Parenting – Then vs Now

20 Mar
I had dinner with a friend of mine the other day. She was constantly checking her phone. Her 20 year old daughter had moved to live with her father in Germany and her three-times-a-day text had not arrived. She was worried. “She usually text’s at the same time every day,” my friend said. “I can’t imagine what’s gone wrong.” I nodded in sympathy. I am a parent and I totally understand.

The next day I had lunch with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. Without her I would never have had the most awesome life that I have had. That’s a true statement. I was a snotty nosed kid walking the docks in Durban, South Africa dreaming of a life on the lip of an ocean swell; but clueless. That’s when I met Lyn Lindsay. She was First Mate of one of South Africa’s best know yachts – Dabulamanzi. They had just arrived from the Seychelles and they were planning on doing the Cape Town to Uruguay race. I was a hands-on-my-knees sailmaker at Elvstrom Sails in Durban and the boat needed some sails repaired. I offered to help and Lyn saw something that she liked. Enthusiasm, innocence, and a bucket full of bullshit. Lyn asked if I would like to join the boat for the race to Uruguay.

OK let’s put this into perspective. I was a 20 year old “kid”. I had no offshore sailing experience. I had a long term girlfriend, my first love, and had just been offered an adventure of a lifetime. I wasn’t sure. I walked the damp streets of Durban searching my soul. Should I go for it or should I stay with Liz?  It never once occurred to me that my parents had any say in the matter. My Mom was dead but I was very close to my Dad and Step-Mom. I wandered some more and at some point I made a decision. I was going to join the crew.

And I did. We left Cape Town on a blustery January day and sailed across the South Atlantic. Along the way I turned 21. Jeeze I am pushing six decades now and as I said I have children. I am not sure how I feel about things. Would I let my boys “just go for it?”  Probably, but then, maybe not. Back then the only means of communication was by letter. Or if desperate, telegram. They charged by the character and it was expensive. So expensive that when I was lost and presumed dead in the 1979 Fastnet Race, and then found alive, my parents sent me a telegram. They signed it MaenPa. That’s Afrikaans for MomandDad. See, shorter=cheaper.

150 lbs of fresh tuna

The friend with whom I had lunch with, Lyn Lindsay, brought along a pile of photographs from our wonderful adventure. We not only sailed to Uruguay but continued up the coast of Brazil to the Caribbean. She dug through the photos and found one of me. I had just turned 21. I was broke but the captain of the boat had offered to buy me lunch; a beer and a whole chicken. I look at the picture now and I am not sure what I see. I see a happy kid with a whole lot more hair than I have now. I have a son who looks just like me. He is only 16, so he is not leaving just yet, but I wonder how much courage it took for my parents to give me their blessing. They let me go on a trip across the Atlantic and eventually around the world. Postcards would be sent when I had money for a stamp and sometimes they got lost. They could not follow me daily on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. Definitely not Snap Chat. Nope I was out there making it; or not. 

I have huge respect for parents of the past. How much courage did it take to say goodbye – and hope beyond hope – that not only had they done a great job raising their (in my case) son, but that the traffic and jams of life did not trip them up along the way. Thank you Dad, and you too Judy, my StepMom.

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Brian Hancock – owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. harryt

    Great read! Thanks for sharing. Reared by Depression Era parents, being frugal, getting an education and keeping one’s nose to the grindstone whilst focusing on raising a family were instilled into me. Managed to pull off all of the above and eventually get a couple of nice boats and spend some time on various waters of the world. All in all, h
    ad I a do-over, think I’d start haunting the docks straight out of high school and let the water, weather and pirate luck chart my life’s path.

  2. Doug Mecham

    WHY NOT!
    At 18 I crewed for a bit on a 76 foot schooner then at 19 started yacht racing around islands. After university and 3 years working I kept sailing and had money in my pocket, no serious love life, an urge to travel, and my father encouraging me to do so (Mom was not so sure), So in the days of travel postcards and no internet I just left for around the World trip. After 15 months I decided it was time to return home. After my wondrous transformation and growth, along with many world wide friendships made with great experiences, I came home. Yes, I returned with a little financial debt (the trip had cost me $5,000 which was cheaper than a good used car at the time) but much much richer that most folks dream of. Arriving on Friday I walked into my old company on the following Monday and found a new position at higher pay; on with work and sailing.

    Six years later I went around the world again to pick up my future wife in Perth – we had met in a Greek youth hostel and again in Paris on my first world trip – we had two kids lived in Mexico for a couple of years and then in the special area of Palo Alto for 20 years before she passed away of Cancer. At that point my work life terminated due to an old age of 60 so I “retired” [why not!] to keep sailing, even around Cape Horn, and traveled more that included another 5 months around the world once again taking the northern route across Russia coming back across the Atlantic on a very large schooner.

    Today I am married again to an ESL teacher so we travel a good deal and recently spent 2 years in Honduras; now we are looking to spend time time Uruguay … all the while sailing as much as I can. The mind of man needs the stimulation of travel, sailing, and meeting 1000 people in a 1000 places to keep a clear well balanced head. I am only 76 so there is plenty of time to really live life. However, I must take time out one of these days to polish up my travel notes, but there is no time.

    I am a lucky man who has little money but I am very rich.

  3. David W. Walsh, M.D.

    Very close to home Brian,
    I was 15 years old when I went to work to get enough money to go to America. At 16 I had a one-way ticket and Immigrant Visa, and $90 in my pocket. One military kitbag and a shopping bag with all of my worldly belongings. I knew no-one in America and left two brothers and my parents in Wales UK, and traveled alone to Oklahoma USA. Contact with home was by mail only, I believe I wrote home and heard from home twice that first year – it went downhill from there!

  4. Doug Phillipson

    Thanks for a thought provoking essay. (from a sailing father of two 20 something daughters)

  5. Lee Withers

    My”adulthood” started just about after graduating from high school in 1959. I was able to get some advanced education paid for with survivor child payments that my mother was able to save for that purpose. After high school and going off to college that was about the end of any apron string connections. I was only home for vacations, working also. I had grandparents that looked after me, but I was pretty independent. My wife of 56 years married at 19 and after that we never less than 200 miles from “home” and most of the time 2,000 plus. Our communications were mostly mail four or five times a year and maybe a phone call every now and then. My mother had raised me to be independent and we likewise let our children be themselves. I think it’s really a case of overkill to have to be in constant communication with kids. Let them be themselves. If they need help, help, otherwise let them run their life.

  6. Richard Bockman

    Interesting blog Brian,
    We were raised to be more self reliant
    as you relate in your blog, children and their
    parents are tethered through the internet
    neither are independent
    both are codependent
    worse yet, fewer grown children ask
    for the kind of liberty gifted to you by
    your parents

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