An Easter story, 1959

A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.

– John F. Kennedy

May, 2021

By David Roper

So, what should he do? There he was, a middle-aged man shivering and standing alone on an island, staring out through the beginning flakes of an unexpected Easter blizzard as his son desperately swims toward him, still 75 yards out from the island. The capsized craft floats away as the boy swims for the shore, the lower unit of its outboard motor sticking up like a desperate wave for help. The father stays standing on a boulder near the top of the island, where he had gone to get a better view of his son’s solo test run of the boat.

His son had long yearned for a boat of his own, and that year he had it. He had saved and saved, and the $150 was just what it took to procure this strange craft that sat dust-covered in a barn not far from his home in Hingham, Mass. It was a boat. It had a steering wheel. That was about all the good you could say about it. For the boy, though, it was enough.

The boy’s father knew not to buy a boat on emotion. He knew not to decide about a boat in a dark barn. He was a very logical person. But he went against his better judgment, and after the purchase, he went to work with his son, and they did what they could to get the unstable-looking craft ready for the summer.

When Easter Sunday bloomed bright and calm, it looked like a day that would stay sunny and warm – a special treat for late March – and the boy pushed his father for an early launch, one that very afternoon. The father wavered, despite his instincts; there were no apps back then to see for sure what the day would bring. But he, too, loved boats and he thought, well, if they are careful and if they both ride together, and in this good weather, then why not?

The launching went well. The old outboard rattled and smoked a bit, but otherwise did its job as they headed out toward the little islands of Ragged, Sarah and Langlee in Hingham Harbor. It was hard to get the boat up on a plane with both on board, so the boy asked if he could try it alone, by dropping his dad off on uninhabited Langlee Island. The dad reluctantly agreed, and after hopping off on the beach, he climbed to the top of the island for the best viewpoint to watch his son.

The little boat took off on a plane easily with just one of them aboard, and the boy got bolder and bolder as he zoomed around the island, taking tighter and tighter turns. Then he took one a little too tight. And suddenly there he was in the water. And suddenly all was cold and wet and quiet.

And there was Dad on the island, watching through the flakes of the deteriorating day.

So what should Dad do?

Some years ago, not long before he died, I asked my father about his thoughts on that day, thoughts about his son (my middle brother) as he watched him strain and stroke in his waterlogged clothes, desperately clawing for shore. The response I received should not have surprised me. An eminently practical man with a calculating engineer’s brain and viewpoint, Dad outlined the options that raced through his mind that day: “(1) If I swim all the way out there to him, what do I do then? He’s a big boy with all those clothes on. Even if I’m not hypothermic by then, can I possibly pull him to shore? And if I can’t? Then we both drown, and I leave a widowed wife with two children left to support; or (2) If I stay here on the island and watch, and he doesn’t make it, well . . . .

“So let’s go to (3): I stay here on the island and he does make it. This would be the perfect ending to this crisis. So that’s what I did that Easter Sunday.”

“Yeah, but Dad,” I said, “what about raw selfless human spontaneity; you know, just jumping in to save your child?”

“You mean without thinking? No. My way was better,” he told me, “because by the time I’d gone through all my options, you see, your brother had already made it almost to shore.”

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on amazon.com.