A Boat Like Gideon Brown

Family, Music, Personal / Sunday, June 12th, 2005

“I often thought how proud I’d be……in a boat like Gideon Brown’s.”

I love this song. On the right day (like today) it brings me to tears…


I just had a HUGE realization when I heard this song a few minutes ago…

My law degree is my *Boat Like Gideon Brown*


Ok, but first lyrics.

A Boat Like Gideon Brown

Oh Gideon lived across the bay
He’s gettin’ older now
His boat is big and strong and bold
She has a stalward bow
But my father’s boat was second hand
One someone used before
And after every fishing trip
My father always swore
That someday he would save enough
To go to St. John’s town
And buy himself a big new boat
A boat like Gideon Brown
A boat like Gideon Brown

Confederation came around
And the days of old age pension
He said ‘Son I’m saving every cent’
And this you must not mention
You save the baby bonus too
And things just might turn around
And we’ll have enough to buy a boat
A boat like Gideon Brown

‘Cause she can punch ahead in any gale
And ride the fishing ground
I often thought how proud I’d be
In a boat like Gideon Brown
In a boat like Gideon Brown

Many years did pass away
And Dad began to fade
He didn’t talk of boats too much
He said ‘Son I’m afraid’
If things don’t soon improve
Then I’ll be underground
Before we ever get to see ourselves
In a boat like Gideon Brown


I sat and held his hand one day
And he said ‘Son, that policy’
The insurance is all in your name
You’re the beneficiary
And when I’m gone they’ll pay you off
Then go to St. John’s town
And buy yourself a big new boat
A boat like Gideon Brown

This song reminds me of my dad. And no, we never had or even wanted a darn boat.

My dad died of Non-Hodgkin’ s Lymphoma at the age of 44. I was 15 years old at the time, months away from my Sweet 16. My Grandma Smith, his mother, who I lived with and was one of my very favorite people in the world, passed away after a long illness in May 1989. A month later my dad fell ill, went to the hospital, was diagnosed with late stage cancer and never came home. He died on the first day of school my Sophomore year.

I never said goodbye.

I can’t remember the last time I said I love you.

And I never got to say “I’m Sorry.”

“I’m sorry,”

Words I needed to say. At the age of 15, I hated my dad. Ok, not *hated* but COULD NOT GET ALONG WITH MY DAD. Take the average 15 year old sassy teenage girl, multiply it by the same stubborn, headstrong, loud personality my dad  possessed and then add the drink to the mix.

Every. Single. Day. I fought, yelled, screamed and challenged my dad. Or, more likely most days of the year. I hated the drink and the fact it made him yell for no good reason. I emptied 16ozbeer cans behind his back, added water to dilute them, anything to make him stop going on and on and on and on…night after night after night.

Conveniently, I repressed all these memories after he passed away…and the anger turned into guilt. Which I so nicely discovered YEARS later when my Grandpa became sick. Not fun memories. Not fun to see myself years later, following in the same footsteps. Alcoholism on one side of the family and depression on the other side. Self medicating to stop the pain. Ugh. I understood in a different way. And it took me quite some time to even acknowledge these statements out loud.

I do remember *almost* admitting this in an essay for English class in 10th grade, but the honest words that came out at the time were “My dad is not an alcoholic, but he did have a drinking problem.” Very hard–very very very hard to discuss, because my dad wasn’t there to defend himself. And if he’s not there, well, I couldn’t feel anything bad, that would mean I didn’t love him, right. And I did love my dad…but…

Thank God for therapy and my wizard. I asked my brother a few years ago, after one long journaling session of enlightenment,  “weren’t you MAD when dad died?”

And his response?

“Why would you be mad?”

Really? Wow. I was SO MAD. Mad that I never got a chance to say that last, I love you. mad that I never said I was sorry for challenging him and we never really, verbally, forgave each other. I wanted him to know I loved him…and I never had the chance. Yeah, I was mad.

My dad wanted a better life for me and my brother and believed education held that key. He might not have been “there” for a lot of the day to day things but he was 100% behind every activity and school related success we achieved and was immensely proud of us, which I never doubted for a second.

I remember sitting in my *preparing for high school* meeting in 8th grade, you know the one where all the parents were invited to the school cafeteria among every single classmate and their parents…My dad kept asking annoying questions (I was a teenager) about classes and opportunities. It drove me crazy…But my dad only had a high school education and my mom earned her GED,they wanted better for us. Dad told me that night that he always thought, in retrospect, that he would have made a good lawyer. A regret perhaps?

Dad did love to fight the good fight, or really any fight…he would passionate defend his position to the bitter end. (I learned from the master, I was the opposing side in most of our arguments.) He would have made an excellent litigator. However? Dad ended up working in a factory and farming the Smith Homestead until the day he died. At the age of 28, still living with his parents and directionless perhaps (I’m so much like him it frightens me sometimes) he ended up marrying my mom. My mom was 18 years old and pregnant with me. I was born, um, 5 months later.

“Your dad did the honorable thing.”

I was a precocious little child and thanks to my Auntie Carroll, I could read by the age of four and do the simple math. Early on in my childhood I knew, I was the reason why my parents married. My brother came three years later. When you add in the constant bickering and fighting between my parents everyday, it results in, well, years of repressed guilt and anger.

At the time, I was convinced my dad’s passing was a blessing in disguise. Peace at last. I was pretty sure my dad and mom would end up killing each other if they stayed together but it never needed to get to that point. Can you imagine being a child and deep down inside thinking this? Life is better? No one should think like is better after a parent dies…talk about guilt.

All of the BAD stuff completely vanished when dad passed away. I suddenly faced a whole new world of thinking about college and part-time jobs and driving my friends and my brother to school events…and watching my mom marry into an entirely new family with new little kids to take care of…

But that’s another story for another day…

I have the same fiery temperament that my dad had. Many of my political views today are based upon dinnertime conversations with my dad while watching the 6-7pm news. Work hard. A hand not a handout. I respected my dad. Of course, I also *passionately* defended the family over him time and time again after the drink set in for the evening. My brother and mom were passive observers. And while I’m many things, passive is not one of them.

With that background, I now come to my college graduation. I fell in love with Constitutional Law through my favorite Professor, my mentor, Professor Seddig. I ended up doing my *comp* (senior comprehensive project- you know the thesis, 6 credits, 5 chapters and 102 pages!) on the Constitutionality of School Voucher Programs. I was one of three students in my department that got an A that year. Honors. Woo hoo! I worked my butt off on my comp and loved *almost* every second of it. My 1997 conclusion was proven to be correct  in 2002 by the Supreme Court in the Zelman case. My comp inspired me to go to law school, to save the world, make a difference, fight the good fight…

I dedicated my comp to my dad.

“Dad, the comp is written. A symbol of so many things ending and yet a milestone of new beginnings. It was bound to happen, someone in the Smith family was destined to take that passionate gift of “argumentation” and do something productive with it. I wouldn’t necessarily claim that this comp is as passionate argument, but hopefully it is the beginning of many to come. At times, I find myself desperately wishing you could have been here to see it all happen…but then I realize you have been, and always will be. Your little girl is all grown up now. I miss you. I love you.”

I remember showing my comp to my Grandma Baker, she read the dedication and said “It’s nice you’re able to remember your dad like that.”

I also showed my comp and the dedication to my Aunt Sylvia (my dad’s older sister) a few days after graduation while she was in the hospital…she smiled and laughed reading the words “passionate gift of argumentation.” The following day, she was with my dad in a better place.

My parents believed in me, encouraged my “book smarts” and knew I would succeed. Long, long time ago when I started law school, I thought I would succeed too. Somewhere along the way, I became muddled. Depression hit. Drinking too much hit. Pain of dealing with years of grief and loss resurfaced with my Gpa getting sick… I needed time off to figure myself out, who I am and where I was going…what was wrong with me, I only had one semester left and I just couldn’t make myself finish…

The thing is?

….I want the shiny new boat. I want the boat like Gideon Brown. I want to move on…to bigger and better things. I want to make my family proud (although half of them are looking down from above now.) I want to make myself proud. I want to use my degree and knowledge to help others find their boats and make their lives better.

“I’d often thought how proud I’d be, in a boat like Gideon Brown.”

Stupid boat song…no wonder why I’m crying…maybe things just might turn around after all.

Whatcha talkin' bout Willis?