What I Learned From My Boat Obsessed Dad

For Father's Day, a daughter reflects on growing up boating

boating families
Family boating on Father's DayBoating Magazine

As a child of a boat-obsessed dad, I grew up knowing that there’s no greater sin than putting dirty feet on upholstered seats -- and stepping on a seam meant extra time in the purgatory. I can still feel the tiny calluses that formed after putting on the boat cover that surely had no less than one million snaps. On a road trip, any request for a snack or bathroom stop would be met with a head shake and a grumble, but seeing a “For Sale” sign on a boat my father had no intention to buy demanded a thirty-minute detour.

Childhood, for me, was divided into boating season and getting-ready-for-boating-season, where helping with the maintenance paid off big time the second I sat on the bow of the boat and felt it speed over the water.

Maybe you know one. Maybe your Dad is one. Maybe you are one. Here’s what I learned from my boat-obsessed father.

Kids Are Crew, Not Passengers
My dad put us to work. We always helped launch our boat, for example. When my sister and I earned our driver's licenses, my dad had no qualms about sending us to the ramp unsupervised. I'd back the boat down the ramp while my sister sat at the helm. He'd wait at the shoreline with a cast line and a look on his face that said, "Now THIS is a perk of fatherhood."

Boating Obsessions Run Deep
Ask any older boat-obsessed man about their first girlfriends, and you might receive a short quip or be shown a few dusty sepia-toned photos in lieu of a lengthy response.

Ask them about their first boat, though, and go ahead and make yourself a drink – you’ll be here a while. Suddenly, their memories are perfectly clear and they can recall the name, year, make, and horsepower of every watercraft they’ve ever been on. Watch their eyes get misty as they pine for the days when gas was affordable.

Dads Play by Different Rules For Tow Sports
Dads seem to have a double-standard when they're at the helm or in the water. For us, it was water skiing. Ready or not, when it's your turn, dads will gun the boat forward as soon as the rope is taut and you're left wondering when the "three strikes and you're back in the boat" rule got enacted. However, for dad, you better make sure he shoots a thumbs up into the air before hitting the gas or else you risk hearing him go from zero to cranky in three seconds.

It's A Family Thing
To an outsider, boating might simply look like a high-maintenance hobby. However, in between the waterskiing, cleaning the boat, getting sore arms from holding the orange flag, or exploring the nooks of new waters, lies the quality time spent with one another. My family members often differed in beliefs, but we always came together on the lake.

Today, as an adult? I don’t remember the name of my kindergarten teacher, many of my favorite toys, or the faces of my childhood best friends. But I’ll always remember the moments of sitting on the bow of my dad’s 1997 Regal, legs outstretched, feeling the wind blow through my hair, and looking back at my dad driving. He always smiled, happy to be out on the water with his favorite people in the world, doing his favorite thing. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the boat he was so obsessed about.