If you’ve been reading my articles for a while you may have noticed that I have an affection for the simplicity of a canoe. I think I have six in my fleet right now, I’ve yet to figure out how to paddle more than one at a time. It could be because it was my first taste of independence growing up on a small lake. My canoe allowed me to escape on my own for what I thought at the time were grand adventures. It could be because some of my fondest memories as a child involve my brothers, my parents, and I with assorted friends and family doing canoe trips on the Saco River and other smaller rivers. I can still feel the water spray as we hit rapids, I can still hear the pounding of the water as I rode along in the current. It could be that the first real purchase my wife and I made as I evolved into a woodsman was an Old Town Guide Canoe. We ventured into the factory outlet in Old Town and I saw the most perfect canoe. We didn’t have a lot of money. Like many times before, and many times since my wife saw the spark in my eye as I imagined being in the stern navigating some wild river. She said, “buy it.” I did, and I was as happy as I could be. (Side note, never trade a good canoe, I wish I had that Guide back.)
Now, as a parent, I’ve discovered a different use for a good canoe, parenting. If you haven’t been told, or haven’t figured it out, parenting is hard. Sue and I have raised two adult children and have an eleven-year-old that is rapidly becoming a challenge to her sister and brother’s title of most difficult. I’ve found that the best way to reach them is to put them in a canoe.
The bow seat of a canoe is a great place for a kid to sit. They have their back to you as you blubber on about doing the right thing for the right reasons, and the warning about giving into peer pressure. They are free to roll their eyes and yawn without you noticing. I’ve discovered with my youngest child a new twist to my canoe parenting technique. It’s very important that they have a paddle. It’s not to help you propel your parenting vessel of wisdom along, it’s to keep them from grabbing their phone to text their friends about how lame their dad is.
Having them in the front seat also allows you to show emotion. In my case my son and I were in a canoe a few weeks ago. He was in the bow seat filling it with his man sized frame. He’s 24 years old now. I watched as he made powerful strokes with confidence. I flashed back to taking him fishing and him sitting in the bow seat with a paddle that was two feet taller than he was. I remembered his lifejacket that was two sizes two big. I remembered when he was teenage boy and I took him fishing not to catch fish but to talk to him about how to treat a woman, and his first real girlfriend. I can still see his neck turning red as we discussed the “S” word, and I don’t mean salmon. I also remembered wondering what kind of man he would become. A few weeks ago I realized the answer was right in front of me.
The most vivid memories I have as a canoe parent is of my middle daughter. Always a free spirit, and a fighter, we would verbally spar as we tried to cross a windblown lake. She gave as much as she got and beat me in several arguments, forcing me to resort to the age old parenting technique of, “I’m the adult that’s why,” to stop the fight. One day the dock broke free from its anchor and was blowing down the lake. I grabbed my daughter and said, “let’s go.” The wind was blowing a gale and there were some monster white caps. Off we went in the canoe. We tossed, turned, and bungled our way down the lake. We secured the raft to a tree along the shore and walked back to the house. She handled herself in the bow well, I on the other hand fought to keep the boat tracking well. In the heat of the moment I blamed her, I called her a “canoeing liability.” Well that was that. She was done paddling and because of my poor canoe seat parenting I missed a lot of canoe time with her until she was willing to get back in a boat with me. Funny side story, when she finally did get in again we promptly dumped the canoe in the river and lost half our gear. I had learned my lesson though. It was my fault not hers, I was the liability.
Now I’m left with one more bow person to raise. We’ll fish, we’ll talk about rights and wrongs, and the importance of self-worth. I’ll teach her the proper strokes and how to read the water. Just like her brother and sister before her she’ll teach me that the bow is not the only place a person can learn how to be a better person. The person in the stern can learn too.