Tradeoffs & Suckers
Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.
~ Sandra Carey
In 2008 we met a boat name Wandering Star. We were just test driving the whole boat life thing with a one month sail trip in the Bahamas and figuring out how important other kid boats were. In a word? "Very."
Wandering Star had a passel of youngsters in tow, 5 as I recall, and they were literally climbing the walls of the marina lounge when we first met. Seeing mutual opportunity for kid distraction, we struck up casual conversation and agreed to meet at the beach later that day. The girls were busy with laundry and so we both took kid duty and herded them over the beach. Since they were mostly boys, it took some time for things to warm up, but before long Nana was leaping and running around, yelling and having a blast while Nika dug sand traps and otherwise got lost in the joy of childhood companionship after a couple of weeks in the adulthood desert.
So, I took my chance to ask Steve, an experienced cruiser, first hand what the tough parts were, the scenes that never make it into the glossy magazines.
"Family pressure" came right off the top.
"What do you mean?" I asked, thinking that he must have dragged his wife aboard, a not unheard of circumstance that often leads to long term trouble of the worst variety.
"My family, my dad, in particular thinks that I am not only nuts, a little crazy, but downright irresponsible. This whole thing is on the verge of making me the black sheep of the family", Steve explained, while sweeping his eyes out to the distant horizon. He was mindlessly picking up sand in his right hand, and squeezing it, feeling it dribble away to nothing by imperceptible degrees.
"My dad has a really strong work ethic and feels that since I am not 'working' I am kind of betraying his values or something like that" he continued, taking another handful and eyeing the kids for a moment, searching for traces of distress or danger.
"No throwing sand!" he hollers with the authority and volume of a veteran soccer coach. There's a pause while he recollects his thoughts.
"We try and go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving most years, just to stay connected, ya know. And the first few years that we were out here doing the boat thing, we would go home, and there would be this strong undercurrent of disapproval, reproach for anyone in his family who would do something so foolish or unthinking as to leave a job and just play around all this time. It hurt, and it put distance between me and my dad and, to a lesser extent, my brothers."
"They all have 'real' jobs?", I asked.
"Oh yeah, one works for a drilling business and the other is an engineer of some kind."
He sat for a minute staring off into the distance where the aquamarine water met a graying late afternoon sky. A frigate bird circled high overhead. They are named "frigate", or "man-o-war" because they can't swim and don't like to fish; they survive by stealing food from other successful birds.
He was silent for a bit, watching the diving and whirling speck, "And it got me to thinking, you know" he continued, "questioning myself like, like maybe I was a loser, and this was just my best cop-out." I let that one sit for a while, wondering if maybe I was looking for a cop-out too, running from something deep within my subconscious." Coming up empty handed, I asked, "So, you think you'll head back soon?"
"What!?", he snapped his head around and caught my gaze with flashing eyes, edged with humor. "That was just the first couple of years." he retorted. "Now I go home and all that my brothers talk about is their new Dodge Hemi truck, the box seats they have for the big college games, and all the overtime hours they are going to get this next year. They talk around me, y'see, since they know I can't afford any of those things."
"I bet that feels great." I offered, still missing his point.
"It's doesn't really bother me anymore, actually" he countered, taking another handful of sand and squeezing it through is tanned, leathery hand. Then, he breaks into a double-wide infectious grin that projects itself from his entire persona, adding more contrast between his sun burned face, and raccoon sunglasses band across his eyes. "Now, the whole time they are laying their income guilt trip on me all I am thinking is 'you're giving your life for that crap and you don't even see it.' "
"They sell themselves so cheap, the suckers!"