Recently I was thinking about my boat building and parenting journey over the last two decades back to 1997 when my daughters were ages three and five. I’d never sailed and hadn’t spent much time around boats, even though I’d lived my entire life near the shores of Lake Erie. When I finally got caught up in the romance of building my own boat and learning to sail it became a near obsession with me. Over the years I’ve built several boats of varying sizes and designs. As most of you know, trying to raise children, earn a living, keep up with the mortgage, and stay married all at the same time can put a strain on our most valuable resource–time. One way to make my new hobby work was to multitask. What better way to have a hobby than to get the family involved? I think the kids got a lot out of it and my wife went along as long as it didn’t involve her working in the shop or going out in the boat (too often).
About the time I started building boats I joined the Cleveland Amateur Boatbuilding Society. The girls loved to join me at meetings mostly because they served cookies and hot chocolate and the club (primarily old timers) treated the girls as if they were real members. One of the earliest builds the girls worked on was a one-sheet skiff that we banged together on a snow day in January 2000. With the boat nearly finished Deanna, age eight, gave a presentation on the construction of the boat to 30 old geezers; the program included a question and answer segment were she revealed that boat building is sanding and sanding and more sanding. Imagine at eight being able to share your thoughts and information with interested people and learning that you will not be eaten alive by the crowd. When the girls launched their boat during that year’s launch day festivities and then rowed around the lake for the first time on their own there was a feeling of accomplishment that only a boat builder understands.
Megan my younger daughter does not remember a time when we were not messing about in small boats. She has spent her entire life involved in a primarily adult male hobby spending hours working and playing alongside folks older than her dad. She has developed a great respect for people of all ages and feels comfortable sitting and conversing with a 70-year-old man as easily as she does with a grade school girl. I think that a great deal more emphasis should be placed on the respect of others by all of us, but exposing young people to older folks and earning their respect as a peer is a lesson they will carry for the rest of their lives.
At age 14 Meg decide it was time to build her own boat, thank goodness as the girls just about killed me paddling them around in my Bolger Pirogue for more years than my body cares to remember. I have lots of fond memories of time spent in that tank with the girls but they apparently had no comprehension of how dragging body parts through the water and poor boat trim affect the oarsman.
Meg decided on a Planford Bell 13-foot skin kayak for her first solo endeavor. Again I cannot stress the lesson of sticking to a project, seeing it through and finishing it. When she mixed a bad batch of epoxy and then had to dig the gooey mess out of the joints she could have quit the build, but the “want” of the finished craft and the enjoyment to be had at a later date was enough to keep her going. Delayed satisfaction in today’s world of instant gratification is a hard commodity to come by even as adults.
Speaking of delayed gratification her birthday gift that year was cedar 2 x 4’s and canvas. Megan will be graduating nursing school next week with honors and has some pretty impressive job prospects not only because of her grades but because of an impressive resume loaded with extracurricular items which I strongly suspect come from her long history of community learned from her time in the boat building club. I also think that she leaves a lasting impression with recruiters when they read that she built her own boat, and we haven’t even touched on the patience and ability to live in the moment that is learned if you are to be a successful sailor. It does not hurt that she isn’t afraid to travel to Third World countries on nursing missions. Sure she is a little apprehensive, but she has learned to channel her fear and overcome it and use it to her benefit. I am sure many of these lesson can be learned playing organized sports or in other pursuits in the arts, but in these alternate pastimes parents and others are left sitting in the audience or on the sidelines. Kids spend far too much time in scheduled or organized activities. The girls played a little soccer, softball, and volleyball, but I don’t recall hearing them talk fondly of those times. It always seems to be the times we were camping, or sailing, or out in the shop.
I think what I take away from this self-indulgent reminiscing is that almost all of my favorite memories involve family, friends, water, and boats … Oh yes and sawdust! Involving the girls at a young age may have started as a way to free up more time for myself but in the end may have been the best parenting decision I have made. My daughters learned to plan out a project, then stick to it. They also learned patience, respect for folks of all ages including themselves, that hard work can pay dividends beyond expectation, and that new-task learning and hard work should not be feared but sought out and conquered.
One last thought is that there is a freedom experienced the first time you shove off in a canoe or sailboat for your first solo trip around the lake that cannot be duplicated. The feeling of accomplishment that is felt the first time you launch a new boat is almost the best feeling in the world—next to equipping and launching children into the world for their solos as adults.
Remodeling carpenter, amateur boat builder and soon to be an empty-nester on the shores of Lake Erie