Abby and Zac Sunderland, from
*Somerset, PA Daily American
June 20, 2010
as "Father's Day and Empowering Dreams"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Any man who’s ever been a Dad to a teenager is familiar with that ultimate moment of fear; the first time your 16-year-old asks for the car keys. The tests have been taken, the license has been awarded. Still, you’re terrified because you know that being a qualified driver is completely different from being an experienced one.
Swallowing hard, you pass over the keys with one last piece of advice: “Be careful.”
For the next few hours, you sweat inwardly, jumping every time the phone rings. The sound of a distant siren brings your lung function to a complete halt. Later on, the car pulls back in the driveway, thankfully intact. Getting the keys back, you chide yourself for your lack of confidence. After all, it was just a trip to the Galleria.
One day in California, a Dad watched his teenager get into a vehicle. Only it wasn’t a car, and this wasn’t a trip to the Mall. 16-year-old Abby Sunderland stood alone in a 40-foot sailboat on her way around the world.
Sailing runs in this family. Abby’s Dad, Laurence, bought a 55-foot boat a number of years ago and took the family on a three-year cruise of the Channel Islands and down Mexico’s Pacific coast. Two years ago, Abby’s older brother Zac soloed his own sailboat around the world, a craft the youngster bought with his own money. So Abby’s decision to undertake this voyage was natural, if not inevitable. It would seem that sibling rivalry runs deep among the “Sailing Sunderlands.”
Unlike her brother’s trip, Abby’s ended prematurely in the Southern Indian Ocean after a "mere" 9,000 nautical miles. Her boat, “Wild Eyes,” was battered by 60-knot winds, 30-foot seas, and completely rolled by a rogue wave. I’ve been in the winter S.I.O. myself, albeit in a 4,000-ton U.S. Navy frigate, and I can tell you that passage through those waters is no picnic even for large ships. Abby lost her mast and keel, but never lost her head. And when the French fishing boat arrived and took her aboard, her only regret was that she couldn’t finish the journey.
The Sunderlands have been getting a lot of flak from parents the world over about allowing their young girl to undertake such a challenge. But there are other teens committing crimes, having babies, or showing up in emergency rooms after ingesting any number of chemical compounds. There are families still supporting their “teens” well into their 20’s while they sit at home with no job, no future, and no desire to seek either
Many adults have fallen into a habit of merely care-taking, instead of raising children, and then over-protecting them to the point where they’re utterly unable to take care of themselves.
Laurence and Marianne Sunderland raised their kids to stand tall and seek powerful dreams; to challenge themselves and the world around them. Zac and Abby know that facing difficulties can only make them stronger.
Through the long, lonely days at sea, mechanical breakdowns, and the storm-tossed pounding by implacable oceans, Abby and Zac didn’t whine about how tough it was. They didn’t complain about the stress. They didn't hide behind drugs or alcohol. They faced it all with fortitude and uncommon courage.
So, what’s different about the Sunderlands? Why have they been able to ignite the dreams of their children while we can’t seem to unplug ours from the X-Box? Rather than castigating the Sunderlands, perhaps we should be looking carefully at what they’re doing. We should stop leading our kids by the nose, but instead show them the limitless possibilities inherent in their gifts and talents, and when they've earned it, freeing them to pursue those dreams.
The heart-breaking thing about being a Dad or Mom is understanding that a successful job of parenting results in giving to the world strong, principled, and independent adults who really don’t need us anymore. They are our legacy, and the only real way we can ever be judged as people.
The greatest monument to a Dad’s life is not his job, bank account, or his house. It is in the lives and character of the children he’s raised.
Happy Father’s Day, Laurence Sunderland. You’ve done your job.