As kids, we all learn our values from our parents. We learn common courtesies, how to be a part of society, and ultimately, how to survive on our own. If we have mastered these basics, then our parents did their job.
From the time I was two weeks old, my father took to teaching me everything he could about boats and the water, and by age three, I could steer the boat while he stood on the bow and pointed in a direction. It was our love for boats and the water that bonded us, and that bond got to be tested when I was 11.
When most people decide to retire, they take up hobbies. My parents bought a dilapidated marina on Tybee Island. I still remember the first day they took me there. I was so upset to learn this is where we would be living, and I cried as I spent an entire day digging up trash going back 10 or 20 years.
We spent a year and a half working on that property until we finally moved on my 13th birthday. We lived on a boat that did not have air conditioning, heating or hot water, and the dock was a steep climb at low tide. My dad would drive me to school each morning in his 1972 Volkswagon Thing that he had bought second hand from a buddy, and our two dogs would ride in the back seat. Every afternoon he would pick me up, and we’d get right back to work at the marina. I became very skilled at answering telephones, taking reservations, running the bar, and talking to customers. While most of my friends were out at the beach, I was working on the docks, learning all about the ways of life from pirates, shrimpers and waitresses from the “bad bar” at the other end of the island. Because we were a family and we had to make ends meet first, I was not paid for my work, but did get to earn tips from the bar patrons and tourists. I managed to save enough from the tips to make a big purchase at the end of the summer: my first CD player.
Going off to high school didn’t change either. I was still expected to come back to the marina after school (or soccer practice) and work. I did homework in the bar in between serving customers, grabbing lines down on the dock, or fueling up shrimp boats getting ready for the next day’s work. It was probably not the way I would have chosen to spend my high school days, but I would appreciate the work ethic my father was teaching me later in life.
When my Sweet Sixteen birthday came, we didn’t have the money for a country club party like my mom wanted. Instead, towels were thrown over all the liquor containers and the bar was closed for just my friends and me. We had a great sound system as we played trivia and board games and danced. After my friends went home, my mom came to my room and asked me to come into the living room (we had moved into a little house on the property by this time, though it still lacked heat and a/c, and only had about 3 minutes of hot water per shower). My dad was standing up next to something big with a towel thrown over it. My mom was half smiling as he removed it to reveal my very first TV. It may as well have been Christmas to me as it was the biggest gift they had ever given me. My mom half apologized that it had come from a pawn shop, but I didn’t care. True, we had no cable so I would only get 3 channels depending upon which way the wind was blowing that night, but my parents had done something special for me that I knew had not been easy for them to do.
As I went on through high school and college, I became really comfortable with second-hand items. My dad outfitted my dorm room for me with a small TV, VCR, fridge and microwave, and even my first apartment had an old couch of ours and the bedroom furniture that had been mine since I was in 4th grade (and is still used in my master bedroom today). But I never once felt that I had less than others because my stuff wasn’t brand new. Instead, I took pride in what I had, making it all last as much as I possibly could. It actually broke my heart to finally sell off that 16th birthday TV two years ago when I moved, nearly 15 years later.
This Father’s Day, I get to celebrate with my dad as he enjoys being a grandfather for the 7th time. I watch him playing with my son and pray that Ian will grow up to know that material things are really immaterial, that it is the experiences of life that matter most. I thank God every day that my father was a strong enough man to teach me that lesson first. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.