Bruce Cameron

Whatever Floats the Teenage Boat

Most parents of teenage daughters, hearing that Los Angeles parents Laurence and Marianne Sunderland stuck their 16-year-old daughter on a boat to sail around the world on a year-long voyage, thought to themselves: "A whole year without having my teenager screaming at me? Where can I get a boat?!"

Typical parents are unable to afford the kind of yacht the Sunderlands used -- you can't just stick your kid on a rowboat and shove her out into the bay, as tempting as it may sound at times. For those parents, there is summer camp. And if you can't afford summer camp, there's always the grandparents. And if there are no grandparents, you should not have teenagers. But you knew that.

Abby Sunderland's father denies that the ill-fated voyage, which came to an abrupt end when Australian authorities and a French fishing boat rescued the girl, had anything to do with plans to market a reality TV show called "Adventures in Sunderland." It was, he said, about allowing his daughter to follow her dreams.

Now, when I was a teenager, I had a dream, too: I wanted to win a drag race in my parents' station wagon. My father, though, had a different dream -- in his dream, I mowed the lawn after school. I don't think my father considered allowing a teenager to follow his dreams was necessarily good parenting, or even parenting. I think he thought I was a teenager with teenage impulses. I'm pretty sure he knew that if he just let me follow those impulses, it would wind up being very expensive and perhaps even life-endangering.

Mr. Sunderland probably wouldn't agree with my father, though it is worth noting that Abby Sunderland's boat was foundering in 30-foot waves and her rescue is estimated to have cost the Australian Maritime Safety Authority almost U.S. $300,000. On the positive side, though, I'm sure the fellows on the French boat were really glad to have her aboard.

The reason the TV show idea was shelved, by the way, is that the parents thought they were making a show about how two wonderful people were doing a fantastic job raising their child by putting her on a boat to realize her dreams, and the producers thought they were making a show about how two wonderful people were doing a fantastic job raising their child by putting her on a boat to die. (Look it up!)

At any rate, a worldwide appeal for donations to fix Abby's yacht has raised, according to her father, only about $2,800. There's also a clothing line, an "Abby16" brand of shoes, the book Abby is writing and finally the rights to Abby's story, which by itself is estimated to be worth as much as $200,000.

Abby's father says the stunt was not about money, but about loving his kids.

I imagine that if I had made $200,000 mowing lawns, my father would have loved me a lot, too. Of course, if in the process of making $200,000 the Australian taxpayers had been forced to fork over $300,000, he might have lost some affection for the whole process.

Still, I never felt that my parents didn't love me or would stand in the way of my dream unless it involved wrecking the station wagon. In fact, once I was no longer a teenager, I came to understand that saying "no" is how parents prove they love their children, because it is so, so much easier just to say "yes" to everything and live in relative peace.

Dad, I've met this boy who owns a motorcycle, and he's taking me on a high-speed cross-country trip.
Father: Sure!
Daughter: We'll be staying with his friend "Cool-Boy" and helping him with his meth lab.
Father: Follow your dreams, honey. I love you so much I just can't say no!
Instead, the conversation was more likely to be something like this:
Father: You may not ride on the back of your boyfriend's motorcycle.
Daughter: What? I hate living here! You're the meanest man in the world! Don't talk to me ever again!
Father: Say, would you like a boat?

My dad didn't have a boat, though, and I didn't go to camp.

I had grandparents.

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