Earlier this week, I had a chance to join my dad for a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
We watched a marine sling lift lower his 19-foot sailboat into the water at Mattapoisett Boatyard to start its fiftieth consecutive season.
Climbing aboard, we adjusted a few things, raised sail, pulled the Embarker to the end of the pilings, and headed off into a light breeze.
On one hand, her launch was a nondescript event befitting a minor luxury that my family has long enjoyed.
Yet it’s been fifty years. Where did it go?
Reaching this benchmark means so much to my father. Nearing 79, he is experiencing a dwindling circle of dear friends while facing his own natural limitations. For several years we’ve worried about his balance on the spongy fiberglass deck. Sailing alone is out of the question—not because he cannot do it, but hustling to the bow to pick up the mooring is problematic.
A dad’s gift of affirmation
Still, I don’t foresee much preventing him from heading out into Buzzards Bay in decent weather, even during a gusty southwesterly skirmish that typifies a summer afternoon there. At least one of us will be along to assist.
And appreciate the time together, dashed by salt spray on a tack, or settling in to the rhythm of small rollers easing us downwind.
Reminded again, as a good friend of mine insists, that we dare not take this moment for granted.
Taking stock of the circle of seasons, and how things come round with those we love best.
I’ve been thinking about what being a dad means this week.
The most vital thing I learned from my father is not his just tenacious and beneficent work ethic. He built a company that provided for hundreds of people. That continues to be an inspiring achievement, driven in part by his engineer’s skill set and entrepreneurial zeal. And also by something deeper, as both a provider and humanist, to help others have meaningful careers and sustain their families.
For me, the bedrock he provided was validation. An openness to accept me as an individual pursuing other dreams. Unconditional support when I wavered, not without firm admonishment at times, but softened a bit like a large swell pushing the boat’s stern off-wind.
As a dad myself, hopefully I continue to convey some of the same.
An affirmation of our children’s passions and life choices. Appreciating who they are rather then trying to mold them into some likeness of myself. Celebrating their steps forward, while acknowledging the occasional gaps, their anxieties, or when pain resurfaces about the loss of their brother, or the occasional divides and contradictions that span a family.
Year in and out, we crave acceptance and forgiveness. Acknowledgment of our strengths—and support for our shortcomings.
We dare not take this moment for granted
Sailing again out towards Nye’s Ledge, my dad’s memories remain clear. He and his longtime friend, John Flood, also a civil engineer, took an inaugural sail on Embarker on November 11, 1967. It was a mild day in the 60s with only 10-12 knots of wind.
My dad had never docked a sailboat before. Returning to the boatyard dock, he knew enough to turn it into the wind. “We missed it by three feet,” he laughs.
There would be other November sails returning her for the winter.
We’ve heard many of the stories, and longing for them again, we settle in, listening to the light thump of a breaking wave.