Good roll model

So, my son loves water!  Pouring it from cup to cup, filling the tub and splashing about.  Hours in the pool or ocean are all delights.  When he was still a toddler he saw some boats and was in love!  He could never get enough of paddling, sailing or even going on a cruise boat.

When he was still little we would go on adventures.  One hot lazy summer day we went paddling on a small pond.  We covered the perimeter and were setting in the middle, floating along – no breeze.  It was an idyllic moment.

I got the idea to see what would happen if there were a disaster, so a rocked the boat.  He ignored it.  I rocked it again and he looked over his shoulder, perhaps checking to see if I were OK.  I said, “we are going over”.  He looked at me sternly and slowly I leaned, his eyes fixe on mine as the water began to flood in.  It was quite pleasant as the boat went down.

He resolved to join a woman looking after some pre-school aged children in a small area protected by buoys.  He hates noisy little kids and avoids authority figures, but this time was different.  I then realized that while the pond was shallow, it was about 100 yards to shore – so I began to swim the canoe along.  He watched from the safety of his chosen refuge.  The woman looked up, smiled and continued to play with the kids.

Once the canoe was on shore, he came over.  The woman looked and smiled.  We got in and returned to the dock, after a pleasant time splashing about.

This was how we learned about disaster and how to respond to them.

A decade later we went to a concert, supposedly some college kids playing Mozart.  He did not want to go.  It was only a couple hundred yards to the venue, but he was reluctant.  So, I urged him to go along, setting expectations and finally offered if it was bad we could leave and next would be his pack.  This did the trick. In a few minutes we were right up front of the stage, next to some giant speakers.  And the performers were apparently of the opinion that beer and microphones belonged on their tonsils.  It was awful; the cacophonous sounds were – offensive.  He insisted that we stay close to the speaker, for the full effect.

It was clear this was not Mozart… so we left and he was quietly triumphant.  We went past a sailing club.  He walked over and insisted we go in.  I explained one needed to be a member.  This meant nothing, he grabbed my sleeve and pushed me through the door.

So, we did paperwork and I began to take tests.  Within an hour we were on the water in a sailboat.  We were to sail a test course to be evaluated.  Being a little rusty it was a bit clumsy, but he was pleased to be on the waer.

The wind came up and some boats capsized, so we abandoned our test to make sure that everyone was OK.  Then back to the course.  In all a dozen boats capsized while we were sailing figure eight through some buoys.  We stopped to render comfort and then back.  This went on for hours.   He was fine with it and … my arms and hands were sore.

Over the next few years we began to take on passengers.  There was an endless supply of total strangers that would like to sail.  Scores of new people per season, in all sorts of weather.

He liked a bit of excitement, so we would work the boat and heel it over.  He would smirk as the guests would get nervous.  He loved big wind and gunwales awash!  So, from time to time we would go on edge and let a little water in.  The guests seemed uneasy, but managed OK.

We have sailed in all sorts of weather; light air, big wind, fog and even rain.  It has never phased him a bit.  We have sailed by the airport and enjoyed the whoosh and roar of the giant aircraft coming and going.  We sailed with his little cousin, who was loud and energetic.  He was not a fan, blocked his ears and patiently suffered her carrying on.

One day someone came to me and said that they wanted to thank me, then corrected thank my son, for teaching them to be calm.  That they were compelled to be at least as well behaved as a nonverbal child.  It was a curious thing to say, but it was appreciated.

Over the years many people expressed their gratitude to him for sharing his time and calm demeanor.  He was a roll model for so many.  Hundreds of people knew and respected him.  And he seemed to know it.

One day I was in the harbor, looking for a bigger boat to sail on, and met someone who told a marvelous story.  They had always been anxious sailing and met this guy and his son.  They were fooling around, making the boat tip way over, but keeping it in control.  It was terrifying and comforting at the same time.  That they were no longer afraid of the water or when the boat would tip.

I smiled and said, “Ah, you know my son”!  There was a moment of hesitation and then, “it is you”!  I smiled and we chatted.  There were accolades for my son and the rest of the people present were polite and maybe a little jealous.

We have sailed with so many people and the stories of the kid that is calm in a storm has continued.  Some of the folks that we sailed with continue to be friends.  Years later there are folks that ask for him and tell their story of how he was a great roll model for them.

  • One day we spent the entire morning sailing with a pleasant fellow. He was a CFO at a non-profit, very orderly and diligent. Mid day we went in and had lunch. After lunch we were ready to go out again the fellow was there, so we invited him. The weather was coming up, we discussed what that meant. On the water things were going well, and then the wind picked up.


    The fellow was going along OK, running the boat and remaining calm. Then my son leaped across the boat, I turned to look at him and out of the corner of my eye saw the tiller was free! I turned to join my son on the rail. We - - he - - saved a capsize!

    The fellow regained his composure and we began to sail away from the turbulence.
    I asked what happened and he was dumbfounded. I asked if he let go of the tiller, and he reported, "Yes, I let go of the tiller. You told me to never loose control of the tiller". We debriefed a while and he seemed calm and unflustered.

    On the dock he was contrite and apologetic. I assured him that it was OK and his actions were that of a beginner and very common. He was appreciative to have an understanding and capable crew. It is not often that a beginner that makes mistakes does not go swimming, but this was a special day.

    If it were only me in the boat, I would have reacted too late to save the capsize, so we have my son to thank. While he way seem to be "dreaming", he is very much aware of his environment and when need arises will respond most appropriately.  Once again my son was a marvelous example of awareness, skill and diligence.