June 29, 2009
Last week I went from my house in Portland up to Port Townsend, Washington - where, in something like a former life, I had refurbished a sailboat that I planned to, and did, sail to the South Pacific.
Walking this familiar ground I realized that if I ever again ended up dirt poor I would want to do it on a boat.
The thing about a boat and a boat yard is that admiration and sense of achievement is not related to what you own, but is about what you have done. It's also about what you plan to do.
In a boatyard your future is a blank slate upon which you can write a world voyage or you can write survival of a perfect storm. It's a place of legend. The only thing that doesn't cut it, in a boatyard, is paying someone else to live your legend.
The boat folk have more regard for the paid captain of a large sailing boat than they have for the man who owns the boat and pays the captain. That's because if you sat down to dinner with the man who sails that boat you would get a more interesting tale to go with the food. He will have more interesting real-life experience.
Kids know this, too. That's why they want to climb that scary-high rock or to parachute out of the airplane. They may not want to do it more than once, but kids know that having challenging experiences makes them and their lives special.
The job of the parent is not to "keep them safe" but to help them survive to take on the next challenge. It's not an easy job. When I was out by myself, sailing through a storm, it was easy to be brave. My decisions affected only me and my boat. I got the opportunity of setting a plan in place and watching its effectiveness - or not. I did a lot of growing on that journey.
Kids need to grow in that way, too. If we protect them from all danger they will never learn to use caution properly. They will never learn to assess risk - because they will never meet a risk that seems real to them. There is a tremendous sense of pride and control in overcoming risk. We should not, must not, deny that confidence to our children. Let them climb that forty-foot tree, let them climb that rock wall. By facing the risks they will grow and you will too.