Boats are, invariably, like children. The relationship between parent and child, owner and boat, they are quite similar. There are moments of pure happiness, of mutual respect and possible adoration. Moments when your boat performs valiantly in the face of crashing waves while others must turn back towards the safety of a pier; you love that boat for its sturdy hull and its dry ride. Other moments, when you catch your boat out of the corner of your eye, hanging in the slip, resting atop the shore station, and it looks as beautiful as it ever has and ever will. Moments when you walk to the boat and lower it into the water and it fires at the first crank and delivers acceleration without hesitation and planes at the most perfect cruising speed. When your friends compliment you on your fine watercraft, you beam with pride. This is why you love your boat.
On the other side of this relationship, as with a child, there are moments of tension and moments of strife. There are moments when you wish your boat wasn't your boat at all, but some other person's boat. That way you wouldn't have to deal with it when it leaves you stranded in the middle of the lake even though the gas tank is full and the battery charged. If you could pour gasoline on it and light it on fire before jumping into the water, you could hold your breath for long enough to let the fire ball subside. At least you think you could. And would your insurance adjuster believe you? That your boat, the one that you love more than life itself, caught fire and nearly killed you and that while you're sad about this- broken up, even- you really need that check quickly. And then you'll go buy anything but a boat. Because boats, like kids, can disappoint.
Last night, my son won his baseball game. And as is tradition since the dawning of time, when your son wins his baseball game you take your son to the closest dispenser of soft serve ice cream. Everyone else brings their son there too. After the game we stood in line at McDonalds, because it was the closest establishment to the field of play, and when I had three ice cream cones in my hand there was one for my daughter, one for my son, and one for this guy. It's hard work standing and kicking the dirt for two hours, so I deserved one. But when I handed a cone to my daughter and then attempted to hand one to my son, he instead grabbed at the larger of the two remaining cones and caused me to drop one- barely catching it before it fell to the ground but sufficiently catching not the cone end but the ice cream end. There was ice cream on my catching hand and my shirt. And my shorts.
So I did what any dad would do and I asked that my son follow me outside, immediately. And then I did another thing that dads do and I made him watch me throw both of the cones in the trash can. This was traumatic for him and wailing ensued. I drove home calmly in the way that a serial killer drives after he commits his atrocious act, my son sobbed in the backseat. I was a bad dad, he said. I was mean, he said. And then later once he realized that I wasn't such a bad dad all I could think about was that ice cream cone that I had to throw away to prove a point to an eight year old- the ice cream cone that was intended for me.
My boat has never caused me to throw away perfectly good ice cream cones. It did run out of gas last Saturday morning at 6 am while my cousins and uncle mocked me. It also spits smoke on every start up, which is annoying, embarrassing, and frustrating all at once. But it is a fine boat. My fathers boat, the one that I'm not allowed to drive, made its way out of a dusty barn and into a gleaming lake last week for what will be its 52nd year of service. My dad doesn't trust this boat. It misses, it takes on more water than a reasonable boat should, and it as reliable as a third grader fielding a sharply hit ground ball. Which is to say that it's best not to count on it.
But none of that matters, really. There is unconditional love for a boat like this, and when driving behind it to make sure no tire wobbles off the trailer and to make sure the single line that holds the massive boat onto a very old trailer doesn't give way while racing down Highway 50, it's obvious that boats can be deserving of such emotional commitment. Once backed into the waters of Williams Bay, the boat fired on command and my father slowly cruised towards his pier where that boat will hang until sometime around October 1st. The boat, between now and then, will be used perhaps once, but if it is an active summer and the water lies flat for long enough, it may make it out twice. That doesn't matter either. That it looks nice from a distance under a striped canopy is really all that matters.
Boats will let you down. Sons will let you down. At times, your son will crash your Boston Whaler into some rocks and ruin the engine, and then they'll both have let you down, but over time, perhaps a decade or two, you'll get over it.