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Fathers and sons, swells and circles

The Embarker takes off for her 50th year. Photo by Jean Perry, The Wanderer, Mattapoisett, Ma.

The Embarker takes off for her 50th year. Photo by Jean Perry, The Wanderer, Mattapoisett, Ma.

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.

My dad, Bob Brack, on board. Photo by Jean Perry, courtesy of The Wanderer.

My dad, Bob Brack, on board. Photo by Jean Perry, courtesy of The Wanderer.


This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. Ken –Thank you for your thoughtful post. What a Father’s Day present! Sailing the Embarker with you Monday brought back so many memories but especially those early days with Mom and you three kids. That first summer when we kept a log and sailed 29 times with at least 20 in drizzle or fog. Everyone had foul weather gear. And then when you were teenagers and those white water days going out of Wareham Harbor into Buzzards Bay which was boiling with a Southwest wind 15 to 20 knots. The annual Columbus Day weekend sail bringing the boat back to Mattapoisett. November 21, 1978, 35 degrees, with the wind out of the West at 20 knots. Jinny and I were in Mattapoisett in 2 1/2 hours. As she climbed up the ladder to meet you, Bill and Mom she said “it was a wizzer”.
    What we shared together in those experiences was a treasure. 50 years later I still treasure sailing with the family and grandchildren. I will never take these moments or memories for granted.
    Love, dad (and GB)

    1. Dad, glad you enjoyed this … we had a terrific day with you on Sunday, and many more to come. Love, Ken

  2. Hi Kenny,

    Thanks for sharing this in such a beautiful way. I am so happy you were able to be there with Dad. Sorry that I was away and couldn’t join you both. What a great day for everyone. I am looking forward to getting a sail sometime soon!

    Love, Bill

    1. Thanks, Bill — yes we will, let’s carve out more of that time. Great to talk with you today too about the big news…

  3. Love this and you and your dad continuing this passion. What a beautiful tradition. I have always admired your fam. Nice to see the chapters unfolding. Happy Fathers’ Day.

    1. Bill, so glad to see you are well and still sailing! I think of you often, your kindness, compassion, and love of sailing. My husband and I did buy our sailboat once we moved down south. An IP 38 – she’s an oldie but goodie. We are moving aboard next week so we can grow our sailing kitty and prepare Amorcito for cruising! If you ever come to NC, please let me know – I would love to sail with you. I keep in touch with Family Promise and am beyond thrilled to see their continued success. Take care, Beth

      1. Beth, thanks so much for your feedback — I will be sure that Dad sees this if he hasn’t already. Keep on cruising with Amorcito — that sounds great. Best regards, Ken

    2. Anne, thanks so much — yes, Dad’s passion continues, and informs us all. We’ll keep it going … take care, Ken

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