What My Dad And An Unfinished Boat Taught Me About Fatherhood


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When I was 10 I decided I wanted a boat. Not just any boat, I wanted a big boat. And I wanted to be a captain and commandeer, knifes drawn, ho ho and a bottle of rum and all that, plank-walking people, the works. My father decided that this might be a good teaching lesson and made me an offer: If I spent Saturday afternoons with him working on a boat, he’d help me build one.

I should mention that my perception of boats and boat building was informed by a Danish comic named Rasmus Klump (“Petzi” in German, “Barnaby Bear” in English) about a little bear who, along with his friends, built a boat and traveled the world. I figured we’d be done in a week or 2.

We worked on the boat for over a year. My father was patient but strict. We worked diligently and spoke little. Ten-year-old boys aren’t really that patient and when, a year down the road, we hadn’t even finished the skeleton, I threw in the hammer. Literally. And stormed out.

The boat was never mentioned again and I forgot all about it. Until my father died in 2008 and my mother handed me a key to a storage shed a few miles away. I opened the shed and in it was … a finished boat. My father had continued work on it until the week of his admission to the hospital, spending long hours (he feared he would die in surgery, which he ultimately did) racing to finish the boat. It was red and yellow and named Mary.

There was a letter on the captain’s seat and a captain’s hat. The letter was my father’s last words to me, 24 pages, hand written. I cried a lot sitting in the boat as it finally sunk in that he was gone and read with shaking hands. After page over page of stories and explanations how he worked on the boat and what had happened in the mean time in our family (the letter was started when he moved it, amending it as he added pieces to the boat) the final page contained what he’d written the week before he died. He thanked me for a year of my Saturdays, working with him, and apologized for being tongue-tied and awkward as we worked because he feared I would give up much sooner.

I only wish I can be one percent as much of a father and man as my father was. I’ll have to do a lot of growing up for that, though.

I’d want my son to know that about his grandfather, after whom he is named and whom he never met, that he was the greatest man ever alive and the best father a boy could have.

Jonas Mikka Luster is a former cook, now walking around aimlessly for fun and some profit writing. His writing has been published by Slate, Forbes, and the Independent. You can read more from Quora here:

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