Preventing a kid and his grandfather alone on a boat, without insult
June 24, 2016 10:08 AM   Subscribe

My 75 year old dad is not as sharp as he used to be (recent example inside). However, he still has a motor boat that he takes out on the water (Long Island Sound) when he's up north for the summer. The problem: he continues to want to take my seven year old son out on the boat with him -- just the two of them. How can I make sure that I or my husband always accompany my son on the boat, without insulting dad's competence?

The first day of using the boat this year, dad was too impatient to get the navigation computer on before driving away from the dock, and ran aground before even leaving the channel. The tide was going out, and he ended up having to sit on the boat for seven hours till the tide was high enough for the boat to get towed out. He had water on the boat, but no food.

The problem is that dad has nothing to do all summer, so he likes to just drop by and say, "Come on, grandson, let's go out on the boat! Mom can stay here and have a break!" I work from home -- he is going to suspect that I don't have confidence in his abilities if I drop my work and accompany them, every time.

What can I do/say to make sure a responsible adult is on the boat with my son every time, without insulting my father? There have been two boating accidents necessitating rescue already this summer in our local waters, so I don't think I'm overly anxious about boating safety.
posted by misoramen to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Send your kid to day camp. He won't be home during the day and if your dad drops by in the evening you can go, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:14 AM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


Talk to your kid. Let him know that you don't want him on the boat without another adult and you don't want to hurt his grandfather's feelings. Ask him for help in this. He is old enough now to take on a little responsibility and this is a lesson in empathy and personal safety. Have his dad with you for the conversation so that it doesn't become a lesson in keeping secrets from adults.
posted by myselfasme at 10:17 AM on June 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


How about just saying he can't go without a second adult because "There have been two boating accidents necessitating rescue already this summer in our local waters, so I don't think I'm overly anxious about boating safety."

I know these family dynamics are tough, and I don't mean to be callous, but which is going to be harder -- Saying that to your dad or planning your son's funeral?
posted by archimago at 10:17 AM on June 24, 2016 [41 favorites]


Can you not just tell your dad that you're not comfortable with your son out on the boat with just him, because of boating safety? Frame it as being about the possibility of boating accidents (use the passive voice if necessary), kid isn't a strong enough swimmer, or whatever you have to imply, and not "you're a senile old coot who sucks at boats."

I mean, it's your kid. If you don't want him off in a possibly precarious boating situation, it's understandable. Even if you are being overly anxious. He's still your kid and you get to make the parenting decisions.

Another tack might be, because your dad is always dropping by unannounced, maybe give your kid some constructive activity that he needs to be working on? Kind of similar to If only I had a penguin's idea. "Oh, sorry, Aiden can't go out on the boat until he's finished with his math flash cards. Want to stay for lunch and you guys can go out in the boat another time?"
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Are there alternative, safer activities you can suggest that the two of them can do alone together? He probably cherishes grandfather-grandson time, and, as long as you don't think he will secretly sneak him off on the boat, it'll be easier for them not to do boating if they can do something else.
posted by praemunire at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2016 [19 favorites]


Maybe you love going on the boat, and you'll be sad or jealous if you don't get to go too? Only say this if it's true, though.

Maybe you could find another activity the two of them could do together. Maybe some household repairs, or a project building a dog house, shed, or garden.
posted by amtho at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


This does not directly address the question, but I would have my son take a boating safety class. Even if there are two adults on the boat, there is no downside to your son knowing proper safety and protocol.

Not sure if you are coming from CT or LI, but I am sure there are some alternative activities on or near the water. Also, I would consider talking to your dad directly about it. Not sure if you can blame your spouse, but, "Hey dad, spouse was a little freaked out by your mishap last week. They don't want you to take out son by yourself. Is there someone else who can join or maybe we can do the family outing this weekend."
posted by AugustWest at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


In the example you provided - where he ran the boat aground, what good would another adult have been in that situation?

If you're just uncomfortable with the two of them alone, that's one thing, but the example cited doesn't strike me as that noteworthy where additional adult supervision helps.

Level with the old man. Tell him your reservations like you told us here and why you are concerned. You might be surprised - he might readily turn this into boating safety lessons for your kid. And you.

You win either way, because you're the final arbiter of your kid's safety.
posted by Thistledown at 10:29 AM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


Oof. I've dealt with similar conundrums. Ultimately, it comes down to this: your son's safety is more important than your dad's feelings. And while sometimes BOTH of those things can be balanced, if there is EVER a question as to one "winning", it will always, always be your son's safety. If you're really worried about your dad's reaction, you can always use the I Know This May Not Be Rational BUT strategy, which I haaaaaaaate and which feels skeevy but which is sometimes the best/quickest/least-hurtful way out of a situation:

"Dad, I know that I'm probably just being silly, and I know you and my kid LOVE your boat time, but recently I saw/read/heard a horrible anecdote about [some boat tragedy], and until he's older, I really DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT want the kid to be on a boat without TWO GROWN-UPS ON IT. AT LEAST TWO. I wouldn't send my son to Sri Lanka with just ONE grown-up, even if that grown-up was a Green Beret, and I feel the same about water safety. I know maybe this isn't what you want to hear, but please know that I'd NEVER try to come between you and time with your grandkid... but as his mom, my thoughts on safety HAVE to come first, and as MY parent, you know what parental worry is like. Please respect my wishes in this."
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:30 AM on June 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


But ... you don't have confidence in his abilities. And that's okay. But it has to fall on you to tell your dad, "No, Dad. Call me a worrywart but since your incident at the beginning of the season, I'm not comfortable with you and kid on the boat without a 3rd person. Absolutely not. I'm free on Saturday and husband is free Sunday. Which works better for you?" It might hurt his feelings but ... oh well. Your kid. Your rules.

Don't put this on your kid to relay the message. He's only 7, would probably love to go on the boat, and as someone who used to be the kid who had to say "Mom and Dad said I'm not allowed to..." -- either 1) kid doesn't get listened to, or 2) grandparent starts needling the kid for being overly anxious.
posted by kimberussell at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2016 [35 favorites]


The first day of using the boat this year, dad was too impatient to get the navigation computer on before driving away from the dock, and ran aground before even leaving the channel. The tide was going out, and he ended up having to sit on the boat for seven hours till the tide was high enough for the boat to get towed out. He had water on the boat, but no food.

"Dad, I'm sorry but I can't put Son in a position like that, and it scares me to send him out with only one adult. It's not like sending him to the store, where at least there is someone else around to ask. If you want to take Son out it needs to be Son plus Mom or plus Grandma, but at seven years old, I can't send him out on the water knowing he's not in any position to swim to shore or call for help if he has to."

My sympathies, I've been there, am there, will be there again. I've had to come up with excuses for why Little Llama can't stay alone with Grandma and Grandpa. I lie a lot. I'm pretty shameless about it. Her little cousins wound up watching Grandpa bleed all over the floor when he fell into a shower door in the middle of the night when he passed out, so finding ways to sugar coat 'because I don't want my daughter traumatized or put in a position beyond her years' is a pastime of mine.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:35 AM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Tell him that you're on heightened alert because there have already been two local boating accidents requiring rescue this summer, and that you don't feel comfortable in a situation where the two of them are the only ones on the boat. You could even talk about the family of experienced boaters -- a father and his three teenagers -- who were recently lost at sea.

Use "I" phrases -- "I don't feel comfortable when it is just the two of you," for example. After all, when you're telling someone that you feel a certain way, they can't really tell you that you don't.
posted by Ostara at 10:38 AM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I would tell Dad to his face that I wish he would get a different hobby for his own safety. How many more times can a 75 year old sit for 7 hours with no food before it causes serious, lasting harm to his health and welfare? And then I would just say "No, that will not be possible. We would love to have you hang here, but Little Johnny cannot accompany you on the boat without another adult."

I am generally in favor of pissing people off to protect the health and welfare of people I am morally and legally responsible for instead of prioritizing their precious feelings. No, it isn't a way to win friends and influence people. But, wow, does it do wonders to reduce real drama of the sort that involves police reports and ER visits.
posted by Michele in California at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


I don't know if this is the right answer, but I like the boating safety and first aid class for your kid idea and buy grandpa whatever the appropriate radio technology for calling for help if he doesn't have it, as a "nice gift".

Sure, it is legit dangerous, but on the other hand, solo boat time with grandpa is going to be like the best experience/memories for the kid.
posted by latkes at 11:03 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't trust your Dad not to lie to you in a "*Wink*Wink* Right, Grandson!" type way.

At the very least, they MUST wear life jackets at all times. I think you need to be firm and direct. I would call the boatyard, too, and ask for a heads up if they turn up at the dock. I know that last part might get your dad kicked out of the boatyard or whatever. Oops.

Is it OK for your dad to drive? If he shouldn't be boating, I have concerns about driving.

I grew up sailing LI Sound. You want your child to be safe. Be direct and don't take chances. I'm sorry you have to deal with some hard feelings. Better that then the alternative.
posted by jbenben at 11:21 AM on June 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


YES. We had swimming lessons and boating lessons.

I can't believe I forgot that! Totally totally the way to go!!
posted by jbenben at 11:23 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


White lie time. Tell him your friend told you about a 40-year-old who had a stroke while driving a boat, and the boat drifted out to sea.

"You're in great health, Dad, but God forbid something might happen to any one of us at any time. So I don't want little Steven to be alone on a boat with just one adult no matter who that is."
posted by salvia at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


This boating thing is a red herring. Have you had a convo with your father about his apparent cognitive decline? Rather than beating around the bush from the get-go I think you should start there.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


The problem is that dad has nothing to do all summer

Also, along with saying "no" to boating alone, is there something you can encourage? Can they fish together off the dock by your house?
posted by salvia at 11:34 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


what good would another adult have been in that situation?
I think the OP's point is that the judgment led to the result, which luckily wasn't worse.
posted by archimago at 11:40 AM on June 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yikes! I watched my 87 year old Aunt struggle to carry her 7 month old great grandson around the house. It was frightening. I tried being tactful and bringing the baby to her when she was seated in an attempt to avoid the conversation that we needed to have. Finally I expressed concern about her falling with him and how hard it would for her if he got hurt. She was very pissed off and did not speak to me for a few days. Then she fell into a soft chair carrying him. That ended that. We knew it was very hard for her to accept and all of us put extra effort into getting that baby into her arms while she was seated.

It has to be talked about directly in a loving way. Your Dad will have some grieving to do. You will too. Your child's safety has to come first.
Find other things the two of them to do together. You could also hire an experienced boating teen to go with them but you still have to have the hard talk. No way around it.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:04 PM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Even if you decide to have a "hard talk" about his decline, don't assume that will get you anywhere. We are going through hell right now because a then 90-year-old relative refused to make a will ("I'm not on my deathbed"). We weren't able to do anything until things got really bad and doctors declared the relative incompetent - which is difficult and heartbreaking - and we're still left with no will or written instructions. You will just have to put your foot down on your son going out alone with him, and, yes, it might hurt his feelings, but what choice do you have? Unless your family dynamics are really unusual, I'd suggest blaming yourself rather than your spouse ("I'm just super paranoid Dad - sorry"). Remember that if the unthinkable happened, it would destroy your dad's life too, especially if it was his fault, so you are protecting him from that.
I think it's wonderful that he wants to spend time with his grandson, and I'd certainly encourage other activities they can do together.
posted by FencingGal at 12:15 PM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


My father's had an aneurysm and has cognitive deficits, including having blown out his own executive function so he has the impulse control of a four year old but the negotiating strategy of a 50 year old at the top of his career.

If you soft-pedal it (not today...oh I want to go today...maybe tomorrow) then his assumption will be that he's only waiting for an opportunity to get this special grandson bonding time, and the minute that opportunity arises -- maybe because you and your husband both have food poisoning and he takes your kid to the park by way of a 4 hour boat ride or something -- he will seize the opportunity. Even more aggressively because none of the (minor) excuses will have really made sense to him..

So...my advice is that you have to be kind but even more direct with someone who suffering cognitive issues than someone who is not. So I think you have to say something like dad, I love you, and I love how you show our son all kinds of things, and I want you to have time on the boat together this summer. However, you have had to be rescued twice and Husband and I have decided that Son cannot be on your boat without another adult present. To be super clear, you cannot take Son on the boat without one of us. I am really sorry if this hurts your feelings. You raised me to be a strong parent and advocate for my child and as his parents, this is our decision and it is final. We'll try to get out on the boat with you X times a month. But to reiterate, our final decision as Son's parents is that he can't go out on the boat alone with you.

Then it's likely he will test that boundary, so then just keep it as calm and chipper as possible: Sorry dad, the rule is no solo trips for Son with you. But how about Thursday? Etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:03 PM on June 24, 2016 [44 favorites]


^^^^This is the right answer.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:28 PM on June 24, 2016


what good would another adult have been in that situation?

Bringing food; Insisting on getting the navigation system working before leaving; Keeping the hypothetical 7-year-old from falling off the boat or swimming and getting his foot caught under water; Preventing the kid from getting sunburned; etc.
posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


As boater (sailor in my case), the big worry is getting the man overboard back on board. It can be difficult. Who is going to get your father back on board if he is the one to go over?
posted by SemiSalt at 2:23 PM on June 24, 2016 [14 favorites]


Great answer above. Do not negotiate or obfuscate. He's 75. At some point he needs to accept that his faculties have diminished. Better now than (god forbid) some point when he puts a grandchild at risk.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:11 PM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Be honest and loving with him - he's your father, he's an adult, and he can handle it. It's an awkward and difficult conversation to have, but show him respect by having it openly and honestly.

Talk to your kid. Let him know that you don't want him on the boat without another adult and you don't want to hurt his grandfather's feelings. Ask him for help in this.

Absolutely do not do this!
posted by sallybrown at 8:47 AM on June 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


White lie time. Tell him your friend told you about a 40-year-old who had a stroke while driving a boat, and the boat drifted out to sea.

"You're in great health, Dad, but God forbid something might happen to any one of us at any time. So I don't want little Steven to be alone on a boat with just one adult no matter who that is."


I would absolutely go with salvia's method above. It would be a little nerve wracking for your son to be on ANY boat with only one adult, 75-year-old boat-grounding grandpa aside. What if he tripped and fell overboard and couldn't get back in the boat? What if he tripped and hit his head and was knocked unconscious? What if he choked on his sandwich at lunch? That leaves your kid out in the middle of the sound with no adult and no idea how to get back to shore.

That is the tack I'd use with your dad, nothing to do with his age or mental faculties. There may be a time where that conversation comes up, but I wouldn't obfuscate the issue now.
posted by amicamentis at 8:27 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


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