Friday, January 20, 2012

My father's rules and boats.

This past week marked the sixth anniversary of my father’s passing. As fathers go, I have to say he is the second best one I have ever had. Second best because, as Eldest observed when she was in preschool, “I have two Daddies, my heavenly father, and my down here daddy.”

My father, like all fathers, wanted his children to be healthy and successful. In fact two of his most oft repeated sayings were, “You don't drink enough water,” and “I don't care if you grow up to be a bum, just be the best bum you can.” Some world events from the past week have reminded me of a few other serious lessons my father impressed upon me as I was growing up. Do not show off. Do what is right—no matter how hard, and when you do wrong, own up to it. Always change your underwear. These were a few of the lessons my dad used to guide me in my youth.

Francesco Schettino would have done well to have met my father and listen to his words of wisdom. Schettino was the captain of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of the small Italian island of Giglio. I once was listening to a U.S. Naval chaplain speaking about ships. He told the audience that the bridge of the ship was up high, so the captain could view the entire ship and the sea around the ship. He said, “The captain keeps a close eye out so he doesn't run into anything, because if he did, it would ruin his whole day.”     

Apparently, Mr. Schettino was not keeping a close eye out. He piloted the cruise ship, with 4200 souls aboard, past an island with a population of 900 for this time of year. He was piloting the ship close to the island for the benefit of the headwaiter. The close distance was in direct violation of the cruise ship owner’s policies. It was also in violation of my father’s first rule. Never show off. Just like a child riding his bike, gleefully shouting, “Look ma, no hands!” just before crashing to the ground in a heap. Mr. Schettino was piloting the ship proudly. Perhaps even thinking to himself, “look how important I am, piloting a ship with five times as many people on board as there are on your tiny little island.” That is until the horrible sound of metal on rock shook the boat. Apparently, the large boat and the small island disagreed as to whom was more important. And the island won.

Sometime after running his rather large boat into a rather large rock, Captain Schettino found himself in a lifeboat. By his admission, he did not intend to get in. He apparently, “stumbled into” it. Whatever happened, he abandoned the ship. There were still passengers trying to escape and he was in a lifeboat. While in the lifeboat he was talking on the phone with a coast guard captain, who told him, “You have abandoned your ship; you are no longer in charge. I am in charge. Now get back on the boat!” Mr. Schettino hemmed and hawed (one of dad’s favorite idioms) and did not do what was right. It was a hard thing and he did not want to do it.

Lastly, Mr. Schettino stated that the rocky outcropping that his boat struck was not on nautical charts. This may be, but trying to evade responsibility is never admirable. Neither is abandoning ship, nor obeying a direct order from an officer.

I can only hope Mr.Schettino does better at my father’s last rule. After all, it is a simple rule and the entire world is watching.

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