me coming home to play while I’m gone.
Then reality set in. It dawned on me that I have been duped by the greatest criminal mastermind of our time since Lex Luther. He knows that when daddy gets his Amazing Spider-man toy that daddy will play with it for a week with him and then leave for another trip on the boat. That’s when The Amazing Spider-man becomes Coleman’s new toy. That diabolical little genius. Julia would never scheme like this. (Ok that’s a lie. She stole $200 out of my wallet at the ripe age of two years old and placed the money in her princess piggy bank.)
There is only one thing to say about this… Well played son! After I’ve worked thirty-five days on this river away from you I’m thrilled to buy a ten dollar Spider-man for a few hours of hanging out in your room just so you can steal it from me later. Of course this means I’ll have to buy my own Barbie or some other girl toy to play with my little princess too. It’s only fair right? With under a week left I’m just happy to get back home to make up for lost time.
It gets hectic after you’ve been gone. Lots of catching up to do at the house. A honey-do list that may have gotten a little lengthy. Just remember the most important thing you need to catch up on may be a tea party with a couple teddy bears or a vicious battle between the Transformers and the X-Men. Just don’t go back to work wishing you’d just said yes to a playful little boy or girl instead of saying “we’ll do it later”.
“Daddy I want chicken nuggets!” This is one of the most repeated sentences by my son. Followed by pizza or candy or a million other foods chock full of enough unhealthy crap that if consumed on a large enough scale it would kill a horse.
It’s tough to get kids to eat good, whole, unprocessed foods. Sometimes it seems impossible. The best way is to lead by example. Well that brings us to the diet of a tugboat captain. It’s not any better than my sons. In fact it’s based on the four food groups: coffee, cigarettes, fats and cake. It may not be that bad for most but we aren’t the healthiest people on earth. That doesn’t help our jobs much since the coast guard gets increasingly strict on our health by the minute.
I myself was no different when I first made it to the captains chair. I was consuming mass quantities of garbage on and off the boat. My diet consisted of frozen pizzas, hot pockets and honeybuns on the boat. At home it was a combination of Five Guys, Sonic and Ben and Jerry’s. I remember looking over on this very boat while I was training and my captain laughing as he watched my waistline grow at an epic rate.
Then there was home. My eating habits were becoming my kids eating habits. If daddy gets Sonic then we must have it also!! It’s only fair right? It made me think back to my childhood. None of us were pressured to eat healthy and that leads to some fairly poor eating habits later, a trend I didn’t want to set for my children.
Well for us out here it starts on the boat. Face it this is our home usually at least 2/3 of the time. That doesn’t make it easy. We can’t hop in the mini van (I don’t have a mini van) go to town and buy chicken breasts, grass fed beef, baby spinach or other healthy choices if we run out. We can’t go to a gym so exercise can be difficult. We all just have to remember to do what we can, take whatever steps we can take, and lead by example. It’s not always easy but it’s not impossible and when you give your kids these healthy habits its something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives, probably improving their health as adults. You don’t have to force a bunch of crap they don’t like down their throat. Just cook more lean meats and vegetables. Let them eat fruit for snacks instead of that bag of M&M’S.
So the next time you call that deckhand in the galley think twice. Don’t ask for that pizza topped with Swiss Cake Rolls, sprinkled with skittles and a side of candy coated hog cracklin’s dipped in deep fried Hershey’s syrup topped with whipped cream. Get something that you won’t regret later. We already sit on our asses 12 hours a day. We don’t have to try and make them wider at the same time.
You all know the scene on Thanksgiving. Mom and the ladies are all scrambling around the kitchen preparing enough food to feed an entire army battalion. The men are gathered around the television watching one of the many football games on today while they wait to destroy every bit of food prepared by their wives and mothers. The kids are all together playing. It’s a gathering that reminds us why we are thankful and what this day is all about.
Well that’s the scene if you’re not stuck on a tugboat. Things are different here. Everyone is a little grouchy because we’re stuck here away from the families we love. The deckhand cooking today is glazing a ham with a concoction that only Jesus himself knows the contents of. I’m pretty sure the sides will be stovetop stuffing and Kraft mac and cheese. God forbid someone make some cornbread or mash an actual potato. We would have a turkey but some dummy forgot the last grocery order covered Thanksgiving. (Ok I’m the dummy that forgot but we don’t need to point fingers) Needless to say things aren’t the same. At least it’s easy to eat healthy through the holiday when you can’t get Mom’s pumpkin pie.
It’s hard having to work on a holiday and even harder to work away from home. We all miss our families and I’m sure my kids wonder why I didn’t get off the big boat when clearly mommy got off her job. It isn’t all bad though. I’m extremely thankful for the job I have. It’s hard being away from my kids and family but I find my work rewarding. I’m thankful that I know even when I’m not home my children are well taken care of. I’m thankful that I can cook my own meal today and not eat the train wreck of dishes prepared by Chef boy this sucks. All I’m trying to say is that even though we can’t eat with our families and loved ones we should all still be thankful that we have them to come home to. That’s what’s important and what really matters.
So everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that when Christmas comes if I write one of these I’ll be doing it from my house with my kids close by probably bugging the crap out of me to assemble some monstrosity my mother bought them with the intent to drive me insane.