Igrew up convinced that my father was trying to kill me. I tried not to take it personally.
Dad's always been into things that go fast and perform best on a sort of razor's edge: boats, sports cars, airplanes. While I share his enthusiasm for many of these things, I don't have his mastery of them. But that hasn't stopped Dad over the course of the 42 years we've known each other from trying to get me to expand my horizons.
When I was about 8 we took a kayaking trip with some friends on the Salt River in Arizona. My father built the kayak himself, a big one that fit all four of us. In a churning, whitewater-filled section of the river, we hit a rock, the boat pitched forward and we were all sent into the rapids.
I could have drowned. I didn't.
Not long after that, Dad took me on a road trip to Idaho. We were rounding a curve in his little convertible when we hit a loose patch of gravel, slid into a ditch and landed upside down. We crawled out through the shattered windows and waited for a passing car to pick us up. (Dad had the convertible rebuilt. "It was never the same after we rolled it," he would say, and I would think: We rolled it?)
Dad loves to fly, which is just as well since he was a pilot in the Air Force. He'd occasionally rent little Cessnas and take me and my brother, Chris, up. Dad always encouraged us to take the controls, just for a little while.
I dreaded doing these things -- flying the plane, docking the sailboat, lighting the firecracker, putting the worm on the hook. It was hard. It was dangerous. Why couldn't he do it for me?
What amazes me is that Dad didn't do any of these things with his father. He barely knew him. Dad's parents got divorced at a time when that just wasn't done, at least not in good Catholic families. There wasn't joint custody and visitation rights and other things that cement a father and son after a divorce -- the things that allowed me to have a relationship with my father after my parents split up.
So how did he learn to be a father? The same way he learned to cast a fishing lure, repair an outboard motor, navigate with a sextant, smoke a pipe, paint a wall: He taught himself.
Things are still pretty much the same, Dadwise. Four years ago, my brother and I helped Dad sail his catamaran from Savannah, Ga., to Wilmington, N.C. We'd been delayed in our departure, which meant it was dark when we motored out into the Savannah River toward the open ocean, massive cargo ships and tankers slipping past us in the inky gloom. It was rainy, too, and my father handed me a spotlight and sent me to the bow with instructions to shout out the positions of the numbered buoys that dotted the channel. I held onto the slippery rigging, my eyes straining, my heart pounding.
Just another typical day with Dad.
Later, when we were in the Atlantic, the boat's water pump broke and the engine stopped, providing me with the classic image I have of my father: hunched over a recalcitrant piece of machinery trying to coax it back to life.
Of course, he did. He always does eventually.
I guess the lesson Dad has tried to teach me is not to be afraid and to try to do my best -- nothing earth-shattering, perhaps, but still I wish I'd paid more attention.
Dad is 66 now. He and his wife of nearly 30 years, Jill, have a new sailboat and any day now will leave on a year-long trip up the East Coast, across the Great Lakes and down to the Gulf of Mexico.
As I get older, I see more of myself in him: a half-smile we both get, the tone of our laugh. A few years ago, I got a bonus at work and used it to buy the same kind of car he -- well, we -- rolled on that Idaho road.
I'm sorry that his father couldn't see the sort of man Dad became. I'm awfully glad I can.
Definitely Defiant (Or Deficient)
Chantilly's Marilyn J. Lynch and her husband recently stayed at a hotel in Orange, Va.
"I was flipping through a book in our room titled 'Landmarks of Charlottesville and Albemarle County,' one of those tourist things that tells visitors what's available to see in the area. On a page titled 'Area Attractions' I learned that 'Not only is Charlottesville full of presidential attractions but also the Civil War battlefields are defiantly worth a look.' "
Probably a typo, she thought.
"Then again," she said, "some in this Commonwealth of ours still haven't gotten over the Civil War."
Kids, Camp & You
Don't panic. That's the first rule of any situation.
And so I'm trying to hold at bay the growing sense of concern I feel as we fail to move the needle in our annual campaign for Camp Moss Hollow. The campaign ends July 27. As of yesterday, we stood at $55,261.60, which means we need to raise about $100,000 a week.
Here's how to make a tax-deductible gift:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Share the lessons you learned from your father, or the aggravating things he did while you were growing up, during my online chat, today at
1 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.