Captain Dad

"If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever."
-St. Thomas Aquinas

What makes a good ship's captain? Is it someone who leads fearlessly in times of duress? Is it someone who knows all the USCG boating "rules of the road"? Maybe it has more to do with making a crew add up to more than the sum of their individual parts. Is a good captain someone with limitless courage? Or maybe the best captains are those that realize their fear is their only real courage?

Sometimes the roles of captain and dad converge
Since becoming a father to our third daughter in March, I've been thinking about how fatherhood feels a lot like being a ship captain. We as individual family members represent the crew, while collectively our family of 5 represents the ship. And just like ships on the sea, families on the sea of life need leadership, guidance and a cohesive crew. As if fatherhood didn't have enough responsibility, I've now gone and added a responsibility laden analogy.

St. Thomas Aquinas in the quote at the beginning of this post is right; captains are indeed responsible for the safety of the crew and ship, but not at the total expense of finding adventure and completing a mission. As a father I strive to bring my family adventures from which we can grow by being challenged. Family cruising on a small sailboat brings both adventure and challenges in spades. Safety is a priority, but our sailboat and our figurative family "ship" often leaves port in less than ideal conditions.

Like most sailing ships and sailboats, families are more seaworthy and able to weather storms better than their individual crew members. If you sail you've probably heard it said that the boat can handle much worse weather than you can. And so it is with our family. I'm constantly reminded of how resilient and strong we are as a family unit. I don't always make the best decisions as Captain Dad and maybe my 9 year old can be a bit mutinous at times, but together as a family we always make it through both the rough seas and the doldrums.

Captain and crew
Families, like ships, need good navigation and a sense of direction from the captain. We don't necessarily always need to know where we're going, but we certainly need to know which troubled waters to avoid. I do my best to plot a cruising course that keeps us off the reefs and a family course that keeps us clear of the nasty things that can tear a family apart (selfishness, greed, divorce, etc.).

Being a captain comes with trade-offs. Sometimes the captain has to make decisions that aren't popular among the crew, but are indeed in their best interest. The ability and confidence to make these decisions ideally comes from experience and sometimes, if we captains are fortunate, from wisdom too. Luckily I've got the best admiral on the seas helping me command our ship. Of course I'm referring to my wife, who is every bit the competent parent and sailor that I believe myself to be. Together we understand that both our family and our little ship need love and dedication or pieces will begin to rot and deteriorate from neglect.

The Admiral and crew
So maybe this whole "Captain Dad" analogy is just me trying to put myself on a sailboat in my day-to-day life as a parent, even if only figuratively sometimes. But I can honestly say that self-reflection like this makes me both a better dad and a better sailor.


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