Johnny Sparks, my old roomate, called with bad news this morning. Big Al, my first sea-daddy, passed away peacefully last night.
I was born into the life of a sailor, and raised with stories of the sea. But I was not exposed to The Life until I was seven years old. My dad was disabled when I was 5, and this left him with a somewhat sedentary lifestyle thereafter. Big Al was the father of a lifelong friend from my Kindergarten class. He was a big, powerful, and rich (to me) old, old man. When I was seven, he was in his late 60's.
Al owned a large business, but his passion was catching lobster. I tagged along. Over the next eight years, we spent at least 15 hours a week together, from April to November, and in the summer, it was an every day, all-day thing. I went from being a smallish child to the gorilla I am today, fed by Al's Italian cooking and a steady diet of heavy lobster pots that had to be slung around.
It's very fair to say that my dad gave me the desire, and Al gave me the know-how. In the end, I followed Al's footsteps and chose a life on deck, rather than in the engine room, and what I know of the sea, of lobsters, of marine biology, that's from Al. From him I learned how to satisfy the burning need to be my own man, to move in rhythm to wave, sun, moon and tide, rather than to sit in traffic and then in a cubicle.
When I drowned, Al was the man who fished me out of the water, hung me upside down and beat the breath back into me. From our days together when I was a confused teen, I cobbled together a plan to keep me on the water for a lifetime.
I miss him already.