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by Guest Columnist Audrey Leinweber


Assorted Thoughts of the Daughter

of a Weird and Wacky Boatbuilder

This article is the result of my irreverent attitude towards birthdays, i.e., I tend to forget them, or if reminded, ignore them. My own birthday and those of other people. However, I owe my father a gift on his birthday, because his gift on my last birthday was unexpectedly poignant. It was a tribute to one of my obsessions. I love to cut pictures out of magazines, rearrange them, and create collages. He gave me a pair of scissors.

His birthday, as I compose this, is tomorrow, and I have nothing but memories and thanks to offer, so that is precisely what I will offer him.

In Germany, traveling with a group of supposedly interesting people my own age, I saw a bunch of boats. I was halfway around the world from my father, who is an interesting person, boat obsession and all, with these world traveling young people and I was homesick. I remember saying, “I must take a picture of those boats.” I turned to the person with me and begged her to take a picture of the boat with me beside it. She did.

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It wasn’t, I now see, the boat that was so important, so much as the idea of the connection. I was halfway around the world from my family, with a group of people who were mostly obsessed with booze and where they could find another bar, and in the act of taking that picture, I was distancing myself from what I thought were unworthy obsessions.

I may know very little about boats, and I probably know even less about beer, but I’ve known people who were obsessed with both, for long periods of time. Both tend to become more and more obsessed over time. Both learn lots of things that non-fanatics don’t care about. But people who are obsessed with beer get fuzzier, while boat builders get sharper. Beer-drinkers know when all the bars open and learn to arrive just as the proprietor unlocks the door, while boat builders learn the minute differences between styles of boats. A beer drinker grows a gut. A boat builder proceeds from stacks of different plans, to small models, to small rowboats, and finally, to sailboats (in my father’s case) which are as unique, practical and idiosyncratic as he is. Beer-drinkers all look alike to me. Boat builders are interesting. They have strange points of view, and the brain power (built up from learning about special boat terms, knots, ropes, glue, epoxy, wind, sailing, etc.) to have long compelling conversations. Building boats allows them to exercise their independence, to get away from it all, to accomplish something.

They make progress towards themselves.

I didn’t take that picture for him, I now realize, I selfishly took it for me. I took it because I was hoping I’d inherited enough of his genes to follow my dreams. I was beginning to realize that I didn’t have to travel halfway around the world in order to find myself. I was beginning to understand the success has little to do with accomplishment, and much more to do with quiet perseverance. And that my father was a very successful man because he had continued to do exactly what he wanted to do, even when few people were supportive.

When I was young, he sent off for boat plans, took care of me and my siblings, built extra rooms when we began whining and complaining about sharing with one another, and dreamed. Later, he built rowboats that we never sufficiently appreciated. Now, he is nearly done with his latest sailboat. This one is built for the open sea, and is nearly complete.

Our obsessions belong to us. In many ways, we cannot share them with anyone else. We cannot expect our children or spouses to share our obsessions.

Sometimes, however, we can share our delight in following a dream, pursuing an obsession. That is what I got from my dad. He kept on doing what he loved best, despite four children who mostly thought he was silly for pointing out every boat on every road trip.

He probably hoped one of us would grow up to love boats as much as he does. Maybe one of us still will. But in a way, the particular dream doesn’t matter. What matters is, as Shakespeare said, (I paraphrase): To thine own self be true, and it follows, as night follows day, thou canst not be false to any other man.

There is no one secret to having good relationships, but one possible criterion is first having a good relationship with yourself. If you respect yourself, if you follow your dreams and aren’t sidetracked by guilt or persuasive salespeople or other people’s obsessions, then those around you will feel free to listen to themselves when it comes to following THEIR dreams.

I remember when I thought my Dad was a hopeless fanatic. Normal in most respects but one; his obsession with boats. Every time we went on a trip, I had to endure yet another dreaded boat place. He was sure to find some place full of boats, and the entire family was forced to trudge around while he oohed and awed and had long conversations with boat guys.

Do I still think he is a hopeless fanatic? Yes. The difference is that now I pity anyone who doesn’t have some lifelong obsession to occupy their thoughts.

Small and repeated approaches towards the object of our obsession will eventually result in something that looks like progress. A dream is a goal that we would love to achieve. My father, apparently, dreams of standing tall on a boat, at the tiller, moving through a stormy sea, eyes on the lookout for obstacles. The boat is constructed with his own hands. It is built lovingly, out of modest materials. His dream has become a reality already. He has built boats and sailed on the open sea. Now, he peruses maps, trying to choose between the many adventures awaiting him and his current and future boats.


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