by Pam

What a challenge it must be to raise a son to grow up to be a good father.  As a woman, I must say that I think men are just the oddest creatures.  Simple in some ways and completely foreign in others.  They are certainly more agreeable than women, even though they likely require more insurance, but what makes one a good son, partner, or father?  I suppose that answer varies from person to person and the question could even be asked different ways. 

Since Father’s Day is upon us, I thought I’d share an interesting phenomenon that I discovered several years ago regarding several men that grew up sailing. The fathers of these men were a variety of good, bad and indifferent, but all did something very right in getting their kids involved in sailing at an early age.  You know how you meet people and there are some you instantly don’t care for and others kind of grow on you over time and every so often you meet someone that you just have a good feeling about and the more you get to know them the more you like them.  Okay, well bear with me, I’m female, so I’m going to swing left, then right, then go way up and down but when I make my point it will be quite profound.

My older brother, Robert Balboa, grew up sailing at White Rock Lake and Robert has never in his life met someone that didn’t like him.  For years, I simply thought he was unique.  30+ years later, in the span of about three months, I separately ran into several of Robert’s childhood friends from sailing.  Robert had moved on to become a tennis professional by this time and didn’t sail much but all these old friends were still sailing in their spare time.  When I met each one of them I was immediately struck by one thing.  I instantly had a good feeling about them and the more I got to know them, the more I liked them.  They all had this special quality about them that I couldn’t put my finger on but they definitely stood out from others in the same way that Robert always had.

It was a puzzle worth trying to piece together and my gut instinct was that it had something to do with growing up sailing.  After all the sport of sailboat racing is quite unique.  In addition to being physically demanding, it calls upon the sailor to cultivate the emotional skills of balancing competitiveness with cooperation, aggressiveness with patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and the ability to work with whatever Mother Nature gives you which is never equal, fair, gentle or predictable.  To really succeed at sailing requires maintaining a single focus mixed with the flexibility to make the most of whatever you are handed and turn it into an advantage of some sort.  I mean, really, in a way, it throws the typical ups and downs of life at you in a very short period of time and requires you to develop the mental flexibility and muscle memory to go with the flow and stay in the game even when you’re dead last.  How could this experience not shape an individual into a balanced, flexible and likeable person?  After all, unlikeable people are usually just too much of this or too little of that ... they lack balance.  Is it possible that we’re all likable people when we’re balanced?

I started sailing bigger boats in my 30s but as I studied this phenomenon among my brother and his friends, I got involved in sailing a single-handed boat at White Rock Lake.  Actually, I sail the same 40+ year old boat that my brother sailed when he was a kid.  I’ve had the pleasure of observing kids and the fathers who got them involved in sailing at an early age.  No doubt about it, I haven’t found a single kid who grew up sailing who I don’t instantly like and who don’t have a stand out special quality about them.  Now, when they’re young and still learning, they can be a terror, but as they get humbled by Mother Nature and their fellow sailors, they are quickly shaped and molded and become very cool kids.  They have an air of confidence, control and compassion that is unique and unmistakable.  You just know that they can handle whatever life throws at them.

Now here’s the thing.  There are quite a few sailors that I’ve met that I would consider seriously unbalanced, but few, if any, of those actually grew up sailing.  It appears that this special skill set has to be acquired at a young age, otherwise, the attempt to learn to sail at a later age could actually exacerbate the imbalance for a while because, just as the military has learned, it’s easier to develop a good habit than break a bad one.  It isn’t impossible but just takes longer and requires bigger deposits.  You know how if you start saving and investing when you’re a kid that it just doesn’t take much and it grows exponentially but if you wait until you’re middle aged, you have to make bigger deposits to catch up.

Well, I started sailing later in life and I’m having to make bigger deposits but I do think it will pay in the end.  By bigger deposits, I mean, my balance lessons have a much harder edge.  When an unbalanced man yells at me or does something stupid on the water, I find that I naturally reach for emotions of intimidation, anger, or frustration.  I’ve busted the lip of a crew mate for telling me I was a worthless woman that had no business on his team because I wasn’t strong enough and I’ve poured beer on the head of my skipper in frustration.  The stubborn female in me struggles with developing the mental flexibility and muscle memory to handle things better.  Ah, but Mother Nature, she demands respect and at times, she’s reduced me to a quivering, sobbing mess desperately fleeing the race course seeking the safety of shore and even appreciating the value of those unbalanced men.  Take the same things that set me off and hand them to a kid that grew up sailing and the muscle memory will kick in and they'll likely handle it with the precise balance of grace, strength and humility just as they will likely do with all things in their life.  What a gift!  After all, isn't the true measure of any parent how well they prepare their children to handle the game of life?  That and going gray as they try to make sure their sons survive their childhood.

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