by Guest Columnist Audrey Leinweber
A PERIPHERAL VIEW:
Assorted Thoughts of the Daughter
of a Weird and Wacky Boatbuilder
This article is the result of my irreverent attitude towards birthdays, i.e., I tend to
forget them, or if reminded, ignore them. My own birthday and those of other people.
However, I owe my father a gift on his birthday, because his gift on my last birthday was
unexpectedly poignant. It was a tribute to one of my obsessions. I love to cut pictures
out of magazines, rearrange them, and create collages. He gave me a pair of scissors.
His birthday, as I compose this, is tomorrow, and I have nothing but memories and
thanks to offer, so that is precisely what I will offer him.
In Germany, traveling with a group of supposedly interesting people my
own age, I saw a bunch of boats. I was halfway around the world from my father, who is an
interesting person, boat obsession and all, with these world traveling young people and I
was homesick. I remember saying, I must take a picture of those boats. I
turned to the person with me and begged her to take a picture of the boat with me beside
it. She did.
It wasnt, I now see, the boat that was so important, so much as the idea of the
connection. I was halfway around the world from my family, with a group of people who were
mostly obsessed with booze and where they could find another bar, and in the act of taking
that picture, I was distancing myself from what I thought were unworthy obsessions.
I may know very little about boats, and I probably know even less about beer, but
Ive known people who were obsessed with both, for long periods of time. Both tend to
become more and more obsessed over time. Both learn lots of things that non-fanatics
dont care about. But people who are obsessed with beer get fuzzier, while boat
builders get sharper. Beer-drinkers know when all the bars open and learn to arrive just
as the proprietor unlocks the door, while boat builders learn the minute differences
between styles of boats. A beer drinker grows a gut. A boat builder proceeds from stacks
of different plans, to small models, to small rowboats, and finally, to sailboats (in my
fathers case) which are as unique, practical and idiosyncratic as he is.
Beer-drinkers all look alike to me. Boat builders are interesting. They have strange
points of view, and the brain power (built up from learning about special boat terms,
knots, ropes, glue, epoxy, wind, sailing, etc.) to have long compelling conversations.
Building boats allows them to exercise their independence, to get away from it all, to
They make progress towards themselves.
I didnt take that picture for him, I now realize, I selfishly took it for me. I
took it because I was hoping Id inherited enough of his genes to follow my dreams. I
was beginning to realize that I didnt have to travel halfway around the world in
order to find myself. I was beginning to understand the success has little to do with
accomplishment, and much more to do with quiet perseverance. And that my father was a very
successful man because he had continued to do exactly what he wanted to do, even when few
people were supportive.
When I was young, he sent off for boat plans, took care of me and my siblings, built
extra rooms when we began whining and complaining about sharing with one another, and
dreamed. Later, he built rowboats that we never sufficiently appreciated. Now, he is
nearly done with his latest sailboat. This one is built for the open sea, and is nearly
Our obsessions belong to us. In many ways, we cannot share them with anyone else. We
cannot expect our children or spouses to share our obsessions.
Sometimes, however, we can share our delight in following a dream, pursuing an
obsession. That is what I got from my dad. He kept on doing what he loved best, despite
four children who mostly thought he was silly for pointing out every boat on every road
He probably hoped one of us would grow up to love boats as much as he does. Maybe one
of us still will. But in a way, the particular dream doesnt matter. What matters is,
as Shakespeare said, (I paraphrase): To thine own self be true, and it follows, as night
follows day, thou canst not be false to any other man.
There is no one secret to having good relationships, but one possible criterion is
first having a good relationship with yourself. If you respect yourself, if you follow
your dreams and arent sidetracked by guilt or persuasive salespeople or other
peoples obsessions, then those around you will feel free to listen to themselves
when it comes to following THEIR dreams.
I remember when I thought my Dad was a hopeless fanatic. Normal in most respects but
one; his obsession with boats. Every time we went on a trip, I had to endure yet another
dreaded boat place. He was sure to find some place full of boats, and the entire family
was forced to trudge around while he oohed and awed and had long conversations with boat
Do I still think he is a hopeless fanatic? Yes. The difference is that now I pity
anyone who doesnt have some lifelong obsession to occupy their thoughts.
Small and repeated approaches towards the object of our obsession will eventually
result in something that looks like progress. A dream is a goal that we would love to
achieve. My father, apparently, dreams of standing tall on a boat, at the tiller, moving
through a stormy sea, eyes on the lookout for obstacles. The boat is constructed with his
own hands. It is built lovingly, out of modest materials. His dream has become a reality
already. He has built boats and sailed on the open sea. Now, he peruses maps, trying to
choose between the many adventures awaiting him and his current and future boats.