If there was one thing I knew when he was born, it was that I would be the one to guide my son, Angus Kane Carter—named for both the Yeats poem “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” and the 19th-century Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane—to be the confident young outdoorsman I never was.
Unlike my own father, who absently set me adrift in the sea of manhood, I had a plan. I would artfully lead Angus to his competent destiny through repeated outings, carefully orchestrated “learning” moments, and even the occasional confidence-building “test.”
Looking back, the first misstep occurred when Angus, now ten, was a toddling two. He could swim as well as a six-year-old as long as he was beside the wall, but I decided to nudge him forward, to reveal to him his obvious skill. Holding him in the middle of the pool, splashing and blowing bubbles like we’d done countless times before, I let go with little warning. Tears flowing, he easily made it back to the water’s edge in a few seconds. And then refused to swim for the next two years.
When he was three, he could tie a number of sailor’s knots and knew how and when to haul in a sheet while tacking our 23-foot sloop across Penobscot Bay, Maine. All was good, until the day my wife and I went out for a short sail, and I let Angus scamper, against Lisa’s advice, untethered on deck while we were anchored in a tossing sea. I didn’t see it coming, only a blur in the corner of my eye, as the careening boom batted him overboard. His mom fetched him back aboard even before the sickening plop! had faded away. The result: he wouldn’t sail until just recently.
Last summer I did it again. Proud of Angus’s precocious canoeing skills—what other nine-year-old so easily performed a cross-bow draw?—I suddenly turtled our Old Town Discovery. Just as I’d predicted, Angus popped above the surface, paddle in hand, and immediately instructed his friend and me to work the boat to the nearest rock so we could flip it safely. Despite all our previous setbacks, he was that sure, brave boy I never was. Best of all, he’d clearly learned from my years of meddling—although it wasn’t quite the lesson I had in mind. Angus hasn’t set foot in a canoe with me since.