Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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Why I Don’t Build Boats for a Living

While it does not happen every day, occasionally when strangers learn my last name, they feel the need to comment on it. When I was a kid, older folks would hear or read my name and ask if I am related to the famous classic movie start. Alas, I am not. In my high school and college years, people would tease me about having the same name of a contemporary star of the silver screen. I dreaded some of the cracks my schoolmates made equating me with this star and not the classic actor.

Throughout the years, though, a certain group of people – almost like an elite underground, or purveyors of a profound open secret – would look at me and say, “You’re not related to the boat builder, are you?” This filled me with a strange mixture of pride and shame. The pride came from the confirmation that I was indeed the son of the great boat builder. The shame came from that fact that while I could see these people were impressed – they were talking to an apple that had fallen very far from the tree. In fact, the branch kind of coiled back, and in slingshot fashion, jettisoned this apple out of the orchard. Of course, I should feel nothing but satisfaction that I am my father’s son, and I should not be ashamed that no one is ever going to look at my son’s driver’s license and say, “are you the son of the great California State paper pusher?” I also feel a bit regretful that I did not pursue my father’s craft, though I know it would have been a tough tutelage.

As I was growing up, there were some who thought I had it made; I was going to be a boat builder like my father, run the family business, and carry on the proud tradition. I recall one day camping at Lake Almanor with my family and friends – something we did a lot back then. This one kid, the son of a prominent Sacramento business owner, was skipping rocks across the lake with my brother and me when he turned to us with a big grin and said, “Isn’t it great that one day we will take over our dads’ businesses!” A pregnant silence followed, the kid’s face twisted into a question, and then he queried, “Don’t you guys want to take over your dad’s business?” We did not say no, but our displeasure at the idea of working that close with our father for the next forty or fifty years seemed to be written on our faces.

It is hard to explain to an outsider why I did not become the next great boat builder or even a water sports enthusiast. The best explanation I can offer is the man’s temper. My father was not a violent man; he never laid a hand on us, but it was his anger that totally intimidated my brother and me. I do not know how the Hershey kids (if there were any) handled living with a father who made chocolate all day, but I can just see old man Hershey yelling at his kids how they are mixing the cocoa with the sugar and milk wrong. I can envision the kids just getting sick of their old man yelling at them so often. It is a poor analogy, I know. In my case, my father was the owner and responsible for at least 70% of the work that went into manufacturing each boat and trailer, so we were too close to the whole business. Just as I can see the kids down the street green with envy over the Hershey kids’ prospect, I can also see the Hershey juniors dreading the days they worked in the factory, with the smell of cocoa, milk, sugar, caramel, peanuts, and almonds overwhelming their senses. I can envision them knee-deep in Hershey bars, Reeses, Paydays, Kisses, Kit-Kats, Almond Joys, and Mounds, all the while dreaming of broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

My brother and I were oddities among the children in our neighborhood. When my father got into racing dirt bikes, he would come home from work, hop on his Greaves or Husqvarna, and ride wheelies up and down the street. My friends looked on in wonder, lining the streets like the last leg of a motocross race. To them, my father was the coolest dad in the world; he made boats and could ride wheelies all the way down the street. He did this while his two sons were nowhere in sight.

Things became straight up perverted when my father brought home a brand new Honda 50 mini bike for my brother and me, and we were cowering behind my mother. At 48 years old, I can see how ridiculous this might have looked, but at the time, the kids flocking around the Honda 50 did not know how utterly intimidating my father was. His temper took the fun out of this kind of stuff.

Boating was no different. Family outings on the water were fraught with intensity. “Will I have to drive the boat off or on to the trailer?” which translated into, “Will I get stuck being the one he yells at?” There was also “Will I get up on one ski on the first or second try?” which really meant, “Please God, let me get up on the first or the second try. I don’t want to get that look.”

I blame my sissy self for not being able to enjoy boating like the kids of the parents who bought my father’s boats. Still, the anxiety was real, so by the time I got a car and a job, I did not miss the outings. The woman who became my wife ultimately learned of the legend. Her jaw dropped to find that not only did I not possess a boat, but also that I did not want one. The shockers continued: I was not a trick or slalom skier, and the kicker was that I had absolutely no desire to buy a boat of any kind. My sister bought one of my father’s boats before he stopped building them. Now a quarter of a century later, I have bought her boat – hell has frozen over.

The main reason for the purchase is that my wife has always wanted one, but also my sister needed the cash and my wife thought it would be a good idea to keep a boat in the family, though nobody seems too terribly fired up about boating. Another reason – one that until now has been a secret to all, including my wife – is that I wanted to try to capture something that I missed out on all these years. I really thought I would never buy one of my father’s boats – or any other kind of watercraft for that matter.

So here I am a boat owner in the dead of winter. I have not even seen the boat since I purchased it. I doubt I will even make the trip across town where it sits in storage until the spring when I take it out for a spin with my family. The pathetic thing is all I can think about is which one of us is going to drive the boat up on the trailer when we have finished – not me, I will be the one on the ramp yelling!

13 comments:

Buzz said...

I think this is the best post I've seen on your blog yet. Very well done, my friend! Actually, one of the best blog posts I've read in a while. I very much dig that now, after all these years, you've bought a Keaton boat from your sister. That's priceless. The circle is now complete.

"Aren't you the son of the great California State paper pusher?" made me laugh out loud. So many of us - probably 99% of us - are doing something with our careers that we didn't see, plan for, or intend. The interesting part is how we deal with that, make peace with it, are either grateful or ashamed for it, and all combinations in between.

You are a very good writer Jock...keep it up.

P.S...when your family gets sick of going out on the boat every weekend, and you need that excuse to justify the expense, I know some guys who LOVE to fish, but don't have a friend with a boat. Ha ha (seriously).

ethan marten said...

Mr. Keaton III -- You're no paper pusher. You should be writing your first novel though. You have only gotten better through the years. Put that angst on paper for cryin' out loud. Best, E.

http://www.myspace.com/ethanactz

Anonymous said...

Sister says...
I love the blog, boat and my brother. Though a hardship came upon me, I (part of the Keaton family) love this boat and my father. I was proud to take it out on the Delta, Tahoe, Donner and the Sacramento River even though he thought I was being egotistical. Sad, he did not realize that I was proud to be a Keaton. As you can see, I'm not a very good writer, but I have the love and compassion for my father's grandkids, that they should be very proud of him and that even though he has never showed the affection, I know in my heart he truly had the passion for the boat, his children and grandkids.

Anonymous said...

My friends own a Keaton. I love it and I plan to buy one=)

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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Anonymous said...

I am one of the kids of a keaton boat owner,my parents bought our boat new in 1975.i own it now and have nothing but good memories of all the water skiing trips we made.oh and by the way-i learned to drive on and off the trailer in my teens and my dad was a great coach.i know your dad-jack and am glad he built such great ski boats.i am a slomon skier and have skiid behind all makes and the keaton is the best!!

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Redness57 said...

Another great post Jack! And hey if you ever do want to sell that Keaton boat of yours, you have a cousin that has ALWAYS dreamed of owning a boat! Go figure, huh?

Redness57 said...
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