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Parents should just say no to teen girl's solo-sailing trip

T.J. SIMERS

Abby Sunderland's mother and father are abdicating their responsibility to keep their 16-year-old daughter out of harm's way.

December 15, 2009|T.J. Simers
  • Abby Sunderland and her father, Laurence Sunderland, sail "Wild Eyes" out of the harbor in Ensenada, Mexico, with San Diego as their first stop and Marina del Ray their final destination. Once Abby begins her solo journey later this month, she cannot make landfall or accept assistance, beyond advice.
Abby Sunderland and her father, Laurence Sunderland, sail "Wild… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

I was scheduled to be off Monday, eating breakfast at the Mini Gourmet in Yorba Linda, relaxed and reading the paper before spitting out my pancakes.

Why am I reading about a 16-year-old girl about to sail around the world all by herself when I should be reading about her parents being hauled off to counseling or jail?

Did you see the story in Monday's sports section?

It was outrageous. Ridiculous. Incomprehensible insanity. And Plaschke didn't write it.

We've got four pictures and this huge ode to Abby Sunderland,the child's preparations to put her life on the line, and so now we celebrate child abuse in the paper?

She has parents, and I wouldn't know it either if it hadn't been mentioned in the story.

These so-called parents are repeat offenders too, their 17-year-old son Zac recently becoming the youngest American sailor to circle the globe, as the newspaper story goes, surviving "merciless gales, a run-in with pirates and a near-collision with a gargantuan freighter near the Panama Canal."

We don't have enough to worry about when it comes to raising our children that we now have to take into account pirates?

I don't let my daughter walk to her car by herself at night, and it's parked in our driveway and she's 33.

But these folks are going to let their 16-year-old become a human bobber day and night on the ocean because it's been the child's dream since she was 13.

My daughter dreamed she would marry Prince Charming one day.

She ended up with a Grocery Store Bagger, and amazingly is both happy and pregnant.

Children are supposed to dream and parents are supposed to be parents. Their primary task, along with loving them, is to keep them safe, if necessary, safe from their own dreams, whims or immature choices early in life.

How mature is a 16-year-old girl, who makes the choice to spend months on the water instead of in the mall with her friends?

Most youngsters would probably like to sail away from home at one time or another, but almost all of them know how stupid that would be.

So why am I reading a story about a 16-year-old girl who will be taking "a direct but dangerous route around the world?"

Why is any 16-year-old allowed to place herself in harm's way? Why would any parent allow such a thing?

Right now I'd try to stop my daughter from crossing the ocean by herself on a cruise ship.

Another 16-year-old child, Australia's Jessica Watson,is 6,000 miles into her solo trip -- her collision with a Chinese freighter just one of those silly mistakes made earlier in practice.

In discussing Watson's trek, The Times' story offers this input from Don McIntyre, a "renowned Australian sailor," who obviously lost his land legs.

"I know Jessica and she has the correct head space," he says. "I don't know Abby, but it is pretty obvious that she has not been playing with Barbie dolls for the past 16 years."

Why not? Barbie and Ken don't bother me nearly as much as Marianne and Laurence Sunderland, who have seven children, one more on the way, and I wonder which one will swim around the world to top brother and sister.

A PR contact for the Sunderlands said he would relay my child endangerment criticism and an offer for their rebuttal, but there was no response.

The Times' story says the father has tons of experience as a sailor, but I don't care.

He won't be on the boat, and for him to tell The Times, "I have no doubt in my mind that this boat is going to get totally knocked around out there," and then let her go -- I think I saw something like this on an episode of "Law & Order."

I don't care if the child has been sailing since she was 3 months old, she's still a child. I don't care if she's packing a gun like her brother did on his trip -- what's a child doing with a gun?

I don't care if this is something she really wants to do. Children want to do a whole lot of things -- sometimes just for fun, sometimes because their friends are doing it and sometimes because they just want attention.

It's our job as parents to say, "No." Simple as that, "No. You want to go sailing -- OK, where are we going?"

I didn't let my daughters drive when they were 16, telling them it was my job to keep them alive. You want to tell your friends you have a jerk for a father, they probably already heard that from their parents. But you're alive.

I think gymnastics, figure skating and swimming should be banned from the Olympics so parents don't get the idea of trying to win a medal through their youngsters.

Is there any reason to justify depriving a youngster a chunk of childhood? What's wrong with children just being children -- this year G.P. Santa having already bought Barbie's playhouse?

Maybe Zac and Abby Sunderland are gifted sailors, but is it necessary to put their lives on the line to prove it? Where is the parent in the Sunderland home saying just that?

Whatever is at work here, I lost it at breakfast. I'm showing the story to waiter John Hernandez and he shocks me, while losing his tip. He says, "It's OK with me if that's what the girl wants."

This from a guy who has a daughter who will soon be turning 16, someone who recently took her and friends to something in Long Beach and then waited outside in the rain in his car for 3 1/2 hours so he'd be there when she was ready to leave.

"No way I let my own daughter do something like that," Hernandez says. "But if someone else's daughter wants to do it. . . ."

You would hope she would be told to start texting all her friends to let them know: "My parents never let me have any fun."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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