Thomas Beck


My son Jonathan announced he wanted, “ own boat, just big enough that only I can get in.” That, of course, was all the excuse I needed. We both had a week of bachelorhood while my wife and daughter were away on a mom-and-daughter trip, so what better time to begin. We bought the plywood, and set up shop in the garage. I did the cutting and fitting, and he fetched tools, spread glue, and installed nylon tyraps.

Toward the end of the week, we’d made good progress - it looked like a boat. I asked my son if he could think of anything we could have done differently - at seven years old, he often surprises me with the thought that goes into some of his answers. He didn’t disappoint me.

“Make the sawhorses shorter,” he said.

Working on a father and son project can be fun. It can also be miserable, and when it is, the misery is usually our making. Here are a few suggestions for keeping it fun for both of you.

Have reasonable expectations. The attention span of a younger a child is shorter than yours. Its important to teach him to “stick with the job,“ but be realistic. Expecting a seven year old to hand-sand twenty linear feet of rub rail until they are perfectly smooth is overly optimistic. Also, the younger the child, the less likely you’ll be able to stick with any schedule you may have all worked out in your mind. Just accept that, and enjoy the time together.

Pick an easy design, and don’t expect the boat to be perfect. If you want a glowing mahogany runabout, build it by yourself. First steps aren’t perfect, but they are necessary. Twenty years from now, you may be looking at a museum piece he’s built, and you’ll remember that first boat.

Use materials and processes that are kid-friendly. I used tyraps instead of copper wire, and latex house paint instead of oil-based. Use common sense about tools, but don’t be ridiculous (I’m old fashioned. Growing up without a few bumps, bruises, and scrapes is dull.).

Take advantage of the time together to talk about other things. Truett Cathy, founder of Chik-fil-A (and an extremely busy man), once pointed out that kids open up with you on their schedule, not yours. They can’t do that unless you’re available. Make those times possible.

Also, don’t force your child to be interested in your favorite pastime - it may not be his. I guarantee you, though, that there are other things that interest him. Take the time to find out what they are, and develop them. You might learn something - you’ll certainly learn something about your child.

Get down on their level - even if it means making the sawhorses shorter.

Jonathan's Boat