There was a time when I was too young to know what the word "navy" meant, when my father would take me along with a younger brother on a Sunday adventure to the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

A shoe-factory worker for 5 1/2 days a week, my father had spent his only time at sea in steerage for many days, at the age of 7. That was on his trip from the Bay of Naples to Atlantic Avenue in Boston's north end.

For some reason ships and salt water did something for him.Maybe it was the snappy salute from the young marine at the gate tossed to everyone entering or leaving the yard that made a family man who spent long hours in a factory feel some glimpse of importance.

The tour was always the same. My younger brother and I would walk tightrope style along the thick hawsers stretched out alongside the hemp factory, climb an old rusting cannon or be whistled back when we ran too close to the end of a pier.

A small work boat used in Admiral Peary's North Pole expedition, a tiny thing that had weathered so much, always made him pause at the pier where she was tied. He would slowly shake his head in wonder.

The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) was always open for visitors, and as he walked up the gangplank you would think a bos'n was ready to pipe the captain aboard.

He liked this ship and enjoyed knowing more about it than my brother or I as he pointed out bits of remembered lore from other visits.

If a destroyer was in port and open to visitors, he ignored it, preferring the older ships. And the tour often ended with us watching a baseball game between ships' crews.

It seemed natural that when it was time for me to go to war, I would join the Navy.

While out in the Pacific during WW II in one of the few brief letters I ever received from him, my father wrote to tell me about his attempt to enlist in the Navy as a cook, asking for shore duty.

In the letter he also mentioned being at home with my mother and all my sisters while his sons (my brother also was in the Navy) and sons-in-law were off to romantic places. The Navy, he said, had turned him down because of his age.

It was just as well. I remembered his only three specialties -- hot peppers and eggs for breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal, and on Sundays, wide-holed macaroni, with a chicken thrown into the sauce for body.

All of this came back to me when I read about the operation "Tiger," which the Navy has been running since October, 1978. It gives a crew member an opportunity to bring a son or father for a cruise to see how a sailor spends time at sea.

The age limit is from 8 to 18 with no restriction on the upper ages. It is an all-male cruise, with the "super cargo" paying for their meals.

"Operation 'Tiger' is designed to keep a family together, give a boy a chance to participate in his father's duties," said Chief Petty Officer Roger Busby, "and it is not without recruitment possibilities."

"The only reason for the name "Tigers" was to give it espirit," Busby said.

One of the more successful trips in operation "Tiger" was the 20-day, 4,000 mile, father-son cruise aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Oklahoma City.

Ten young men aged 14 and older sailed to Hong Kong and the Philippines. The dads did not make it an easy trip for the young sea goers.

They chipped paint, scrubbed decks, holystoned, touched up paint, stood watches on the bridge and signal bridge, and got a chance to steer the ship.

The day started at 6 a.m. and finished about 4 p.m.

In Hong Kong the novices spent their time sightseeing. They traveled to the Philippines to celebrate the 4th of July 6,000 miles from the U.S.

On the final leg of the Oklahoma City's cruise to Japan, the ship conducted air and surface gunnery practice, giving the boys the thrill of "general quarters."

Another "Tiger" operation took place aboard the USS Shasta, where the youngest aboard was 8-year-old Scott Moore, son of chief machinist's mate Herbert Moore.

The oldest was 67-year-old Arthur Harris, father-in-law of chief electrician's mate Kenneth Bodkins.

On this "Tiger" trip the members flew to Pearl Harbor and cruised back to the West Coast, if recruiting was the goal, both the 8- and the 67-year-old were ready to volunteer.

Lt. Commander John Chrisham who has kept an eye on the program, said, "All Atlantic fleet carriers have taken part in operation 'Tiger.'

"The program is growing as more and more skippers volunteer their ships."

A typical Atlantic trip was described by Chief Busby. "We have the USS Sylvania, a fast combat stores ship able to transfer supplies to fighting ships while under way. The cruise we offer is a one-way trip lasting about 12 to 14 days," he said.

"For instance, they may leave Norfolk and when they reach Rota, Spain, they are responsible for getting back to America.

"A lot of passengers have taken advantage of the trip and do some sightseeing in Europe," he added. "Or they fly to Rota and return on the Sylvania to Norfolk."

Busby explained about the younger "Tigers" saying, "If a young boy lands in Spain, he must have someone ashore responsible for him, a relative, a friend."

During the cruise they let the "Tigers" go up to the bridge and have photos taken with the captain. When they debark, they are given the photos.

Busby said, "The USS Sylvania would not be asked to join the 6th fleet if trouble broke out" during a "Tiger" cruise.

Being of a more serious nature, submarines are not a part of the "Tiger" program.

I wondered how "Tiger" would have worked during my Navy days.

The Navy of course had modernized since our Sunday outings.

I was aboard a submarine, and I'm sure my father wished I were polishing a cannon on a more trustworthy surface vessel like "Old Ironsides."

If there had been an operation "Tiger" in those days, I would have done everything in the world to keep him from finding out about it.

Maybe nowadays fathers have mellowed. Had mine come aboard my submarine he would have asserted his command over me by challenging every order given me by any superior while debating the skipper on his operation of the sub.

Then I'm sure there would have been the one rewarding morning when the aroma of hot peppers and eggs would have permeated the ventilation system.

"Tiger" sounds great for fathers and sons, but the son with a father like mine would have to be intimidated.

I could see the night while anchored off some glamourous port, lights flickering in the distance, marimba music floating across quiet waters mingled with girlish laughter. It is Saturday and I want to be there.

In the control room he is debating the skipper on some nautical point concerning a battle in which "Old Ironsides" took part.

Being a good son and ignoring the skipper, I ask, "Pop, is it okay to borrow the whale boat tonight? I want to go ashore."

And the answer I fear in this fantasy is, "Here's the key, drive slowly and be back at 11."